February 26, 2015

Wearing army boots

One big family.
When my daughter Aviva’s new Ethiopian soldiers arrive on base, they are beaming, white teeth gleaming behind open ready smiles, happy to please and succeed.
Aviva shows them how to stand at attention and how to work under time constraints.
Echad, shtaim, shalosh (one, two, three).
She shouts this mantra several hundred times a day as they run in circles, trying to figure it out. She shows them how to tell time on a watch and how to grip a pencil. 
She shows them how to shoot a gun, speaking to them in simple Hebrew, trying to ingrain the new words. They go to Hebrew classes where a 19-year-old teacher instructs them in the language basics.
Aviva rewards them all day long, lavishing praise and encouragement. When she wants to make them feel really accomplished, she asks them to run. At first, they want to do this bare foot and fly like gazelles, maybe run straight for a desert. But Aviva shakes her head and insists they wear army boots and stay in formation.
When the soldiers go home for Shabbat, Aviva talks to them after they have arrived, checking in to see if they are ok, always explaining when they should be back on base Sunday morning. She has gone to the hospital emergency room with her sick soldiers, sitting with them, ensuring they get proper care. 
She also goes to the bank with them to help get their finances in order and she speaks to real estate agents to help the lone soldiers find reasonable apartments.
Soldier with proud mom graduating as paratrooper. 
She teaches them about history and geography and science, teaching them about the solar system, our planet Earth and space ships that travel to the moon. Here is a conversation from one recent class:
Aviva to soldiers: What is in the sky?
Soldiers answering all at once: Hashem!
Aviva to soldiers (holding a ball that represents our planet): Our planet is like this ball and there are other balls out there.
Soldier asks: Really? We have a ball?
Soldier asks: How much is the world?
Solider asks: Where is space during the day?
Mainly because of such an army experience, young Ethiopians are starting to integrate into Israeli society. There are still many issues, including poverty and juvenile delinquency. Yet these programs are slowly working.  

In 2005, 3,000 Ethiopian students graduated from higher education institutions, and 1,500 others graduated at the university level. 

After they graduate from their three-month course, she will follow their lives by being there to celebrate future army successes and help solve struggles. 

'Class picture.'

This week, she showed them a video of a rocket taking off for the moon. They sat wide- eyed in disbelief.
Aviva to soldiers: What does the spaceship look like?
Soldier: A fish
Soldier to Aviva: When are we going?
Soldier to Aviva: Will you take us there, mefakedet?
She may not take them to the moon, but she will escort them into their future.

Aviva and her guys have become one solid team. And this is what helps solidify Israel, strengthen its unity and forge it into a cultural and spiritual mosaic unique in this world.

How much is this world? the soldiers ask. It is as big as our hearts. Just ask anyone in this IDF unit.

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