A Soldier’s Life

4_SGPV_0618_Sticky_Feature_WeinbergerISRAEL’S RECENT 70th Independence Day celebrations seem like a good reason for an update on Lieutenant Elie and Hadar Weinberger. Elie is serving on a base in the Jordan Valley where he is in charge of the basic training for 24 soldiers in an elite combat unit as well as the four sergeants who are the soldiers’ immediate commanders. Elie (23) and Hadar (24) celebrated their one-year anniversary at the end of March. Around the time that Elie first received his soldiers, at the beginning of December, was when Elie would have mustered out of his three years of compulsory military service and re-entered civilian life. Hadar fully supported Elie’s decision to become an officer even though this committed him to an additional 16 months of military service. Hadar told me: “Elie wants to be an officer, he is good at it, it’s appropriate for him, and it will be good for him. Everyone needs to contribute to society in the way that they can.”

Elie’s soldiers will complete their training in June, after which Elie hopes (though his parents do not) that his next position will be in actual military operations rather than in training. For Elie, military education includes ethical education, the latter often boiling down to three words: Do Not Lie. An officer must be able to absolutely and completely trust the men in his fighting unit. Issues of trust and honesty between soldiers are just as important as between soldiers and officers. In fact, the Hebrew acronym “malam” refers to the type of soldier who kisses up to their officer, but is inconsiderate to their fellow soldiers—a phenomenon that Elie, when he sees it, will try to root out by speaking with the offending soldier.

Elie says that his job is like a juggler with 24 balls in the air. If a soldier needs a physical therapist, or a psychologist or a dentist, it’s up to Elie to make sure that that solder gets to his appointment on time, all the while not taking his eyes off the other 23 balls. If Elie forgets to get one of his soldiers to where he needs to be, he is liable to incur a fine of several hundred shekels. If there are problems at home (and some of Elie’s soldiers come from extremely difficult homes, including one where the father is in jail), Elie tries to learn what those problems are and if possible see if the army can help. By now, Elie has visited the homes of all of his soldiers who come from troubled backgrounds (the other soldiers received a home visit by a sergeant).

Elie has to be on base about every other Shabbat. Sometimes Hadar takes a bus down to be with him, where she is joined by just one other officer’s wife (a secular native-born Russian woman who does not speak much), and where Hadar is the only woman in the base’s synagogue on Shabbat. On most “base” Sabbaths Elie and Hadar are apart (meaning that it can be several weeks between when they see each other). The language that Elie and Hadar use to explain their shared commitment to Elie’s service is suffused with their own strong religious commitments. They speak in one voice about service: “Both of us need to be strong and focused on the goal of helping the Jewish people. It’s about being on a life-long mission; it’s not just about an extra year in the army. We want to live our whole lives this way, contributing and doing. Our connection with G-d mandates no less. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is predicated upon our closeness with G-d.

Teddy Weinberger, Ph.D., is Director of Development for a consulting company called Meaningful. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.

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