Israel Defense Force Soldiers Visit Students at SHU

News Story: May 1, 2010
Members of the Israel Defense Force spoke to students about their experiences during a recent visit to campus.

Uniformed military personnel from the Israel Defense Force were on the Sacred Heart University campus April 27 for a cultural exchange with their American peers.

Seven members of Israel's army and air force, five males and two females ranging in age from 21 to 23, sat in the Pitt Center Board Room for several hours, meeting one on one with dozens of Sacred Heart students and professors and later gave a presentation on their lives in the military to a group of people from the SHU community, and they took questions from the audience of about 20 people.

They have varying roles from combat fighters to support services. One female wore her khaki uniform and bright red polish on her nails.

One SHU student asked about the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapons program. Adi, a 22-year-old infantryman in the Israeli army, said “We are worried about Iran getting a nuclear warhead, a nuclear bomb. We do a lot of drills…We will do whatever is necessary to keep our borders safe.” The military personnel divulged only their first names for security reasons.

The Israelis were not on campus to discuss politics. They did answer questions related to their work, daily lives, and the violence they sometimes confront, but they declined to answer questions about President Obama’s Middle East policy and about the viability of a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. They did say there are many more people on both sides of the conflict, who are willing to come together and work toward peace but that the media focuses largely on the extremists and the violence.

“It’s only conflict (in the news). I don’t see a lot of peaceful portrayals of things going on in your country,” said Shana Beladino, a political science major.

SHU ROTC member Steve Pawlowski, a junior, asked the soldiers a question.  At left is freshman Cole Campbell.

“We hear your story from two different extremes – pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli, nothing in the middle. It’s unfair, the way it’s painted in the media,” said Steve Pawlowski, 20, of Middleton, Mass., a junior finance major who holds the rank of MS-3 in the SHU ROTC program. Pawlowski was struck by the difference between the military operations in Israel and the United States. U.S. citizens have the option of entering the military. Their Israeli counterparts are mandated to serve for several years beginning at age 18.

“They’re also fighting at home, and it’s an everyday thing for them. We have to go get (the enemy) where they’re hiding,” Pawlowski said.

Stephanie Messina, of Berlin, Conn., a graduate student in the criminal justice program, lightened up the discussion asking the Israelis about their passions and hobbies. All said they were interested in music and Eden, 23, said she enjoys doing art work. Eden said her work as a drone pilot collecting intelligence and escorting ground troops “is like a video game.”

Nancy Schiffman, associate executive director of the Stamford Jewish Community Center, said the JCC brings members of the Israel Defense Force to Connecticut every year, which allows for “a real-life dialogue with people on the front lines. It’s a great exchange of cultures and ideas and learning,” she said.

“I’m always trying to take advantage of any opportunity to learn and this is pertaining to my major, which involves international affairs,” Beladino said.

Prof. Gary Rose, chair of SHU’s Department of Government and Politics: “I found it fascinating to talk to these people. You realize that they deal with life and death issues every day of their life. It’s something everybody needs to hear about,” Rose said.

Chen, 23, an air force pilot, enjoyed his visit to campus. “We often speak to (younger) school groups. It was nice to speak with college students, mature people with their own opinions,” he said.

The soldiers' visit to campus was sponsored and arranged by SHU's Middle Eastern Studies Program.