From London to the IDF

The young Major Keren Hagioff is a familiar face in Israel, and her story of rising through the army ranks to become the IDF Spokesperson for Israel’s Northern Border, is one of determination, commitment and inspiration. Like many Jewish British kids, Hagioff also decided to spend a gap year in Israel before returning to “settle down” in her country of birth. 

Her gap year changed the life of the 18-year old. It was a year when Hagioff came face to face with the reality of people her own age who were conscripted into the army. She felt very young compared to Israelis her age, and also she felt it unfair that they had to serve and she was not. Thus, while still in Israel, the teenager from London made a life-changing decision: instead of returning to England, she volunteered for in the IDF. 

As with all lone soldiers, Hagioff was assigned an adopted family, a nucleus of humanity who provide a loving home, a place for Shabbat and holidays, and all round support. 

The first four months of basic training threw her out of her comfort zone. Many a long night soldiers slept outside, under open skies, covered in dust. She found it hard. She wasn’t in great physical shape and her Hebrew was poor. But pushing the difficulties aside, she made up her mind that she was going to become and officer. 

It’s not easy being in the Israeli army, and aiming to be a commander requires top physical condition and studying an extensive cadets text book for a very difficult test. Her adoptive Israeli family arranged a rota of volunteers to help Keren master the Hebrew language, and in-between her studies, she ran on weekends, at night, on the base and whenever she could to aim for the demanding requirements of running 2 kilometres in 11 minutes. 

It’s difficult to pinpoint what inspired this teenager to face the might of the Hebrew speaking male officers who told her she had failed the physical test, but whatever it was, Keren pushed the failure aside and told her superiors, that even though she had failed, she was injected with a sense of mission. She was not after an adventure, she wanted to serve the country, and what better way could she do that than becoming an officer. 

Standing before the officers, she pointed to a map of the State of Israel on the wall, and told them that she is in the Promised Land to serve her country. Unrelenting, she insisted that they allow her to maximise her full potential and even refused to leave the room without them agreeing to give her another opportunity. 

Hutzpah is a necessary Jewish trait. This hubris which may seem rude in Europe, is considered a great quality in Israel. It is a characteristic much admired. No wonder then this once-quiet British Jewish teenager from England, became a Major in the IDF, and a Spokesman involved at with the ins and outs of her country’s security issues.