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Follow Your Dreams: IDF Edition

Adam May, CC '11

After graduating from Columbia last year, Adam May, CC ’11, headed to Israel to volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces. On his blog, he chronicled his journey through basic training and assignment into Dover Tzahal, the Army’s media division. Now, he works as a military journalist, writing articles about the IDF for an international audience.

Bwog: Are you an Israeli citizen?

I am, actually, because if you’re the son of a first-generation emigrant, then you have citizenship. My mom’s Israeli. I would go almost every year to Israel to visit family, my grandparents, aunts and uncles.

My dad’s family is like 4th or 5th generation American Jews. So the way my dad met my mom is he went to medical school in Israel. He was there for four years, they met and fell in love, got married, dragged her back to America kicking and screaming.

Do you consider yourself Israeli or an American?

That’s a good question. I don’t know. I think dual-citizenship is pretty right, because I’m very much both. I come to Israel and I don’t quite fit in there. I’m still an American.

Did you go to public school?

Actually, I went to religious yeshiva, which I hated very much. For the start of high school, I moved to public school. It was a great change. The town [Livingston, NJ] was like 40% Jewish, one of the densest Jewish populations anywhere. My mom has a lot of Israeli friends who live in the area, and there are a lot of Israeli expats who live in the same area, and a lot of their kids end up going into the Army.

Has anyone from Columbia ever joined the IDF?

I actually know a bunch of veterans. GS has a bunch of Israeli Army veterans. And there’s another kid from Columbia who also went to Israel after Columbia. So I don’t think I’m the first, but it definitely isn’t a common thing that people do.

Why didn’t you decide to go into the IDF for a few years after high school and then go to GS?

To be honest, I didn’t really know that much about GS at the time. When I deferred [my Columbia College acceptance], they offered it to me and I didn’t know what it was. I just knew it wasn’t Columbia College. My parents really thought it was a good idea for me to get an education first. After a lot of discussions with them—it was a big decision, probably the biggest decision I’d ever made up until that point.

I think in the end, now that I’m there now, it was a good one. Because while I’m having difficulty adjusting to dealing with 18-year old kids while I’m in the Army, I think it would have been harder if I was in a college setting, where it’s less rigid, it’s more actually having to integrate yourself into a social setting.

How long is your tour of duty?

[If you’re an Israeli citizen,] there’s a three-year commitment for men and two-year for women, unless you do certain jobs. My tour is only 14 months because I volunteered. I enlisted in October, so I’ll be done at the end of this year.

What are your plans then? Are you going to stay in Israel?

The thing is, it’s much easier for me to get a job in Israel than it is here, so I’m going to try to come to New York…but then if I fail miserably—which is certainly an option—I might go back to Israel. Nothing against Israel, but I spent too long in New York to not want to come back.

What was basic training like?

I learned how to shoot, I learned how to do first-aid, [and] I even learned a little Krav Maga. I loved shooting; I was very good at that.

I still have to take out a gun every once in a while if I travel somewhere. If I’m on guard duty, I’ll usually take out a gun from the headquarters, but I don’t have a gun on me all the time, which is nice. It’s a pain in the ass to carry a gun around. It’s a 3-kilogram necklace; it’s awful.

Since service in the IDF is mandatory after high school, most soldiers are around our age. What’s that like?

That’s probably the most amazing thing about the Israeli Army. I went to basic training, which is like this camp in the middle of the woods where no one’s over 20, except for maybe the base commander, who’s 26 or 27. They basically put a bunch of adolescent kids in the woods, gave them guns, and out came an army. It’s kind of incredible to see them basically take a bunch of immature 18-year-olds who just spent the last six months after high school sitting on their moms’ couches and train them to follow orders.

My cousin serves as the head of a war room. She’s 20 years old, and she’s an officer. It’s kind of amazing the level of responsibility they give to these kids. A 20-year-old is running the war room in Ramallah, where Molotov cocktails are thrown every day and she gets woken up in the middle of the night every night to go and deal with this stuff. She would be about a sophomore at Columbia.

[These young soldiers] are doing amazing things and I think it’s kind of a shame, because a lot of the time they get blamed for everything. It’s not their fault. The army is a tool of the government; any ire against the government policies should stay directed at the government and not the army. And that’s why I do what I do.

You’re a journalist for the Israeli Army. What do you write about?

My focus is definitely more on feature pieces and personal stories and things that put a human face to the IDF. The Israeli reporters are actually following the breaking news of the army and giving it as they go. They’ll break stories all the time to the big newspapers in Israel, whereas what I write almost never gets picked up by the big newspapers in Israel because they don’t care about what I’m writing about. It’s not for them.

I love writing about these experiences that make life so different in Israel. Because I write for the English website, I’m not writing for the Israeli audience, so I’ll write about very different things. For me, I can write about these things because these are things I don’t think an American audience understands about life here.

What got you interested in journalism?

I always liked journalism, but I’d never done something like this, where it’s hard journalism. I’ve always done like food reviews, style writing, whatever bullshit. I wanted to try it. It sounded very interesting.

I was going to go to a combat unit for a very long time. I was dead-set on it. Then I learned that I’m serving for 14 months and 10 months of my service is going to be training. I’ll do four months of actual service on a border or somewhere and then I’ll be done. It just didn’t feel like I was making much of an impact.

How has the Core helped you?

It’s kind of been like this very strange experience where I’ve had all these theoretical discussions about philosophy and democracy and what it means to be part of a nation and things like that. When I came, I had this grandiose idea that, “I’m going to apply all of these things that I learned to the situation.” Basically, it was a bit of a shock that the situation on the ground is entirely different.

I think the one thing that has really helped is that being at Columbia taught me to…really make sure that I’m taking the time to get all sides of the story, and then critically analyze and be able to think and draw my own conclusions and not get too swept up in what anybody says.

There are skills I’ve learned from Columbia that I think have helped me, but as far as the theory and the politics, none of it really carries over. Once you hit the ground, everything changes.

While you were at Columbia, what was your extent of involvement in issues surrounding Israel/Palestine?

I tried to get involved with people here. My views were always a little more in the middle. Obviously, I’m very supportive of Israel, otherwise I wouldn’t go. I was fairly in favor of Israel on most issues, but it’s a very complicated issue. Going there, if anything, has made my opinions less exact, less concrete. You see the situation and it’s crappy on both sides; there’s nothing good about it.

What do you think Columbia students should know about Israel?

Israelis want peace. They want it just as badly as anybody else. Israel is not just the settlers that you see on television. The settlers are just a tiny minority of a country that has a vast level of opinion. The Leftists here—the people who are like, “I support Israel, but I’m fairly left-wing about it and I’m anti-occupation”—don’t hold a candle to the Leftists in Israel.

Disclaimer: The above represents Adam May’s personal views and opinions, not the views or opinions of the Israel Defense Forces.

Image via It’s For Real Adam

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69 Comments

  • CC 13 says:

    @CC 13 Great article – admire what you are doing adam!!

  • This says:

    @This is a fantastic interview.

  • oh look says:

    @oh look another jewish person who went to columbia.

    this isn’t an antisemitic comment or anything, but it certainly is ethnic profiling. in fact, there is nothing wrong with being jewish. i’m just observing that a lot of jewish people have attended this school.

    1. anom says:

      @anom There is nothing wrong with being jewish…some of my best friends are jews.

    2. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous that’s because jews are smarter than every other demographic. it’s genetics

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous Except for, you know, Asians and East Indians.

        1. Anonymous says:

          @Anonymous nope. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashkenazi_intelligence

          Jews account for a tiny percentage of the worlds population. Asians + Indians are the majority. Yet, Jews have made as much of an impact, if not significantly more, than these other groups

      2. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous it’s not genetics, it’s culture (and, more often than not, a healthy injection of wealth and resources–as is true with most of CC students).

      3. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous A lot of Jews have attended this school = they’re smarter
        A lot of Blacks have attended this school = affirmative action

        I don’t get it!

    3. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Uhhhh you do know that there used to be a Jewish quota at Columbia, right?

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous Columbia was the first of the ivies to start a Jewish quota because so many of the new Jewish immigrants in NYC were going to Columbia. The other ivies followed soon after. Of course, that led to lots of future famous Jews going to other schools – Jonas Salk, the guy who discovered the polio vaccine went to NYU rather than Columbia.

        Here is a lovely quote from 1935 from Yale: “Never admit more than five Jews, take only two Italian Catholics, and take no blacks at all.”

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_quota

  • anon says:

    @anon Adam, we wish you all the best. Politics aside, this was a great interview.

  • Lisa says:

    @Lisa Adam! Come back! We miss you!

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous seconded! never a dull moment with adam.

  • reality check says:

    @reality check am I nuts to think this statement is nuts?
    “They basically put a bunch of adolescent kids in the woods, gave them guns, and out came an army. It’s kind of incredible to see them basically take a bunch of immature 18-year-olds who just spent the last six months after high school sitting on their moms’ couches and train them to follow orders.”

    and by nuts I mean really alarming

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Sorry – what, exactly, is alarming? You could say the exact same thing for military enrollment in the United States. This statement basically boils down to “the army has an intense training program.”

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous Enrollment in the US army isn’t mandatory and if you choose to join the army you can do so after getting a college degree. It’s alarming that enrollment in the army and training 18 year olds is given precedence over enrollment in college and professional and academic training

        1. Anonymous says:

          @Anonymous It’s not given precedence. Most Israelis go to the army and to college. In fact, higher rates of Israelis than Americans hold BAs. The army is chronologically first in order to avoid interrupting one’s professional career (college –> a job). Furthermore, the discipline taught in the army is helpful for college, whereas the discipline learned in college is negligible compared to that of the army.

    2. actually says:

      @actually human teens are extremely capable of many many things. we were just raised to a lower standard here in the US. We grew up partying and drinking and smoking weed, then entering college at 18 and not having to take any real responsibility until we graduate at 22 and even then we’re still browsing youtube and laughing our asses off to a bear humping a cow and posting it to FB and Twitter and any other social networking time waster we use. and this is the standard with our generation.

      in other countries, kids take on responsibilities sooner and mature sooner. my dad joined started college at 16 along with the rest of his high school class, taught himself english in 2 years, then immigrated to the US (college transfer acceptance to a CUNY) at 18, graduated college at 19 (along with some other 19yro college friends of his who also immigrated here), got his first job in midtown. By 23, he was a manager on a trading desk at an investment bank. And he is far from what we’d call a “genius.” Just, matured at an early age. Many of his classmates and friends at the time did the same.

      Nowadays in America, when a kid graduates college at 19, he’s called a “prodigy”. You gotta be fucking kidding me.

      1. forgot to mention says:

        @forgot to mention most members in my fam, parents/grandparents were taught to shoot a gun at age 14 and jump up from bed at 4am at the sound of their drill Sargent’s yelling. receiving a gun and having that much power in deciding whether someone dies today or not at your hands is a lot of responsibility and most of us sadly are watching too many youtube videos to really learn them. it’s what happens when we have a higher standard of living handed to us on a silver platter here in america.

        1. When I was your age.. says:

          @When I was your age.. I had to walk 15 miles uphill through snow and ice to get to lithum every morning! Kids these days…no doubt we’re the first generation in all of history to think everything’s going to shit.

          1. just sayin says:

            @just sayin “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency”

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous It is alarming, reality check. The “train them to follow orders” part that is; armies seem to have a horrible way of treating people like cogs. Whatever happened to freedom to disagree?

    1. freedom to disagree says:

      @freedom to disagree _enemy soldiers firing at Anonymous_
      commander: Anonymous, RUN
      Anonymous: No, i read Rousseau in CC and i have the freedom to disagree.

      end of story–Anonymous gets his head blown off.
      moral of the story–armies need discipline.

  • Ugh. says:

    @Ugh. Something tells me that this kid would never fight for this country.

    1. Hm says:

      @Hm That’s a pretty irrelevant statement. And unless you know Adam personally, you’re making a pretty stupid assumption given that your only evidence is just a light interview about his experiences as an IDF journalist.

      Since he wants to retain his Israeli citizenship, he is serving in the Israeli army. If the United States had mandatory military service today, this would be a different discussion.

    2. Pro-Palestine Logician says:

      @Pro-Palestine Logician Fighting for the U.S. = Fighting for Israel, so by a symmetric property of equality, I guess you can say he is fighting for the U.S.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous “I think the one thing that has really helped is that being at Columbia taught me to…really make sure that I’m taking the time to get all sides of the story, and then critically analyze and be able to think and draw my own conclusions and not get too swept up in what anybody says.”

    You must really have a hard time following orders then…

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous wtf. Why is bwog publicizing someone who was trained to kill Palestinian civilians and maintain Israeli colonialism in the region? Certainly does not seem appropriate for a website meant to be inclusive for all the Columbia student body.

    1. You're an idiot says:

      @You're an idiot ^

      1. No says:

        @No You are.

        1. Anonymous says:

          @Anonymous I strongly disagree with your choice to publish an interview of this sort, bwog.

    2. Yes. says:

      @Yes. Couldn’t agree more. This is kid is voluntarily risking his own life to serve an oppressive and violent theocracy.

      1. Dan Brown says:

        @Dan Brown I like drama too, but you have to add a disclaimer when you right riction

    3. No says:

      @No Lets all be careful with what rhetoric we buy into.

      What the hell does colonizing mean? What are civilians? Who are israelis?

      K, lets start. Israel settlers are colonizing. Maybe. The israeli government withdrew from Gaza in 2005. WIth-fucking-drew. Bulldozed houses and ejected its own citizens w/ crying babies from the homes and put them in shanty towns. That doesn’t sound like a colonialist policy.

      Civilians. Civilians are unarmed people, untrained people, people not involved in violence. So, while i am the first to get sad and pissed off when the army screws up its maneuvers, the army is not TRAINED to KILL Civilians. They’re just an army trying to defend against terrorists who live in really densely populated areas.
      That’s like saying the US army is trained to kill civilians. Its not. I promise.

      I promise you, it saddens me every day of my life that palestenians are living in poverty, that the leadership in the region isn’t strong enough to combat the extremists and that people do stupid things like terrorist bombings and pricetag attacks of mosques.

      But the solution is not to make blanket statements using rhetoric like colonialist and apartheid in order to polarize the situation further. Israelis and palestenians are both people trying to live. Lets treat them as such in our rhetoric on campus. Maybe, maybe one day, the reason we employ in our discussions on campus will filter into the public discourse, and perhaps, the negotiating table in Washington D.C.

      peace in the middle east, yo.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous Netanyahu and the rest of Likud are colonialists, though. It’s not 2005 anymore.

      2. on rhetoric says:

        @on rhetoric don’t give me that peace in the middle east garbage after you just justified the war crimes against palestinians.

  • CC'13 says:

    @CC'13 damnit adam may, i still have a crush on you

  • the elephant in the room says:

    @the elephant in the room is this your dream, Adam? what about the dreams of the Palestinians they’ve been killing?

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous His dream in life is to kill arab people? That’s helpful.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous Your dream is to propagate inaccurate notions of the main goal of the Israeli Army? That’s helpful.

    2. did you read the article... says:

      @did you read the article... or just the headline? he serves as a journalist.

      but even that is irrelevant considering I can as easily say you are killing people by paying american taxes. If you don’t like armies that’s one thing, but then your double standard on Israel is unacceptable.

      anticipated response: “The IDF kills innocent civilians, grabs land, colonizes, apartheids, genocides” and so on. We’ve heard them all. To anyone who finds his or herself responding with this type of sentence, I simply refer you back to my original response.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous as citizens, we have no choice but to pay taxes. it is up to our congressmen (and AIPAC) where those taxes go. but we do have a choice not to pick up arms for a foreign country that has enslaved, dispossessed and killed hundreds and thousands of palestinians and continues to do so.

        1. ok says:

          @ok so you just responded to my expected response with exactly what I predicted as the expected response. thanks!

          you have to pay taxes as an American and Israelis have to go to the army. Same statement as above. magic.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous that’s all peachy, but how many brownies have you killed? colonizing twat. shame on bwog.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Are you living in America? Colonizing twat.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous Are you living in Great Britain? .. No? Then stop saying twat!

  • This says:

    @This interview has too much hype thu

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous “Bwog: Are you an Israeli citizen?

    I am, actually, because if you’re the son of a first-generation emigrant, then you have citizenship. ”

    This is great. This kid has never lived in Israel until last year and he’s a citizen. And yet we have millions of dispossessed palestinians who have lived in that land for hundreds of years but will never be recognized as legitimate by the state of israel.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous yeah but palestinians are all barbaric, religious freaks who blow themselves up to sleep with 69 virgins or some shit. these nutjobs are dumb as fuck. killing for some superstitious nonsense… pathetic.

      who gives a shit that israel was ‘the promised land’ in the bible. that book is all bull crap. you guys should be weeded out of existence just for believing that shit. seriously, evolution has not done it’s job.

      so please, both the jews and the palestinians should just SHUT THE FUCK UP

      why cant both just live there and stop wasting our time with their religious nonsense. dumb fucks.

      1. israeli athiest jew says:

        @israeli athiest jew I don’t believe in the traditional god and think the Bible/Torah are a load of bullshit, but what you said about being “weeded out of existence just for believing that shit” is pretty dumb. I’m assuming you’re trolling, but in case you’re not, just watch us prove you wrong.

      2. christian says:

        @christian “you guys should be weeded out of existence just for believing that shit. seriously, evolution has not done it’s job.”

        …wow. This statement for anyone who believes that hatred and intolerance are solely religious attributes.

        1. Anonymous says:

          @Anonymous I used to be christian. But then I turned four and stopped believing in fairy tales.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Before your hate on your fellow peer’s actions and dispositions, read:

    “What do you think Columbia students should know about Israel?

    Israelis want peace. They want it just as badly as anybody else. Israel is not just the settlers that you see on television. The settlers are just a tiny minority of a country that has a vast level of opinion. The Leftists here—the people who are like, “I support Israel, but I’m fairly left-wing about it and I’m anti-occupation”—don’t hold a candle to the Leftists in Israel.”

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous You’re right in that there is a vocal minority in Israel with very Leftist views that a lot of CU students would agree with. But they’re just that, a minority. Look at the government elected by Israelis.

  • JStreet says:

    @JStreet Guys, guys, I have a great idea: let’s have an Israel/Palestine debate on Bwog!!!!! That sounds productive.

  • annoynmous says:

    @annoynmous good luck man! hope you dont end up killing a bunch of palestinian kids on your way though

  • the only way to end this debate says:

    @the only way to end this debate is for someone to make an acidic statement regarding barnard vs columbia

    1. lemme try says:

      @lemme try why do jews need a whole room to themselves every week at hewitt? no more special privileges. get out if john jay isn’t good enough for you.

  • Amused@uKids says:

    @Amused@uKids I think it is HILARIOUS how one can type a comment about how rancid a writer this joke-of-a-person is, and then the comment gets deleted, but people can prattle on and on politically and disconnectedly about Jews-this, and Palestinians that.

    The bottom line though, since this is an interview about this individual, makes itself clear when we have a Columbia graduate doing something stupid (pLeAsE give me Kombat!- Something that I don’t think any rational person would BEG to happen) and writing so poorly about it. That’s probably the biggest mistake about Bwog being so stupid and posting this.

    1. Canada says:

      @Canada You are free to disagree with his choices, but seriously, why do you consider wanting to do combat stupid? If he believes in a cause to such a degree that he’s willing to risk everything, I would consider that noble, not stupid. Frankly, I think it’s sad that so few people in the West (US, Canada and most countries of Western Europe) are willing to step in to that role and fight for their country. We get so much from the countries that we live in, but how many of us are actually willing to give something back (other than taxes) in return?

      1. war says:

        @war usually involves killing people that don’t need to die

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous FREE PALESTINE!!

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Everyone here needs to go back and read Three Guineas again, please.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous “The army is a tool of the government; any ire against the government policies should stay directed at the government and not the army. And that’s why I do what I do.”

    The army is indeed a tool of the government and let’s face it, joining the IDF simply validates and gives momentum to the fundamentally racist and inhumane government policies that obviously favor the lives of Israelis over countless innocent Palestinians.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous As a Jew, I’ve got a million problems with the way Israeli politics operate – especially with regard to religious extremism in recent years. THAT SAID, Adam seems like a decent person and I honestly believe that he’s got morals. So if anything, I think I would want more balanced people in the army. It’s not that he’s an American going off to pursue some “colonialist” dream – instead, he’s a moderate person bringing an important voice to an army and country that is more and more populated by the religious right.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous This guy seems alright, except for the fact that he submitted a picture with a cig, propagating the idiotic NY/hipster mentality that it’s cool to give money to corporate giants who slowly kill you

    1. concerned citizen #2 says:

      @concerned citizen #2 Not only that, but smoking is a bad influence for children. My three younger siblings occasionally read bwog. Think of the impact this photo has on their young minds! Shame on you bwog and thank you anon for your much needed observation.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous oh my god though, I couldn’t agree more with the Hewitt statement…explain to me how that is not straight up favoring of a cerain religious group on campus. Do you close half of Hewitt or John Jay for Christians who want to eat fish on Friday? NO. Also, fuck you Adam, the atrocities you will see, believe in and most likely commit are beyond horrible, and all because your people can’t bear the thought of not having what they think they deserve. Yay, a nation full of 5 year olds.

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