Lessons from an Israeli soldier

The army teaches you to act as a unit

DishlerIDF image
Dishler, second from right, with his army buddies and fellow new olim (immigrants) hours before they were to receive their paratrooper wings and set off on the 16-hour march to Jerusalem.

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

If you accomplish the first task of the day, it will give you a small sense of pride and encourage you to do another task-and another. At the end of the day, that small task will have led to many others completed. And it will also reinforce the fact that the little things in life matter. 

If you can't do the little things right, like bed making, you'll never be able to do the big things right. This is from a commencement speech given to Navy cadets by US Admiral William H. McRaven that resonated with me.

When you consider the history of the Jewish People and of the State of Israel, we have always had to contend with difficult challenges, people and powers that opposed us; that rejected who we are and what we believe. But we have always refused to bend to the demands of others. We stand up for our truth. For our values and teachings. And we have been unbending for 3,000 years.

Talk about a stiff-necked people.

When I decided to become an Israeli citizen and join the Israeli army, I had no clue what it meant to be an IDF soldier, let alone a paratrooper. The IDF is a great equalizer. People from small towns and big cities, religious and secular, Ashkenazim and Sepharadim-we all wore the same uniforms, slept in the same barracks, ate the same lousy food, drank from the same sugary tea and Turkish coffee. We all endured the same verbal abuse, exhaustion, punishments, cold showers, endless hours of monotony, and being tested both mentally and physically.

The army teaches you to act as a unit, to rely on one another. Your life and the life of your fellow soldier depends on having each other's back.

If you want to become paratrooper, you must be willing to jump out of a plane (or at least get pushed out) and pray your parachute opens.

To have the honor and a little glory of wearing the red beret of paratroopers, you're required to complete a march in full battle gear, carrying a stretcher with one of the unit's soldiers lying on it. The march I completed was 53 miles long and took 16 hours. We were only allowed to lower the stretcher one time, when we stopped to eat.

We marched from Ashdod, a coastal city where the memorial for fallen paratroopers is located and where we each received our wings, finishing at the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem-the same place where, as a fresh draftee, I received my rifle and Tanach.

When we finally entered Jerusalem, my feet were bleeding and full of blisters. I was in tears from all the pain.

Overcoming challenges depends on at least two factors: Your mindset and the support, both moral and physical, that you give and receive from those around you-from your community.

Everyone sees the highlights reel; the triumph, the happy ending. The soldier wearing a sexy red beret. But you don't see the difficult days, the hardships. The blistered feet.

The story of our People, and of the State of Israel, is one of many hardships and challenges and suffering.

It is also a story of a People who brought to the world great teachings and laws. The teaching of respect for oneself, for your neighbor, for all God's creatures, and for our environment.

The belief that each one of us has the power, even the responsibility, to change the world.

So, if you are ready to change the world, start each day with a task completed.

Make your bed.

Steven Dishler served in the paratrooper brigade from 1984-87 and then as an IDF liaison officer to foreign forces for his annual reserve duty.

Currently, he is JUF's Assistant Vice President for International & Public Affairs.


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