Alexandra Hart experienced the stigma of being a woman in combat in the Israeli Defense Forces.
The then 19-year-old Milwaukee native had to prove herself capable of running as fast, lifting as much and being as mentally fit as the men in her combat unit.
“Wow, you’re really good for a girl,” she would hear, knowing that for a female soldier, or any woman in a male-dominated profession, that wasn’t really a compliment.
Hart, who made aliyah in high school, brings her story of “Women on the Front Line” via pre-recorded video to the Milwaukee Jewish community in a celebration of Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Day of Remembrance) on April 27.
Hart’s flight was booked and she was scheduled to appear live at the event at the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center in Whitefish Bay. Then a coronavirus cancellation took the event online. Now, a 40-minute presentation will be posted for a virtual commemoration produced by Uria Roth, community shaliach (Israeli emissary) with a professional editor. Local Jewish leaders and volunteers are preparing their own video segments.
The IDF women-focused event drops online at 6 p.m. that Monday and is available any time after on demand. Participate by following the link at MilwaukeeJewish.org/Yamim or visit the Milwaukee Jewish Federation Facebook page.
Or Cohen of Rhode Island, a shalicha, will also be featured by video. In 2014, she became the first female commander of an Israeli Navy vessel.
Hart attended Milwaukee Jewish Day School until the eighth grade. The experience cemented her love for Israel. “After my eighth-grade trip to Israel I knew that this was the place I was meant to be,” she said in a telephone interview from Israel.
After attending a year at Nicolet High School, she applied to attend an international boarding school in Israel. Her connection and love for the country only grew. During her senior year, she made up her mind to make aliyah.
She said she fought for her dream to be accepted into a mixed men and women combat unit where she served for three years. “Basic training is exhausting emotionally. You’re far away from home and you’re struggling with the language barriers.”
Hart, now 23, was discharged as a staff sergeant after her mandatory service. “I actually had a leadership role. I was a commander of 10 soldiers in two different scenarios.”
According to Haaretz, in 2012, three percent of women in the IDF served in combat positions such as infantry, tank crews, artillery guns service and fighter pilots. Four years later, in 2016, the percentage of women seeking combat positions more than doubled to seven percent and has continued to rise. The rest of women fulfill their mandatory service requirement in combat support.
“I think that it definitely shaped me a lot into the person I am today and you learn a lot about yourself,” said Hart, who is working for a security company in East Jerusalem and studying for a degree from the Open University of Israel.
“You have a lot of time to grow. You meet people from all over the country with all different kinds of backgrounds. It’s a very eye–opening experience.”