Israel | Local

Tucson lone soldiers’ parents: pride, fear

Tucsonan Shoham Ozeri, left, and a fellow IDF lone soldier in May 2014, more than a month before Israel launched Operation Protective Edge.
Tucsonan Shoham Ozeri, left, and a fellow IDF lone soldier in May 2014, more than a month before Israel launched Operation Protective Edge.

The intense fighting between Israel and Gaza has evoked mixed emotions for the parents of two local lone soldiers.

Max Gan, 23, made aliyah in 2010 and was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces that November. He served as a paratrooper and is now in the army reserves. He hadn’t been called up by Aug. 1, says his mother, Jami Gan, so Max left to travel in India for two months.

“If he was called up as an immigrant soldier he would have the option of returning or not. It would depend on the importance of the mission. If his unit went into Gaza he wouldn’t let his boys go in without him,” she says.

“Of course, we have mixed feelings. It’s his choice although it’s a lose-lose situation for both sides. It’s tragic,” she says. “We wouldn’t want him anywhere near war but we totally understand why he would go. We support Israel 100 percent.”

Tidhar Ozeri, an Israeli now living in Tucson, is the father of 20-year-old Shoham Ozeri, who has been serving in the IDF for two years. Shoham’s off-duty home is Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, which is within walking distance of the Gaza and Egypt borders. The kibbutz is in Israel’s Eshkol region, where four Israeli soldiers were killed and 10 people were wounded in a mortar attack on July 28.

If the IDF hadn’t recently discovered and destroyed a Hamas tunnel near her kibbutz, says Tidhar, “about two months from now my daughter might have been brutally murdered. I thought of those images and it was very scary. I’ve heard about Hamas’ master plan to send 200 terrorists through a tunnel close to her kibbutz over the High Holidays,” he says, adding that Shoham doesn’t intend to return to her kibbutz until it’s safe.

“Coming from Israel, I’ve been through similar incidents” of fighting. “But this time there has been the threat of the tunnels and rockets fired into Tel Aviv. I know the day-to-day life for many isn’t affected by the war but Israelis are affected emotionally,” he says.  “It’s reassuring that [Shoham] isn’t feeling the war firsthand.”

However, “when I heard about two lone soldiers, one from California and one from Texas, who were killed, my heart ached and my stomach hurt,” says Tidhar. “It brings the war a little closer to home. The army really takes care of lone soldiers. Israelis showed gratitude for their service by 20,000 to 30,000 people attending their funerals.”

The IDF tends to not send women soldiers behind enemy lines, he says. “Women are more vulnerable and could be raped. If you go through war you come back a different person because of the bodies, the destruction you see. You may have to shoot the enemy, but they’re still human beings. You have a bond with the other soldiers you served with for life.”

When the fighting began on July 8, Shoham was stationed in the Jericho area. Then her unit moved south of Tel Aviv to guard “a sensitive installation in the Negev,” says her mother, Nancy Ben-Asher Ozeri. “Shoham is frustrated that she’s doing guard duty instead of search and rescue. From a mother’s perspective, I’m fine with her doing guard duty and where she is. My fear for her as this all started escalating is that she would be called in for a search and rescue [mission] because that’s what she was trained for. My concern is the emotional impact on her, for her mental well-being. Thank God for the Iron Dome” anti-missile defense system destroying rockets coming into Israel from Gaza, which means Shoham “hasn’t had to deal with pulling out dead bodies” from destroyed buildings.

“Although I didn’t participate too much in the fighting myself,” Shoham wrote in an email to the AJP on Aug. 8, “I do feel this is something Israel experiences as a whole because everyone of my age that I know is serving. I feel as though I’m experiencing the fighting almost firsthand. Most of the boys from my garin, or group of people who make aliyah together, were in Gaza. Those who aren’t fighting are worried. We get updated on the news, names of the deceased and political decisions, which has become a dominant part of our daily schedule.

“I’m so proud of Shoham because of her decision to serve in the IDF,” says her mother. “She could have just stayed here in the U.S., but she wanted to serve with her peers.” Looking back at her own youth, “now I understand how my mom felt when I was in Israel during the Gulf War” in 1991, says Nancy. Her mother, Bryna Ben-Asher, who died in June, never said, “I’m scared for your safety”or “I want you to come home now.” But she did say, “‘You raise your kids to be independent, and damnit, they are,’” says Nancy. “I wish I could talk with her now.”