Life in the IDF for Community Member Max Sidoui
In Nov. of 2008, a member of our community enlisted in the Israeli Defense Force. Max Sidoui had just graduated from Magen David High Yeshiva School when he left the comforts of home to serve in the IDF. His father was born and raised in Israel and fought in the Israeli army himself as well. Sidoui grew up fondly listening to the war stories of his father and uncles.
Max always identified as an Israeli so he felt it almost a natural step to enlist in the army. Sidoui was lucky enough to have his best friend from home, Sam Oakman, join the IDF alongside him. To their surprise, the young boys both made it into the Special Force Unit which only accepted 28 soldiers of the hundreds of people who tried out that year.
Max’s decision to serve didn’t come without questioning. At the time it wasn’t a popular thing to travel from out of country to serve in the IDF. Even his family who lived in Israel and proudly served themselves thought Max was crazy for leaving home to do such treacherous labor.
Max recalled a typical day of basic training beginning at around 6 a.m. The new troops would wake up and make their beds, then they would clean the room together as a team. This would include mopping the floor each day and making sure that everything looked in top shape. Next, they would head to the bathroom together, brush their teeth, and shave their faces. Israeli soldiers must always be clean shaven. Then they would wait for a sergeant to inspect the room. If it was up to his standards, they could go have breakfast and if not they would have to do it all over again.
In the beginning, this whole process was timed, the time slots allocated being generous for the beginners. After a while this becomes a routine that must be done as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The training days were intense and jam packed for Max. He expressed that there was never a moments rest and there was always something to be done. Soldiers would train in shooting ranges, learning how to shooting a gun with accuracy and how to take apart a fire weapon and put it back together. Some of their other duties were to clean the equipment, take shifts guarding the the gun room, the front gate at base, and the border.
Max and his team were taught Krav Maga, the fighting style taught to all IDF soldiers. They would also go for runs daily to keep in shape. Sidoui was part of the Special Force Unit called Palsar Golani, which specializes in navigation. They are an infantry reconnaissance unit which means they are trained navigators and fighters. This is critical because when the IDF needs to navigate soldiers through enemy territories, Palsar Golani are the first ones in on the front lines leading the way.
When Max looks back on his time in the IDF he doesn’t have any regrets and says that he would do it again. Additionally, if his team would ever be called back for war he would go without question. After his three years of service was up, he stayed in the country and was called back once a year for reserve duty which is 30 days of either border control or re-training. The IDF does this to assure that the soldiers they trained stay in shape and remember what to do in case a war ever broke out.
For anyone from the United States considering this path, Max said they must consider two major concepts. One being the true reason for enlisting. If you are doing it because you think it’s cool or for other superficial reasons, he assures that it will feel very un-cool soon enough and you’ll find yourself in a difficult position. You must have the right motivations going in or you will not last the course. 2.
The other concept Max says is very important to consider before enlisting is the fact that you would be living in a foreign country. Someone coming from out of country must realize that when you get time off base for a Shabbat, it won’t necessarily mean you get to go home and relax. Israeli-born soldiers get to go home to their parents who do their laundry, feed them, let them relax, and wake them up for Shabbat meals.
When Max was off base, after maybe a month of duty he would have to run to a grocery store and beg them to let him in because they close from Friday afternoon to Sunday. He would do this so that he could have some food in his fridge for Shabbat. Then he would pay the rent, pay bills, do laundry, and then return to base by Sunday. This left him virtually no down time to relax.
The time he’s spent training and fighting changed Max’s whole perspective on life. Sidoui has matured in many ways both mentally and physically. Constantly being in stressful situations in the IDF made future stresses like college work a lot easier to handle. Max could always think of a more difficult time that he got through which gives him the mental strength to persevere.
Also he’s learned to live in the moment and value his time. Before his time in the IDF, Max recalls complaining about being bored when there was nothing to do. Once enlisted he found himself fantasizing about those times. He now appreciates every moment of free time he gets, knowing that time is something you can’t get back.
Frieda Schweky is Sephardic.Org's official community events reporter. For inquiries and to get involved with our site, please contact Frieda via email.