December 14, 2014
After boarding busses quite literally headed all over the country on Friday morning, IST dispersed for our free weekend. Whether in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, with family or staying at friends, the weekend was an incredible opportunity to not only sleep and relax but to explore Israel on our own time. We excitedly reconvened at our assigned meeting spots throughout the country and looked forward to returning to Jerusalem to meet up with the entire group, madrichim and teachers once again, swapping stories from our experiences and adventures over the break.
Everyone met in high spirits, despite the rainy weather. Travelling to have lunch, our Madricha Dani shared a story that had just happened to her. Having been on the light rail in Jerusalem, she recounted an instance where a mother and young child boarded the carriage, followed by an elderly religious man carrying an accordion. The man seeing the child put on his accordion and began to perform for the child, playing the song Maotzur, in honour of upcoming Chanukah. The carriage, filled with people escaping the cold rain outside, began swaying and clapping together as the small boy started to dance, mesmerised by the man’s music. Together the people on the train joined in the festivity and excitement of Chanukah that has swept across the country, and the simple thoughtfulness and love each Jew here appears to have for one another.
As Dani shared the story with tear filled eyes, it occurred to us all, what a tremendous honour it was to be together in Israel and to be a part of this large family – the Jewish people. Fittingly, we spent the afternoon giving of ourselves for the benefit of the people of Israel, volunteering in various organizations around Jerusalem. We divided into groups, meeting with sick children in hospital, packing food boxes for poor families and helping assemble wheelchairs for people in need of medical equipment.
This afternoon I was lucky enough to be able to visit the base of the most elite unit in the army, the Duvduvan unit, an experience which very few people get. We learnt about the strenuous physical and mental tests that the soldiers are faced with over the 2-year training course. Soldiers are pushed to their limits, receiving little sleep and food, at times not knowing the difference between night and day, and being unaware of what is going to occur in the next 15 minutes. Duvduvan (meaning cherry, a reference to being the cherry on top, the best of the best within the army) is an elite special force unit within the IDF. Out of the 30,000 soldiers in the elite units of the IDF, only 600 try out of Duvduvan. Out of this minute number, only 29 soldiers make it into the Duvduvan units. Known for their impeccable physical and mental aptitude, Duvduvan soldiers are revered for conducting swift, highly precise and effective operations against specific terrorists in urban areas. During these operations, Duvduvan soldiers typically wear Arab civilian clothes as an initial disguise and then operate in what is called a Trojan Horse style, conducting operations in uniform, once having infiltrated the Arab town or village. We were privileged to hear from two men who had completed their service as Duvduvan soldiers. They told us about their frightening experiences, which include entering terrorists’ homes and capturing them during the night, without leaving a trace that they were ever there. We watched a video from an operation which occurred a few years ago: soldiers put an explosive on the door of a terrorist’s home, barged in and then had 10 seconds to capture a terrorist who was sitting with a gun between his legs whilst hiding behind his wife and children. We also watched a video of the Duvduvan unit capturing one of the terrorists who planned the kidnapping of the 3 boys just a few months ago. Soldiers scurried through a market place full of thousands of Arabs, identified and then captured the terrorist, all within a minute and a half.
We upped the anti as we moved outdoors within the base to a model version of an Arab village. We watched the current Duvduvan soldiers practice an operation of thwarting an immediate terrorist attack, capturing the terrorist seconds after the attack began. Additionally, they demonstrated going into a terrorist home with such precision and fluency in a matter of seconds. We all jumped when we watched the soldiers shoot blanks from their practice guns, but were perhaps; even more surprised when after witnessing this unbelievable demonstration we learnt that the brave soldiers before us were only 19.
The Duvduvan unit has a 99% success rate. I look up to these soldiers who are so courageous and stay physically and mentally strong during these life-threatening missions. I am so grateful to be part of a nation whose most aggressive army unit follows a strict set of moral and ethical rules, avoiding killing whenever possible, choosing to rather endanger their own lives by entering into hostile areas in order to capture the single required terrorist rather than accidently creating casualties in the process. Daniel, one of the soldiers who spoke to us, shared that he had been a part of over 100 missions, and in only 3 they had to exchange gunfire. Additionally he recounted how he was first inspired to join a combat unit and aim to get into Duvduvan after witnessing a terrorist attack in 2000, and resolving to do all he could to ensure no more innocent lives would be lost.
It was one of the most eye opening, intriguing and fortunate experiences of IST and indeed my entire life. These soldiers, or rather heroes, are the people who ensure the State of Israel and the people of Israel remain protected, allowing for this beautiful country to continue to be a permanent home for the Jews no matter what is going on around the world.