January 7, 2007 / 17 Tevet 5767
For four and a half years Scottish-born Jonathan Levene, 26, served in one of Israel's most demanding and elite units - the Navy Commandoes – "Shayetet 13". His compulsory army service came during the difficult years of the second Intifada. He took part in key operations including the Karina A affair, the brilliant IDF operation in which a boat load of weapons ordered by Yasser Arafat was captured at sea. Jonathan, although a navy commando, was involved in the Defensive Shield operations in Jenin, which saw fierce door-to-door fighting with a number of soldiers killed. By the time Jonathan finished his service he had seen a lot of fighting in the most difficult of conditions.
After his intense army service Jonathan decided to take a break as a counselor at a JCC camp in New Jersey and then headed off to South America and to see the world. "I felt I really needed a break after the army," says Jonathan.
In the summer of 2006 Jonathan started working intensively in Tel Aviv to save up for his studies in Law and Government at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliyah. "I felt I was finally getting on with my life and doing what kids in the US do when they are 18," says Jonathan.
But then, unexpected war broke out in the North and Jonathan found himself back in uniform. All of his work plans were forgotten as he went to defend the people of Israel, and his homeland, once again.
"When the war in Lebanon broke out I saw most of my friends getting called up for emergency reserve duty (Tsav 8)," recalls Jonathan wistfully. "But we are an elite unit and my team commander brought everyone in even before we were officially recruited through Tsav 8 – we are a very motivated and loyal bunch of guys. We all felt we just had to be at the front."
Jonathan's roommate was badly wounded while parachuting into Lebanon. He was in intensive care for a long time and is now in physical therapy four times a week. His friend's near miss with death took a heavy toll on Jonathan. "I served for six weeks in the North as well as in the South. Fighting the Hezbullah is a whole different experience to fighting the Palestinians," says Jonathan fiercely.
"The war changed my life. I am waiting for my roommate to be well enough to come home. Lebanon threw me back to my service, to the crazy reality of war that never seems to end."
After the war Jonathan was determined to return to his college studies. He recently received a tuition scholarship from the Jewish Agency for students called up for emergency reserve duty.
"The scholarship I got from the Jewish Agency has made a huge difference to me," says Jonathan. "My family is not in a position to help me pay for my studies. I support myself entirely. It's a great luxury to be able to concentrate on my studies and not to have to work every spare moment."
"IDC Herzliyah, where I am studying, is great. I look forward to working in my field and leading a normal life – if that is possible".
An overwhelming 12,904 students applied for the Jewish Agency scholarships for soldiers called up for emergency reserve duty. Like Jonathan, 8,859 students were eligible and received scholarships. Further funds were recently approved by the United Jewish Communities' Israel Emergency Campaign to ensure that all of the eligible students who were called up for Tsav 8 received the scholarship. Funds for this campaign came from generous donors throughout North America through their local federations.