Former IDF soldiers speak to UCF students
Using personal anecdotes as their guide, two Israeli reserve soldiers spoke to nearly 20 University of Central Florida students the afternoon of Feb. 25. Shir, 25, and Isaac, 27, (only first names were given to protect their identity) are the featured speakers in this year’s Israeli Soldiers Tour. Sponsored by StandWithUs, an international Israel education organization, the program aims to give a human face to the IDF. Over the past seven years, it has sent Israeli reserve soldiers across the U.S. to visit universities, high schools, synagogues and churches.
An Israeli flag served as the backdrop for the event, adding a smidgen of color to the white-walled classroom in Health and Public Affairs I. For Shir and Isaac, the flag’s emblem—the Star of David and two blue stripes—represents more than the place they call home—it symbolizes responsibility and hope.
“Before you’re a soldier, you’re a human being,” said Shir, who served as a commander in the Intelligence Corps. “You need to think before you act.”
As the southeast campus coordinator for StandWithUs, Lauren Feibelman has traveled with Shir and Isaac from Tennessee to Florida. Feibelman said the tour is designed to encourage dialogue about Israel and promote understanding about the current situation in the Middle East.
“We feel that education is the path to peace,” Feibelman said. “By bringing Shir and Isaac, in addition to other soldiers who are traveling across the country right now, we’ll be able to put that information out there.”
Knights for Israel, the pro-Israel student organization at UCF, partnered with StandWithUs in order to bring the tour to the Central Florida community.
“We hear a lot about the actions of the IDF, and most of what we hear is negative,” said KFI Vice President Nitzan Goodman. “We want students to understand the big picture—what the IDF is and what it does for Israel. The only way to accomplish that is to hear firsthand accounts from soldiers.”
KFI president and biotechnology major Benjamin Suster said the IDF is a symbol of hope and perseverance. He said after years fraught with pogroms, expulsions and genocide, the Jewish people have reached the point where they are able to defend themselves.
“No one appreciates such a milestone more than us,” Suster said. “It can’t be emphasized enough how crucial it is to educate others about the defenders of the Jewish people and to hear their stories.”
From his experience serving in the Paratroopers Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces, Isaac said he understands the importance of protecting Israel’s borders from the threat of terrorism. He recalled an incident where a young Palestinian boy carrying a Spider-Man backpack was detained at a checkpoint in the West Bank. IDF soldiers found a homemade trigger bomb inside the boy’s zippered bag.
“In a split second, everything can change,” Isaac said. “And in that moment, you need to be prepared.”
Isaac also explained the IDF upholds ethical standards to the utmost degree, emphasizing high integrity and moral conduct as integral parts of its structure. However, the IDF is not exempt from public scrutiny for its policies and tactics.
Shir concurred, saying that Israel is currently facing a new threat—one that does not involve weapons.
“The war right now is not a physical war—it’s a war of words,” she said.
Most issues are not black and white, and the Arab-Israeli Conflict is no exception, Isaac added. In order to address the shades of gray, he stated that Israel needs new types of soldiers—ones that only need words for armament. He said these individuals can be found right at UCF.
“The soldiers that we need do not have muscles or guns,” Isaac said. “They’re regular people. They’re people who know the facts.”
Freshman attendee Rachel Kammerman, 19, said hearing Shir and Isaac speak about their personal experiences resonated with her reasons for supporting the IDF.
“You have to remember that Israeli soldiers are people,” Kammerman said. “They have a job, and they want to do it right.”