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California Mechanical Engineer to be a Lone Soldier in IDF

While many children of Israeli immigrants choose to enlist in the IDF, there aren’t as many American Jews enlisting.
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August 3, 2023
Rebecca Masliah

Rebecca Masliah had her dream job as a Marine mechanical engineer. Shortly after graduating Cal Maritime Academy in Vallejo, CA, she booked her first job on a flotilla. And so she set sail from Bellingham, Washington to Alaska, stopping at ports in Canada and Alaska and servicing the boats as needed. “It was so beautiful. I’d never been to British Columbia before, and it was simply awesome.”

Masliah dreamt about this job ever since she was a young girl.  Nevertheless, she is willing to put her career on hold — the one she worked so hard to achieve — and enlist in the IDF.

The 23-year-old Masliah was born in a French-Moroccan household in Los Angeles. She describes herself as Modern Orthodox, and has attended Jewish religious schools since kindergarten. “I went to Maimonides Academy and then to YULA Girls. I always wanted to study maritime, and the only place in California to do so was in Maritime Academy. To go from a Jewish community to a place with no Jews was a sort of culture shock. I was one of maybe six Jews on campus, and I had to work very hard to keep my practices and keep kosher. I used to go a lot to Chabad Berkeley to do Shabbat and holidays, and they accepted me warmly.”

“At Maritime, for the first time in my life, I met people who didn’t know what kosher means, and needed to explain it to them. Some people there were pretty antisemitic. Everyone knew, of course, I was Jewish. I had the Israeli flag on my door and the IDF flag in my room. There was one girl who posted something against me on her social media and my school did nothing about it. She wrote that my religion is scary, that I controlled everybody, and said a bunch of messed up stuff.”

Masliah, who served as the Academy’s student body president for two years, tried to get the university administration involved, but to no avail. “I even went to the police, but nobody helped me. Nobody did anything about it, and she never got in trouble for the things she said. It was pretty crazy and upsetting, but thankfully I had many friends who made sure I was safe there.”

This was the first encounter Masliah had with antisemitism, and it left her frustrated that, despite all her efforts, nothing was done. However, Masliah didn’t let the insensitive remarks and disregard of the campus stop her. She fought to have kosher meat on a ship she was working on. “It took some time and effort but at the end they agreed to have kosher meat for us. If you want to study Maritime, the only place you can do so in California is at this academy, and just because I’m one of a few Jews who are attending it doesn’t mean there won’t be more after me. I wanted to make sure that other Jewish students, who will attend the academy in the future, will be able to have kosher meat.”

Masliah says that her experience with facing antisemitism and ignorance about Judaism made her think about enlisting in the IDF. 

Masliah says that her experience with facing antisemitism and ignorance about Judaism made her think about enlisting in the IDF. “To be with people who didn’t know what I was talking about, who had no clue about Israel and Judaism and were even antisemitic, made me want to make sure that we will always have a Jewish state. We need Israel as a home, we need a place to feel comfortable. As Jews, we often feel very assimilated in those countries which we live in, but history had shown time and time again that no, you never know what’s going to happen. I’m a big Zionist, and we need to ensure Israel will always be there. I want to do my part and serve in the IDF and contribute my share to this country.”

Masliah is planning to go to Israel with Garin Tzabar, a unique program which is run by the Israeli Scouts Movement. The program, which was founded in 1991, provides a comprehensive support system and framework for Jewish young adults (ages 18-24) who wish to join the IDF as lone soldiers. It provides them with full accommodation assistance with Israel civil services and IDF bureaucracy, arrange “adoptive families” for them at the kibbutz, and help them integrate into Israeli society after their release from the army.

“My parents are supportive, although a little scared because I want to go to combat,” she admitted. “I’ve done something similar when I worked with the US Affiliate Navy, but it’s not the same, of course. Masliah’s 19-year-old brother is also in Israel now, studying at a Yeshiva in Jerusalem. 

“I hope to get into the Navy, because I have all this experience and the stakes are pretty high. I’ll get in but I’ll be happy to be placed anywhere. My plan is to serve at least two years and then come back here and keep working.”

Masliah’s decision to enlist after graduating college and securing a job is somewhat of a rarity. 

While many children of Israeli immigrants choose to enlist in the IDF, there aren’t as many American Jews enlisting. For one, they don’t usually have the same connection to Israel, most don’t have a family there, and usually don’t speak Hebrew. Those who choose to enlist usually do so right after high school. In that respect, Masliah’s decision to enlist after graduating college and securing a job is somewhat of a rarity. “I am the first one to join after college,” she agreed. “I don’t know anyone else who has done so. It was in the back of my head for a while, but wasn’t my plan. Because I’ve spent so much time away from the Jewish community, I thought, ‘Wow, I want to be there, I want to contribute and do my part. The more time I spent away from home, the more I wanted to go.”

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