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August 17, 2016 8:10 am

Bringing Campus Battle Skills to Front Lines of Jewish State, US College Grads Enlist in IDF

avatar by Lea Speyer

The soon-to-be IDF soldiers getting off the plane at Ben Gurion Airport. Photo: Shahar Azran.

The soon-to-be IDF soldiers getting off the plane at Ben Gurion Airport. Photo: Shahar Azran.

A group of US college graduates is taking its fight on behalf of the Jewish state from the campus battlefield to Israel’s front lines, a number of them told The Algemeiner during their flight to Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

The 75 new grads, who all decided to immigrate to Israel and enlist in the IDF, landed on Wednesday morning and will be donning their military uniforms within a few weeks — turning them officially into “lone soldiers,” a term for those no immediate family members in the country.

Rebecca Glanzer, who recently graduated from Columbia University, told The Algemeiner that her Israel-advocacy experiences in college helped enforce her desire to do something greater for the Jewish state.

“When I first went to Israel, I felt like it was really my home,” the 22-year-old New Yorker said. “I knew that once I graduated from college, I wanted to do something more beneficial for Israel. That’s why I decided to join the army.”

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Life at Columbia as a Zionist was not easy, Glanzer said, adding that at times she felt “very isolated.”

“While Columbia has a very large Jewish contingency, there is a huge anti-Israel campus presence, because the school is very liberal-minded. I took a lot of classes on the Middle East, and after observing how information on Israel is spread and received by some of my classmates, I felt a greater urgency to go to Israel and serve in the IDF,” she said.

For 22-year-old New Yorker Austin Maurer, a recent graduate of Binghamton University, the decision to join the IDF was a way of putting the Israel-advocacy skills he gained while in college to practical use.

IDF lone soldier Austin Maurer on the plane to Israel to make aliyah. Photo: The Algemeiner.

IDF lone soldier Austin Maurer on the plane to Israel to make aliyah. Photo: The Algemeiner.

“Binghamton is a very apathetic school. On the one hand, I was able to walk around for two semesters with an Israeli flag draped around me,” he said — for which he earned the nickname “Jewbuerman.” On the other hand, “The school has an active Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter, which regularly targets Jewish and pro-Israel students.”

“Witnessing SJP put up mock eviction notices on the doors of Jewish students, or try and host a fundraiser to donate money to a Hamas-related university really opened my eyes,” he said, explaining that such events led him to become active on the school’s student council and take part in the largest pro-Israel group on campus.

Maurer told The Algemeiner that he wants to serve in the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Unit, to help Israel with its PR. “I saw first-hand what is happening on college campuses — the lies being spread about Israel — and I want to fight the myths,” he said.

Erica Mindel, a 23-year-old graduate of the University of Michigan, told The Algemeiner that her experiences advocating for Israel on campus made her realize the importance of the work she was doing.

“I was labeled as pro-Israel and at times felt challenged and pushed out of my comfort zone,” she said. “It was nerve-racking and upsetting, but at the end of the day, what I found is that you have to break down those labels and engage in actual productive debate. This made a world of difference for me and is how I ended up where I am today.”

The desire of many recent American college grads to join the IDF after they’ve completed their studies is a growing phenomenon, said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh — an organization that facilitates the aliyah process for North American and British Jews, and one of the sponsors of the current arrivals.

IDF lone soldier Rebecca Glanzer on her way to Israel to make aliyah. Photo: The Algemeiner.

IDF lone soldier Rebecca Glanzer on her way to Israel to make aliyah. Photo: The Algemeiner.

“We’ve seen an increase in a lot of young college graduates expressing their interest in aliyah. A lot of the time, when they fill out their application essay on why they want to move to Israel, they express to us that during their college years they were fighting for Israel. There was so much activity related to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and rampant anti-Israel sentiments that they were constantly up against, that defending Israel became such an integral part of their identity,” he told The Algemeiner.

The next logical step for many, he said, is to “move to Israel, because they have all this pent-up advocacy and Zionism.”

The state of Israel is gaining a new type of fighter, Fass said, with an influx of a “young, idealistic population that can help Israel. They just came from the battleground of the BDS movement and now, with their brainpower and experiences, will hopefully help Israel fine-tune its strategy and tactics to battle BDS efforts.”

Israeli Consul General in New York Dani Dayan lauded the decision of these soon-to-be Israeli soldiers to fight for Israel on the frontlines.

“I joined the army shortly after I made aliyah to Israel from Argentina. And here I am returning to the United States as an ambassador. This group of lone soldiers is more audacious and courageous than me, so I will not be surprised if one of them returns to this country as the prime minister of the state of Israel,” he told The Algemeiner. “I truly wish them that, and I truly wish us that.”

Glanzer, Maurer and Mindel are three of 233 North American olim, or new immigrants, who made aliyah to Israel on Wednesday in a special charter flight sponsored by Nefesh B’Nefesh, Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Immigration Absorption, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel, JNF-USA and Tzofim-Grain Tzabar.

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