Exactly twenty-six years ago, on April 1, 1993, I became an officer in the Israel Defense Forces (That's me in the picture getting my rank - April 1st 1993).
How symbolic that the course ended on All Fools’ Day, and my personal story on that course would sound like a work of fiction! However, unlike my books, it's a real story.
I enlisted in October 1992, the first granddaughter of my religious family to join the army. There was no one happier than I, wearing my uniform. At the end of basic training, I was on track to become an officer in the Maintenance Corps (now the Logistics Corps). After completing all the stages of training, including the Basic Officers' Course, I reached the last stage, involving about two months as a cadet at the 6th Training Base, at the end of which I would graduate as a second lieutenant and be appointed to a position as a maintenance officer.
For me, professional ability was never an obstacle to promotion. I was very sure of myself and was often the first in my class.
Socially, however, I was far from the center of things. I'm not exactly a social animal and find it very difficult to connect with people in short periods of time. I was the only girl from a religious background, and felt like a stranger among all the other cadets.
During the course, I was appointed to be the on-duty cadet in charge of orders, and to be the liaison between the cadets and the staff. At the same time, the base commander decided to allow the cadets to sleep longer - but without any postponement of activities - and the result was that I was unable to muster the group on time, since my "friends" did not really take a responsible attitude to their own punctuality. Still, the slight difficulty with the morning roll calls did not overshadow my confidence. I was good cadet.
Everything changed when the base commander (a colonel) decided to visit our class of cadets during training one day. He was a slightly threatening-looking man, and his speech was a little frightening. He talked and talked at us, and when he’d finished, he asked to hear what we, the cadets, had to say. We were all silent like fish. No one wanted to complain about anything.
"You!" He came over to me and looked at me. I remember it with horror to this day. "Have you nothing to say?"
I told myself I had to say something - anything - so I said, "We don’t have enough time to get organized in the morning." Within two hours, I was on review. The reason: lack of authority, because of my inability, as the on-duty cadet, to organize my fellow cadets in the mornings.
Of course, he wanted me dismissed from the course, but since I had already completed a Basic Officers’ Course, I had to be reviewed by a brigadier general, so they sent me to the Chief Maintenance Officer.
I sat, shamed, in front of the review board. It was only supposed to be the Chief Maintenance Officer, but it now also involved the commander of the base, who did not stop pointing out to the senior officer how inadequate I was. The Chief Maintenance Officer knew that he would have trouble getting rid of a high-ranking cadet, so I was sent back to the course with a conditional status.
Despite the uncertainty, I continued to function normally, and a few days before the graduation ceremony, I was called back to the Chief Maintenance Officer's office to receive a final ruling on my case. My commander had been very positive, telling me that I was an excellent cadet. Besides, all the other cadets who had been sent for a final hearing had been required to return their rifles (to avoid self-harm or environmental threat). My rifle had stayed close to me, however, which made me assume that this whole, strange story was just behind me. I was feeling confident.
But - the Chief Maintenance Officer dismissed me from the course. Six months of tedious training ended in frustration.
It was Friday afternoon (the weekend in Israel), and because I was actually dismissed from the course, I did not have to stay at the base. I went home. When I got home, my father called a friend who served in the Military Advocate General's Office, and he was amazed by the number of rules that had been violated in my case. First of all, it was not possible to dismiss a cadet due to lack of authoritativeness. I'd already gone through basic officer training, so the fact that I could command could not be challenged. Second, from a procedural point of view, my review was conducted in contradiction to the proper procedure: I could only be dismissed by my direct superior (not the base commander). The base commander should not have been involved in my review at all.
The whole procedure was neither right nor proper.
On Sunday, I arrived back at the base ready with my appeal, which was written out in my round handwriting (a reminder - it was 1993, and home computers were as rare as dinosaurs). I submitted my appeal to the commanders and they were shocked. I was the first cadet in I.D.F. history to question her dismissal. The procedures relating to a cadet’s appeal against dismissal from an officer's course were ancient and so little-used that it took a day or two before they worked out what to do with me.
In order to overrule a brigadier general's decision, a higher-ranking officer was now called in. I now needed a general (one rank below the Chief of Staff, whom I’ve no doubt had heard about me). The general not only read my appeal, but asked me to come to meet him in his office at the Kirya (the General Staff). He decided to return me to the course.
A year-and-a-half later, when I was already a lieutenant and had also been awarded the status of “outstanding officer” on Independence Day, a festive ceremony was held in honor of the retirement of that army general. At the ceremony were hundreds of maintenance and armament officers. When I was on my way out at the end of the ceremony, the head of the general's office suddenly approached me and said that the general wanted to talk to me. I was shocked. So many people… such a dignified ceremony… and he was interested in me?
I approached him and saluted with pride. He shook my hand, and told me warmly that he had followed me throughout my career. He considered his decision about me to be one of the best he had made, and he was glad to have given me the opportunity to serve as an officer. His warm words resonate in my mind to this day.