Hovering like a drone: IDF officer Rebecca Baruch on pandemic limbo
Why We Wrote This
Rebecca Baruch, a “lone soldier” who emigrated to Israel without her family, felt the sting of loneliness when her officer graduation ceremony was held on Zoom. She’s one of twelve 21-year-olds around the globe followed in 21 in ’21, a special report on the effects of the pandemic on young adults.
Heidi Levine/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
During much of the pandemic, Rebecca Baruch – shown here at her kibbutz — was isolated in Israel Defense Forces officer training, carrying gear weighing 60% of her bodyweight through Negev Desert heat and cold. She leads a female intelligence unit.
January 22, 2021
By Rebecca Baruch as told to Dina Kraft
Israel Defense Forces Officer Training Base, Israel
Whenever you land a drone, there’s that last 2 meters before it lands and it’s hovering above the ground. The drone has an automatic process to land: It suddenly slows down, beeps twice, and continues whirring until it touches ground.
I feel exactly in that place – just 2 meters above the ground in my life, on the brink of taking the next step, becoming an officer in the Israeli army. I need to land slowly – and maybe too slowly for what I’m feeling, for where I want to be.
Since I came to Israel in 2017 from the Netherlands, when I was 18, I’ve been on the go almost nonstop, studying Hebrew, learning about Israel and its society and history, and then deciding to immigrate here, which meant being drafted.
As I hover now between steps on my path, I’m thinking about who I am and the choices I’ve made. In three days (Nov. 5, 2020), I’ll graduate from officer training school and lead an all-female field intelligence unit. Our job is to help protect Israel’s borders with Jordan and Egypt, spotting and apprehending infiltrators.
Now, after four months of training and preparation for my new job, I’m suddenly in this holding pattern – and it’s disorienting. For over two years in the army now, I’ve been either training or out on missions. But we’ve wrapped up all the officer training courses and have four days to wait for graduation. Even since the pandemic began, I’ve been fortunate to keep going forward with my path, my goals. But now I’m getting a taste, too, of the suspension of time, of the waiting for things to begin that others know too well during this time of lockdown and life interrupted.
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On nights in the field we don’t sleep. We can trek as far as 13 miles deep into the desert under a sky full of stars, our 66-pound packs loaded with gear, food, and water. In my hands I carry an M16 rifle. I welcome the dry desert air, the silence. I really like that the only thing I hear is the crunch of stones and the occasional snap of a plant underfoot.
During the combat exercises and missions, meals are usually a can of corn or chickpeas (I’m vegetarian), and days and nights are spent at lookouts that we camouflage like dunes or rocky climbs. We spend hours inside the lookouts: In the summer, it can get close to 122 degrees Fahrenheit; in the winter, the nights get cold.
We’re looking for any details in the landscape that might have changed, something that could suggest suspicious movement.
Courtesy of IDF
Rebecca Baruch, shown here during her Israel Defense Forces officer training program, didn’t hit the wall of loneliness in the pandemic until her November 2020 graduation, when her Dutch family back in The Hague could only attend the ceremony by Zoom.
Army officials say women are especially suited for field intelligence, crediting our attention to detail and ability to focus. We’re trained to navigate, which is like solving puzzles or being on a treasure hunt. We find our way with either a compass or electronic gear and digital maps, as well as with what we can remember by heart and by the stars. And I prefer relying on my own eyes over night vision goggles.
I think women make good combat soldiers in general because we push to prove ourselves, our worth. Inside our unit, we don’t have to prove anything because we build each other up through our hard work and camaraderie.
Now that the course is over, I’m stuck waiting – like that drone – to officially have the bars of an officer put on my shoulder at the ceremony.
In one way I’ll be like everyone else on graduation day. Because of corona, no family members can come to the ceremony in person. Everyone will watch by Zoom, instead. But that evening, everyone will go home to their families for the weekend before beginning their new positions.
I’m a “lone soldier” – I immigrated to Israel without my family. I have a family that has “adopted” me at a kibbutz in southern Israel, but they will be away on vacation.
Over the weekend, it rained here and that reminded me of the Netherlands. My feelings of loneliness were already there because I’m living alone, and not with my family. But it feels more intense this week because of the pandemic. I was supposed to visit my family a few months ago and had to cancel because of the virus. And I don’t know when I’ll see them next.
So the issue of family feels especially sensitive to me right now.
Heidi Levine/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Rebecca Baruch preps her Israeli military uniform in her bedroom on Kibbutz Sa’ad. A Dutch Jewish immigrant who came to Israel alone without her family, who is known as a “lone soldier,” she was informally adopted by the kibbutz.
I will go home after the graduation ceremony to an empty room in an empty house on the kibbutz – there will be no party. But I already know that all that night, I’ll go over again – and again – what I want to say in my first conversation with my soldiers.
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There’s a joke I’ve been practicing about our unit being one of the best because we don’t have boys to mess up our work. But, in seriousness, I will try to explain to them that I’m there to help them fulfill their goals as soldiers, and a little bit about me – my perfectionism, that if I get angry it’s probably because I need to eat, and why I immigrated to Israel, pulled here as a European Jewish girl looking for a place I could feel fully at home.
In this quiet moment, hovering on the verge of everything that will come next, I think to myself, this is adulthood.