For the Second Time in History: Religious Female Combat Navigator Stands in the Ranks at Pilots’ Graduation Ceremony
Amongst the three women who graduated pilots’ training course #170 on Thursday was R, a religious graduate of Midreshet Lindenbaum. Says her father: “She is committed to the highest standards; all eyes were turned to her.”
The newest Israeli Air Force pilots received their wings today (Thursday, 25 July) during the prestigious Flight Academy graduation ceremony on the Hazerim airbase, in the presence of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, IDF Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot, Minister of Defense Moshe “Boogie” Ya’alon and Israel Air Force Commander Major General Amir Eshel and other dignitaries.
“The fact that there are three women amongst the graduates is a testament to the fact that Israeli society is advanced and seeks equality,” declared Netanyahu in his address.
One of those three women was R, the second religious combat navigator in the history of the IAF. The first, as you may recall, was Captain Tamar Ariel of blessed memory, who was tragically killed eight months ago in an avalanche in Nepal – and who served as a source of inspiration and encouragement to R in the early months of flight school.
R receives a post-graduation hug from Anat, the mother of Captain Tamar Ariel, z”l, whose photo R carries in her pocket
“The first time R met Tamar was in flight school, when Tamar was her commander during the course’s entry trial,” recalls Rs mother. “Once R. was accepted and started the course, Tamar — who was already a combat navigator — stayed in touch with her, and even gave her the uniform skirt that was sewn especially for her, as the first religious woman in the course.
Reaching New Heights
R is a graduate of the Claudia Cohen Hadas School at Midreshet Lindenbaum, part of the Ohr Torah Stone network, which enables religious women to incorporate significant service in the military with ongoing, high-level Torah study. Even during the intensive three-year pilot training course, R meticulously continued her studies, participating in shiurim and engaging in regular chavruta study, in accordance with the program’s policy of accompanying students during the course of their service.
The strong and ongoing connection was evident at the ceremony as R’s teachers and 150 Midreshet Lindenbaum students traveled southward to Hazerim to encourage and congratulate her, wearing identical turquoise t-shirts with the seminary logo emblazoned on the back and the front bearing the message: “And up there in the skies, an F-“R” is reaching new heights.”
All Eyes Were On Her
“Our feeling as parents is, first and foremost, great love, accompanied by joy at the dignified and praiseworthy manner in which R approached this incredible challenge,” says R’s father. “She sacrificed a lot in order to do this, and our pride is not only in that she completed the course but also the way in which she finished – in terms of her commanders’ satisfaction, in terms of her integration into the social fabric of the aviation corps, and in terms of her ethical-religious-faith behaviors and beliefs. As an observant cadet, R was committed to high standards, while all eyes were on her.
Newly-graduated R flanked by program director Rabbi Ohad Teharlev (left) and Rabbi Shuki Reich (right)
“During the course, R continued to fast on all the fast days, she woke up each day earlier than necessary in order to pray in the base synagogue. Once a week she had a telephone shiur with Rabbi Shuki Reich [a teacher from the Hadas program] in Talmud Bavli,” her father added.
According to everyone, just as R never compromised her religion for the sake of her mission, she also never compromised her training because she was religious.
“R is a very responsible young woman who approaches everything she does with utmost seriousness,” says Rabbi Ohad Teharlev, director of the Israeli programs at Midreshet Lindenbaum. “She had dreamt of this her entire life, and so we supported and encouraged her to do it. A young woman who wants to fulfill her potential, to contribute to the State of Israel and the nation of Israel in the best way possible, who is prepared to give her heart and soul and put her life on the line, who at the same time is dedicated to learning Torah, R didn’t cut any corners or cut herself any breaks, not in the religious world and not in the professional realm.
“As far as recruiting religious women into the army, it has been shown that the sky is the limit,” continues Teharlev. “R completed an immensely challenging track, and in her success she proves that it is possible to perform significant military service even while maintaining a religious lifestyle. At Hadas we train hundreds of women each year to synthesize between meaningful service and Torah life, stressing that achievement in one area should not come at the expense of the other. Military service for religious women is not only possible,” he insists, “but it is an important and necessary social process. May we merit to see more and more religious women attaining such top quality positions.”
A Successful Model
It should be noted that Hadas programs in the Intelligence, Air Force and Education Corps are part of the Ministry of Defense’s Social and Security Department. Udi Dror, the director of Recruitment and Special Tracks at the ministry, stresses that the Hadas platform provides “the most successful model for service for religious women, combining as it does a period of intense study followed by full, meaningful service in the military, accompanied all the while by the program’s dedicated staff. Over the years, this formula has provided the IDF with a large number of officers and high ranking commanders in quality, important roles – and now also with a flight school graduate,” he says.
R.’s parents understand that with the beginning of R’s actual service as a combat navigator, so too, naturally, will their worries begin. “But we accept it with love,” they insist. “We are confident that she will do everything for the best, and pray that God will keep her safe – together with all of Israel’s soldiers.”