Talk to the Soldiers

From left: Tsahi Levi and Inbal Adar
It’s a long way from an Israeli combat platoon to Newport Beach,but Inbal Adar and Tsahi Levi are trying to bridge the geographicaland cultural gap.

Both Adar, 20 years old, blond and in a miniskirt, and Levi, 22,ruggedly handsome and in jeans, are lieutenants in combat infantryunits of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

They were selected from among 20 candidates of similar rank for athree-week speaking tour, during which they would meet with highschool and college students in seven American cities. A little-knownprogram called Achva (Affinity) puts together the tour.

Achva aims to create better understanding between young Americansand Israelis by bringing them face to face to explore theirsimilarities and differences. The program is sponsored by theAmerican Friends of the IDF and the academic affairs offices of theIsraeli consulates in the United States.

First stop for the young lieutenants, in their first trip to theUnited States, was Los Angeles and a morning visit to Newport HarborHigh School, where they met with two 10th-grade classes enrolled in aspecial international-relations course.

Levi saw “certain gaps in their knowledge about Israel,” as hepolitely put it, among the teen-age public-school students, but alsokeen interest in the country’s human rights status, its equalitybetween the genders, the reasons for terrorists targeting Israel, andwhether only Jews lived in the country.

At the same time, the students were naturally curious about thelifestyles of young Israelis, from clothing, cars and dating, tosurfing, drug use and musical tastes, noted Adar.

The basic difference between American and Israeli youngsters isthat “every child in our country knows from day of birth that he orshe will go into the army, and their parents live with the sameknowledge,” Levi said.

Another aspect is the much closer-knit society characteristic ofIsrael, where every death, whether in a traffic accident or incombat, affects the entire country, said Levi.

Classroom teacher Michaela Burns was enthusiastic about theuniformed officers’ visit. Their presentation helped prepare herstudents for an upcoming model United Nations meeting, where theywill represent the State of Israel, Burns said.

“Our students were really impressed; you could see it in theirfaces,” she said. “I think they realized how much more serious lifeis in Israel and how lucky they are. Our individualistic kids wereimpressed by the willingness of young Israelis to go into themilitary.”

In a later interview, Adar and Levi agreed that despite mediareports and surveys to the contrary, most of their friends still seeit as a point of honor to serve in the armed forces and to volunteerfor elite combat units.

“There is a lot of motivation and a desire to go into action [inher unit],” said Adar, who is an instructor in mortars and antitankmissiles.

The two also warmly praised the work of the American Friends ofthe IDF for providing extensive recreational facilities, rest areasand off-base sleeping quarters for soldiers.

Asked for their first, quick impressions of America, Levi, whoseparents live in Herzliya, noted that “most cars are really clean, andeverything is bigger and wider.”

Adar, who calls Haifa home, struck a more serious tone. “InIsrael, you feel like a big family, where everyone knows everyoneelse. In America, people seem more like strangers.”

The duo’s local visit was organized by Mark Silberstein, head ofacademic affairs at the Israeli Consulate.

The rest of the itinerary is taking Adar and Levi to SanFrancisco, Chicago, Boston, New York, Miami and Atlanta.