Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Navy Days

During the senior year of high school in the US, most students are likely filling out college applications frantically and then succumbing to a severe case of senioritis. Then, off to college they go, living the university life, joining fraternities and sororities, and living what many say is "the best time of their lives". In Israel, however, things are quite different. All young men and women in Israel are preparing for the inevitable, which is the 2-3 years of obligatory army service that they must complete after graduating from high school. Drafted at age 18, men serve three years and women typcially serve 21 months. Although some exceptions are granted, most Israelis end up serving. When Rafi graduated from high school in Israel, he was no exception. Like others his age, he had to choose from three division of the IDF: ground forces, the air force and the navy. He was eager to join the navy since he viewed it as safer than ground combat. After being put through a physically and mentally rigorous 3-day 'test', he received the letter granting him the good news that he had made it. The Haifa port would be his home for the next three years:

Haifa Israel

Paraglider at Haifa Port

Haifa is a coastal city located in the north of Israel and is about 2.5 hours by car from the Jerusalem/Tel Aviv area. Try to see if you can find it on the map to the left. I was eager to see where Rafi had spent three long years of his life and I had never seen the inside of a navy ship, so I convinced him to go for a visit to his old ship, the INS Keshet. He tells many stories about his responsibilities during those years, which included working with the ropes and the guns, and also a lot of cleaning and cooking (for which I am forever grateful). There are many sad stories and also many proud moments including his involvement in the 2006 Lebanon war against the militant Hezbollah, which was ironically at the very same time that I was on the Birthright Israel program. Little did I know that my future husband was out at sea keeping me safe while I toured Israel with dozens of other Americans. After visiting his ship, I have to say it is pretty hard to believe that someone can live for so long in such close quarters with so many people! Take a look at some pictures from our visit:

Rafi on the Haifa Port

Walking down toward the INS Keshet

A view of Haifa from the port

Another beautiful view of Haifa

One of many naval ships on the base

That's the INS Keshet, Rafi's naval ship

A ship docking at Haifa Port

And finally, here we are at the INS Keshet, Rafi's home away from home, where he lived on board with about 60 other men:

INS Keshet

Approaching th INS Keshet

Here we are! This is Rafi's first trip back as a former soldier

Rafi is so proud to be visiting his former base

Now on board, taking a tour

Rafi is showing me how he used to work the controls and talk over the loud speaker
Rafi only has a handful of pictures from his three years of army service in the IDF, but here are a few that I was able to round up:

Rafi in uniform on the INS Keshet

Soldiers taking a smoking break (I refused to be Rafi's girlfriend until he kicked this BAD habit!)

Rafi with his soldier friends

Lunch  break

Enjoying one of thousands of sunsets on board the INS Keshet

Rafi inside the naval ship, toting his pride and joy

Clearly, he love taking pictures with his gun

And yet another one....

And another.....
One of Rafi's favorite things to do in the navy was to practice shooting, and is still one of his favorite pastimes. He and I could not be more different in that regard! I've never pointed a gun and don't want to. Something to get used to in Israel is that on any given street corner, you will see someone with a gun or rifle in their pocket or strapped across their chest. They're as common as cell phones here, and it's just part of the country's customs and security. Lastly, it is fitting that I show you now the video footage from Rafi's navy years when he was brought onto an Israeli TV show where he was surprised with a visit from his late father. Rafi was selected for this surprise by his beloved navy friends who knew he had not been able to see his family members back home in Colombia for nearly two years. This video is doubly special now, especially since Rafi's father is no longer with us. English ubtitles begin about 19 seconds into the video. Enjoy!


  1. wow Erin....I have tears in my eyes watching this. Rafi is an icredible man. It is wonderful that they captured this moment on video forever. I love your blogs!


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