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PAGE 12A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 24, 2014 By Maayan Jaffe From the inception of the Jewish state to the present, Israel's military has been any- thing but a male-dominated institution. On May 26, 1948, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion established the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Less than three months later, the Knesset in- stituted mandatory conscrip- tion for all women without children. Today 57 percent of all officers in the Israeli army are women, according to the IDF. The IDF recently high- lighted the stories of a select group of those women on its blog, in a list titled "8 Female Soldiers Who Shattered Bar- riers in 2013." The article, which featured women in a variety of military roles and from diverse backgrounds, said that in recent years women have "taken increas- ingly high-level positions in the IDF." The female soldiers in- cluded in the list "challenge stereotypes," wrote the IDF. Among those listed are two soldiers originally from the U.S.: Cpl, Dylan Ostrin, from Houston, who made aliyah at the age of 7, and Sgt. Sarit Petersen, from Maryland, who is currently in the process of making aliyah. Petersen, who recently completed her IDF term, served as a shooting instructor in the Nahal In- fantry Brigade. Her job was to teach reconnaissance brigade soldiers (Special Forces) to use their weapons. Speaking, from her parents' home in Baltimore, Peterson waxed modest about being chosen for the IDF blog entry. "There are awesome people doing awesome things in the army all the time," she said with a giggle. A 2010 graduate of the Ye- shiva of Greater Washington, Petersen told that she was "surprised" at her selec- tion, though she was one of the first to hold her position in the IDF. Petersen trained soldiers slated for elite army units. They had already com- pleted at least eight months of basic training, and often had several additional months of more intense training. She said that she and her col- leagues would "sit for hours and hours" planning and ana- lyzing how they were going to take these men from "regular soldiers to Special Forces--to even better." "We would spend hours and hours on an exercise list. We would look at their old ones, see what they had done and figure out how to make it harder and faster, how they could run more. Then we would go to the shooting range and make them do all of these [exercises] we had set up for them and they would do it," she said. "We would do it first, to test it out, and then they would do it." Is Petersen good with a gun? "Yeah," she said. "I am a pretty good shot." Petersen said she shot her first gun as a 14-year-old on a vacation with a friend in Nevada; they shot cans in the desert. "I thought, 'Wow! I am really~ good at this and it is really fun,'" she reminisced, noting that she could never Israel Defense Forces. Shown here is Sarit Petersen, of Maryland, who is on the IDF's recent list of"8 Female Soldiers Who Shattered Barriers in 2013." have dreamed then of her time in the IDF. Other female soldiers on the list have vastly different roles. Take Pvt. Or Meidan. She moved to a southern kib- butz in Israel from Uganda. In November 2012, her town was a regular target of Hamas rockets. Today, she is an Iron Dome missile defense sys- tem operator. Also listed is First Sgt. Monaliza Abdo, an Arab-Israeli combat soldier. While most Arab-Israelis don't even take part in army service, Abdo rose through the ranks to become a com- mander, teaching soldiers how to combat terrorism and other threats. In December, she completed three years of service--one more than the required number for Israeli women. Lt. Amit Danon, a former Israeli national champion in rhythmic gymnastics, be- came a combat officer in the mixed-gender Caracal Battalion. She is also on the IDF's list. "She was one of the first women to become an officer in a combat unit," Risa Kelemer, a commander who also serves in Carcal, told Kele- mer, who is from Baltimore, said Caracal is the only co-ed combat unit in the world. "Boys and girls play the same roles," she said, noting that despite this she has felt little tension from the men she works with. "I encounter more difficulty when I am in civilian life. I meet someone who says, 'You are a combat soldier? Girls aren't combat soldiers!'" Kelemer does not pretend to be as strong as her male counterparts, though she said she is able to h01d her own. When it comes toan operation, however, she said Israel Defense Forces Shown here is Dylan Ostrin, of Houston, who is on the IDF's recent list of"8 Female Soldiers Who Shattered Bar- riers in 2013." each person has a role. Kele- mer, for example, is a trained grenade launcher. Another female comrade is a sharp shooter. Another is a medic. "Combat is not just running with 50 pounds on your back," said Kelemer, "thoughwe also do that." Katja Edelman, originally from Kansas and now a stu- dent at Columbia University, recently completed her ser- v'ice as a combat infantry sol- dier in the IDF's canine unit. In that role, she worked with dogs in the field and trained them back at the base. She told that the IDF "has a lot to be proud of regarding integration of women.... I felt like I had amazing opportuni- ties in my service andwas able to do many of the same things men do .... It was always im- portant to me to demonstrate professionalism and capability to set the right precedent for a continued and hopefully expanded role for women in the IDF." Edelman said she did feel pressure to prove herself in the IDF, and she went to extra lengths not to show signs of fatigue "even if the boys were openly exhausted." "I feel that most women in male-dominated workplaces can relate," she said. Kelemer's mother, Amian Frost-Kelemer, said she is "incredibly impressed" with and proud of her daughter. But she is also "petrified." "She believes she can do whatever the guys can do. She is really fast. But the weight they have to carry is not great for awoman's body," Frost-Kelemer told "Mentally, there is no issue. Physically, the reality is that as strong as she is, it is about heart--she is there for the heart." Robert D. Ward via Wikimedia Commons U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld (left) escorts Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (center) into the Pentagon at the conclusion of a full honor arrival ceremony for Sharon at the Pentagon on March 19, 2001. By Rafael Medoff Although Ariel Sharon will be remembered primarily for his achievements on the battlefield and his decisions as an Israeli political leader, an often-overlooked aspect of his legacy was his impact on the American Jewish community. In March 1980, Sharon ar- rived in the United States in the midst of an uproar over the Carter administration's support of a United Nations resolution branding Jerusa- lem"occupiedArab territory." Sharon, as a member of Prime Minister Menachem Begin's cabinet, was inv.ited to ad- dress an urgent meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Or- ganizations, in New York City. In his remarks, Sharon criticized U.S. Jewish leaders for not responding more vig- orously to the Carter admin- istration's action. He recalled the hesitant response of some Jewish leaders during the Holocaust, and added, "Jew- ish silence will bring disaster upon the Jewish people and upon Israel." Sharon charged that recent friendly meetings between Jewish leaders and White House officials had served to "cover up" the administra- tion's tilt away from Israel. He urged American Jews to speak out strongly against Carter's pressure on Israel, and said he was "shocked" that 100,000 Jews did not march to the White House to protest the U.S. vote on the U.N. resolution. No transcript of the meet- ing was released, but one press report at the time claimed that some of the Jewish leaders in the room "took umbrage at the interference of the Israeli in such strident tones in American Jewish affairs." An editorial in the New York Jewish Week said Sharon's ad- vice was "counter-productive" because it might give the American public the impres- sion "that- all of America's foreign policy and domestic problems are based on Israel." But the Jewish Week also emphasized that "American Jews, as voters, have a means of expressing themselves." With the 1980 New York presi- dential primaries just weeks away, the Week seemed to be encouraging Jewish voters to oppose President Carter's re-election. Sharon was also strongly attacked in the pages of the Jewish magazine Midstream, by historian Bernard Was- serstein. "If 1,000 rabbis had marched up and down in front of the White House and had refused to disperse until some- thing concrete was done for the Jews, then, he believes, the administration's conscience might have been stirred," Wasserstein wrote. "It is a picturesque scenario--and one which would no doubt earn the warm approval of Ariel Sharon--but, alas, is unaccompanied by any sup- porting evidence that might raise it to the level of a serious political proposition." Wasserstein was evidently unaware that in 1943, just before Yom Kippur, some 400 rabbis did march to the White House. That protest garnered important publicity for the cause of rescuing Jewish refu- gees, and helped galvanize congressional pressure on the Roosevelt administration on the rescue issue. As it turned out, Sharon was ahead of the curve: American Jewry did follow his advice--22 years later. In the spring of 2002, Is- rael was rocked by a series of major Arab terrorist attacks, including a suicide bombing at a Passover seder in Netanya, which killed 30 civilians, most of them elderly and many of them Holocaust survivors. Sharon, who by then was prime minister, ordered Op- eration Defensive Shield, a major counter-terror of- fensive throughout the West Bank territories. More than 20,000 Israeli soldiers were mobilized to carry out hun- dreds of raids, which went on for several weeks and included capturing or killing numerous terrorists, seizing weapons depots, and sealing up safe houses. -4 Within days, the George W. Bush administration was pressing Sharon to halt the operation and withdraw the troops. American Jews re- sponded precisely as Sharon had been hoping back in 1980: on April 15, 2002, more than 100,000 protesters gathered near the White House to support Israel's actions. Many evangelical Christians also joined the rally. The New York Times re- ported that the rally illus- trated the strong support for Israel, and uneasiness over President Bush's position, among an emerging coali- tion of Jews and conserva- tive Christians, According to the Times, the president "attempted to mollify the con- servatives" by sending "one of the most hawkish members of his administration, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz," to speak at the rally. But Wolfowitz was greeted with boos and chants of "No More Arafat!" In 2002, unlike in 1980, there were no Jewish leaders "taking umbrage" at the idea of such a rally, and no expres- sions of fear that supporting Israel would cause a backlash among the American public. Sharon had been vindicated, and a new standard for pro- Israel activism in the United States was beginning to take shape. Dr. Rafael Medoff is direc- tor of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Stud- ies, in Washington, D.C. His latest book is "FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith."