A record number of Ethiopian Jews are joining the prestigious Israel Defense Forces Paratroopers Brigade.
It used to be that you had to have the right background to stand a chance at being enlisted into the Paratroopers Brigade, the only airborne mobile infantry brigade in the IDF. Many of the brigade’s former commanders become key figures in Israeli society, as in the case of Ariel Sharon.
A few years ago, the IDF decided to look for potential in the wider spectrum of Israeli society and locate the best there are for recruitment to the brigade.
Three times a year, they run preliminary training and integration programs for the new immigrants at the base, and see a steady increase in the number of soldiers aspiring to enlist in the Paratroopers Brigade.
This unit prides itself on the high number of members of the Ethiopian Jewish community who are undergoing basic recruit training. Although it is considered an elite brigade, the Paratroopers Brigade, more than any other brigade in the army, presently represents Israelis of all backgrounds.
One of the new recruits from the Ethiopian community, Lior Ishata, speaks of how he was inspired to join. He heard stories of the liberators of the Western Wall and the old city of Jerusalem (formerly Jordanian controlled) and the battle at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, one of the fiercest battles of the Six-Day War. For Lior, after everything he’d learned, he didn’t think twice about signing up.
He says that having other Ethiopian soldiers in the brigade makes it easier. “Their company makes me feel more confident. It could have been much more difficult otherwise. They are all people that I know; some of them were with me at the Mikve Alon base, and others I know way back from my hometown neighborhood. They are all people that I can sit down with and talk, and it makes it all much easier. With God’s help, I hope I’ll make it to the officer’s course and become a commander.”
These recruits from the Ethiopian Jewish community are proud to be a part of the elite “Red Beret” brigade. After all, it was the Paratroopers brigade who flew them and their families from Ethiopia to Israel in the covert airlift known as Operation Solomon.
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