Just days after earning a sociology degree from San Diego State, Jaclyn Singer stepped on a plane to begin the experience of a lifetime.
The 2012 graduate was bound for Israel to fulfill a dream she had nurtured for many years — to join the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
Singer was raised in a Jewish family and attended a Jewish high school, but her commitment to the Jewish nation was a personal choice. She was just a teenager when the possibility of joining the Israeli army occurred to her.
Singer’s parents, Howard and Jill, encouraged her to earn a degree before making the life-changing aliyah or "ascent" back to the Holy Land. Now she is an Israeli citizen, about halfway through her two-year voluntary term, and about to move up a rank in her division.
"I wouldn't have been prepared for this if I hadn't received my sociology degree from SDSU," Singer said. "It not only gave me the skills I needed to communicate with others, but it also prepared me for the real world."
In the line of fire
Singer’s current world is Israel, a small country about the size of New Jersey. Because of tensions with Arab nations on Israel’s border, every citizen is required to serve in the army at age 18. Men serve three-year terms and women serve for two years.
Singer works on a military base and lives in a kibbutz, or collective community, in Nir Yizhaq, barely a mile from the Gaza border. The territory is fiercely disputed and has been under fire for years in the ongoing Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
Life on base can go from mellow to red alert in a matter of seconds.
"Everything is fine, beautiful, relaxed one minute, then the next we're scrambling into a bomb shelter," Singer said. "But you get used to it — it becomes normal."
Singer's mother Jill, an active member of the Aztec Parents Program, was present during an air strike. "It's scary to think of her in a war zone, but I know she can handle it," she said. "She's very brave and we are so proud of her."
Singer is also getting used to a different language and culture. She said her Hebrew is improving, but the “vast cultural differences” between the U.S. and Israel sometimes prove challenging in everyday life.
Currently, Singer works as an educational programmer, establishing curriculum for army recruits. Since the vast majority of serving soldiers are college-aged, the army ensures they receive a solid education.
The weeks are long, but Singer is rarely bored. She gets to base on a Sunday, Israel’s equivalent of Monday in the U.S., and works until sundown on Shabbat (Friday), the day of rest. Morale on the base is high, she said.
Peace of mind
Singer identifies herself as a Zionist — someone who believes in the development and protection of a Jewish nation, in what is now Israel.
One may argue that joining the army for peace would be counterintuitive. But Singer has every hope that the Middle East tensions can be resolved not by war, but through education and dialogue.
"We want peace," Singer said. "And I think a lot of the younger generations in other countries do as well. It just takes time."
Despite the constant threat of an attack, Singer constantly reminds herself that what she's doing is important.
"I've learned how to keep an open mind," Singer said. "And I've learned patience."