JERUSALEM, Israel - When you see women in uniform as part of the U.S. military, you know they volunteered to risk their lives for our country. We haven’t had a military draft in the United States since 1973.
In Israel, military service is compulsory, although Israeli-born Arabs are exempt. Men serve three years and women serve two.
Libby Weiss, born and raised in Lake Oswego, Ore., to Israel-born parents who have spent the last 25 years living in the U.S., could have visited Israel as many times as she wanted without ever having to become part of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
Weiss, however, chose to enlist in the IDF.
A petite, attractive young woman who laughs easily, Weiss apparently believes wearing the military uniform of the IDF and serving in a country that has been in a relative state of perpetual war with its neighbors since it declared statehood in 1948 is one of the best decisions of her life.
Here’s her story:
“I’m from Lake Oswego, Oregon. I went to Lake Oswego High School. I’m a very proud Laker graduate. I graduated in 2006.”
“We are currently standing in Jerusalem, Israel, actually at the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem. I’ve been living here for two years. I came here after I graduated from Northwestern University in June 2010, and then I moved here to Israel in August 2010.
“I’ve been to Israel several times. Actually my parents just happen to be Israeli both of them, living in the U.S. much longer than they ever lived in here in Israel. So I spent many summers visiting family and friends here. When I came in August 2010 it was certainly for the longest period of time.
“I would say probably around December, January of 2011 it became pretty clear to me that I wasn’t planning on returning to the States anytime soon, and that I was going to stay, stay here in Israel, and join the IDF.
“My parents are very proud of me, honestly speaking. I think both as native Israelis they understood the appeal and what it means to a Jewish person to live here in the State of Israel. I think maybe part of them thought maybe they done too good of a job at home with the emphasis on the Jewish connection to the State of Israel. But all jokes aside they were very supportive.
“I think maybe the biggest difference between, certainly between Lake Oswego, Oregon, and Israel, I would say is just the general attitude. Israelis, by their nature, are incredibly informal people, and I think the formalities and the niceties that we’re really raised to have in the United States don’t apply here. There’s no waiting in line. Sort of polite niceties aren’t needed here.
“I think the nature of… obviously life in Israel, there are certain threats we have here that you don’t have certainly growing up in Lake Oswego, Oregon, but honestly speaking I think it really helps shape the Israeli identity. Which is a huge reason why I want to live here. We embrace life here in this country. I think mainly because we understand the threats that exist.
“Certainly my parents are concerned. But generally speaking I feel very safe here. Honestly speaking I feel less safe when I go back to Lake Oswego and I tend to see how vulnerable we are in the United States. But generally speaking, I think they are worried, as any parents would be about their children who live thousands of miles away.
“There is no doubt that I made the right decision. I can say that I wake up every morning loving what I do, energized by what I am doing, feeling like I am making a huge contribution, that I am gaining so much. So for me, there’s no doubt, absolutely no doubt, that I made the right decision.
“I would encourage people to really be interested in the world that’s around them. I think as somebody who lives in an area that is covered heavily by the press and is generally discussed in the international arena, there’s so much more here than I think what people hear about every day on the news. And I encourage anyone to come visit, get interested, see what the world has outside of the place that you consider home. Because it’s fascinating and exciting.
“Come visit. Those are my words to anyone who is sitting in Lake Oswego. Of course for me Lake Oswego will always be home. So I miss it and I love it very much. But come visit."
Dan Morrison is on assignment in Israel for KVAL.com.
Morrison has previously reported for KVAL.com from Helmand Province, Afghanistan, embedded with U.S. Marines there fighting the Taliban.
Morrison teaches journalism at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communications in Eugene, Ore.