Six thousand miles from Pittsburgh, city natives are combining opportunity and bravery while serving in the Israel Defense Forces.
Joining the IDF and making the country a new residence is no news for young people, but with the current state of affairs being violent and inconsistent, the present batch of soldiers brings Pittsburghers to the edge of their seats.
“We worry,” Lynn Berman said of her daughter, Sharin Berman, 19, who is serving in the IDF. “For security reasons we can’t say what she’s doing, but she is in some places that see a lot of missiles, so we worry a lot.”
Her family keeps close tabs on the situation and uses all efforts to use today’s latest inexpensive forms of communication to reach out to Sharin. And when they do talk, the fighting is not the topic at hand.
“Often when she calls, she wants to talk about things other than the situation and the work she’s doing, so we keep her up to date on family and friends,” Berman said, adding that when she can’t get to Sharin, others in her path keep the family up to date.
“I recently received an email from a family friend [who said] Sharin had spent the night at her home on the way back to her base,” Berman said. “And this friend told me that [Sharin] looks great and that she was heading back to work well armed with chocolate, Nutella and Tabasco sauce.”
Berman said Israelis look after each other, especially the young soldiers. This past Friday morning, Sharin called her mom just before Shabbat in Israel and updated her on the supportive atmosphere in her area.
“Her unit in the field is often sent produce, pizza and other food,” Berman said. “She also receives letters and pictures from children.”
Recently, Sharin felt honored that two girls, around age 4, were excited to have their photo taken with her. “She feels she’s doing something important, and that is very fulfilling,” Berman said. “As a parent, it makes me happy too.”
The joy is a theme for the mother’s reaction to her daughter.
“We are very proud of her decision,” Berman said of her daughter’s joining the IDF following her second trip to
Israel. “Sharin has always been a determined and fiercely independent person.”
Sharin grew up in Squirrel Hill, attended the Community Day School through eighth grade and enrolled in Obama Academy for high school. Sharin knew that making aliyah was her path, and following her high school’s commencement, she engaged in the process that formalizes her immigration to the Jewish state through a 1950 law that grants automatic citizenship to most Jews.
“Given her age at aliyah, service was required and she understood that,” Berman said. “As a young woman who is observant, she could have chosen to do other national service, but she chose the IDF, [which fulfills] her desire to serve [while actively] understanding that army service is the best way to acculturate and become part of Israeli society.”
With the excitement, however, also brings sadness.
“We certainly miss her and wish that Israel were somewhat closer and less expensive to visit,” Berman said of the move. “We stay in close contact by phone and electronic communications, so we do not feel she is so far away.”
To keep the faith, the family turns to shul.
“We attend Shaare Torah, and Rabbi Wasserman is a strong Zionist,” Berman said. “We say a prayer for Israel and for the soldiers weekly, regardless of the current situation.”
The Bermans are also part of a network of families whose members live in Israel and serve in its military.
The support helps the Bermans “continue our daily lives — keeping [Sharin] in mind at all times.” It’s the small messages that have the largest easement.
“My favorite communication,” Berman said, “is a little note saying ‘I’m fine’ after she goes off duty.”
(Bee Schindler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)