New Jersey Jewish News
Our daughter, the Israeli officer
Keren DeCastro, one of the first two rishonim (student ambassadors) to MetroWest, is now a lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces. The ceremony for her commission was held on Jan. 4 in the fortress at Latrun.
Keren lived with us in Millburn for about six months while she served as one of the rishonim during the 2003-04 academic year and became a member of our family. Her parents, Maurizio and Nurit whose families immigrated to Israel from Italy and Yemen, respectively have had to learn to share her.
In the United States, young people go into the army and sort of disappear for long periods. In Israel, everyone and everything is always close to home. The good news for parents with children in the service is they get to see their offspring at least once a month. The bad news is that thats because the front is never far away.
Latrun is a fitting place to hold these ceremonies and contemplate the centrality of the army to life in Israel. The British built Latrun during the 1930s following Arab riots. It sits on a hill on the main route between Jerusalem and the Mediterranean. There was a time not so long ago when holding Latrun meant you could choke off Jerusalems supply line from the west. After the UN partition, the British handed the place over to the Arabs, who used it to block the road in an attempt to starve out the Jews in Jerusalem.
The Israelis suffered terrible casualties and never did take the fortress. Instead, they constructed a road around the fortress and used it to break the siege. In 1967, the IDF took Latrun and the hills and valleys around it. The fortress is now the centerpiece of a memorial and museum of armored warfare.
Keren was very happy that day when she was told her job would be in support, at a base in the southern Negev, about 45 minutes north of Eilat. At least it wont be the job she desperately did not want. So she got to smile her wonderful smile and, on an otherwise cold and rainy day, bask in the warmth of her Israeli and American families and friends.
Keren did well as an instructor, teaching new soldiers to drive armored engineering vehicles and disarm explosives. As a result, she was offered the opportunity to go to officers training school. The first four months of the six-month course was general training. The final two months were spent training for specialized jobs, with the group divided into combat, combat support, and non-combat jobs; women still go to support and non-combat units.
Keren was upset for most of those two months because rather than the advanced training position she thought she was heading toward, she was being taught to allocate troops and resources based on changing conditions in the field. This meant that if additional troops were needed to move casualties and retake a position or similar tasks, Keren would be one of those officers to decide who would go. This is a job that you can do perfectly but still know, every day, that another soldier is going to be killed or injured.
Keren felt she could not handle the job. She spoke with her commanding officers. Fortunately, her original base commander was glad to have her back. She now allocates personnel among training areas.
Both her Israeli and her American parents were relieved, though we know this means someone elses kid will have to do the job.
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