Written by Anyi Cheng
After graduation, most high school seniors look to spend the following years of their lives in college or at a job. For senior Uri Zakai Or, however, his path is different. Zakai Or plans to enlist in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) after completing high school. “My plans for joining the IDF, for now, are taking a gap year program in Israel, which would mainly involve learning about Judaism and taking part in community service,” he said.
IDF uses a military draft to make enlistment mandatory for all capable citizens older than 18. Zakai Or moved here from Israel before his junior year and plans to move back after graduation to join the Israeli military. He is already making efforts to prepare for his career in the military, including intense workout regimes. “In the past year or so I have been getting into running and body weight workouts to make sure that I get to the physical tests in great physical shape,” he said. “Apart from training, I have already participated in the most basic form of testing this summer while visiting Israel, which included a physical check for things like sight, heart rate, blood pressure, a background check, an interview and an SAT-type test.”
Zakai Or sees enlistment as a way of being a meaningful part of his community in Israel. “The motivation for me is very simple: to become the role model I see each and every IDF soldier as and [to give] back to the country,” he said. “From the moment of birth until the age of draft there is always somebody watching your back, whether it be border patrol, the air force finding and destroying rocket launchers in Gaza or just a soldier staying up all night on guard duty.” Zakai Or places strong emphasis in community, as reflected in his dedication to community service. He is currently the regional board leader of community service in the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, a community dedicated to connecting and empowering Jewish youth.
According to Zakai Or, the Palo Alto Unified School District has three to five Jewish students who are seriously considering enlisting in the IDF, himself included. However, Zakai Or finds the lack of greater participation unsettling. “For me, the amount of Israelis or Jews born to Israeli parents who [go to] college, and never enlist to help out their home country is disturbing,” he said.
To Zakai Or, the choice to join the IDF was unquestionable. “I never doubted my enlistment and will never look back on it,” he said. “The only thought which went through my mind [regarding the service] after landing in the U.S. [is] what the next steps are: when do I do my testing and how do I make sure I can still stay here until the end of high school while still going through the drafting process which takes place back home?”