Dec 2010 Journal

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Letter from Israel

I’ve never been to a passing-out parade at Sandhurst or West Point, and am not likely ever to go to one, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the ceremony at which my granddaughter was made an officer in Israel’s Air Force (no, she’s not a pilot!) was nothing like those events.

Several hundred soldiers were due to receive their officer’s insignia that day. Each and every one of them had demonstrated his or her excellence and was without doubt their family’s pride and joy. They were all entitled to invite parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts and close friends to share that day. Our little family gathering numbered about 20 people. Multiply that by the number of soldiers and it’s quite a crowd.

As befits such occasions, we began with nourishment. Each family brought its own food, while plastic tables and chairs were provided by the Officers’ Training School under the trees which shaded the spacious lawns. All around us hampers were being opened, shopping bags emptied and drinks poured. Ravenous youngsters fell upon the food their families had brought them, glad of the opportunity to enjoy a little home cooking as well as relax and benefit from the festive atmosphere.

After the food came the ceremony. The new officers left to go to their appointed positions while the families proceeded to the tribunes surrounding the parade ground on three sides. Each family found a place to sit, whereupon some of them brought out balloons, others produced posters bearing slogans such as ‘Assaf, we’re proud of you,’ while yet others donned specially printed hats or T-shirts in bright colours bearing the name of the soldier they had come to honour. All the families were justifiably proud of their offspring, who had undergone a rigorous selection procedure and completed a series of tests and exercises to reach this moment. Not all who had embarked on the course had been allowed to complete it.

The IDF band played and, to the cheers of the families, the cadets marched out onto the parade ground and stood to attention, forming a square. The youngsters, each one carrying a rifle, were drawn from all three forces and included both men and women. The Commander of the Navy, representing the IDF, congratulated the young recruits, complimented their families and encouraged the youngsters to ‘Go out and lead.’ There were more speeches by military personnel, outstanding cadets were decorated, and meanwhile the sun shone down. Some of the young officers were overcome by the heat and were swiftly removed from the scene by stretcher-bearers. As the band played some more marches, the newly-appointed officers strode past and each family watched proudly, many of us with tears of pride and joy in our eyes. My granddaughter told me later that she also shed a tear or two of joy and pride at having reached that point.

I know it sounds corny, but I believed the Commander of the Officers’ Training School when he said it was not only a duty but a privilege to lead soldiers who were ready to defend Israel.

The ceremony ended and the newly-appointed officers all gave a mighty yell and threw their hats into the air. We parted from our young officer, who looked so impressive in her Air Force uniform, and raced to the car to beat the inevitable traffic jam, while she proceeded to yet another course, this time a specialised Air Force one, to prepare her for the next two years of her military service.

Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

previous article:Triumph over adversity (review)
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