The Israel Defense Forces is a place where women have full equality and can learn valuable leadership and career skills.
That was the message two former female IDF members brought to Rutgers Hillel in New Brunswick on Sept. 29. The two spoke to a group of students through StandWithUs, a Los Angeles-based pro-Israel advocacy program.
Danielle Blumenstyk and Sharon Savariego, both 23, came to Rutgers as part of the StandWithUs Emerson Fellows program, a network of pro-Israel student leaders. Both served in the intelligence corps, where they played a part in fighting terrorism.
“A very big part of my job was finding out about suicide bombers,” said Savariego. She was involved, she said, in discovering “how they enter Israel, who funds them, and how to stop them.”
The information she gathered was then streamed to other sources to analyze, “a big responsibility,” she said, “for an 18-year-old.”
“As a woman in the IDF, it was a great job,” said Savariego. “It gave me all the tools for my future in computer technology.” Her extensive training allowed her to become the youngest worker at a computer company based in Ramat Gan.
The American-born Blumenstyk lived in Princeton and Teaneck before moving to Israel as a child with her Israeli mother and American father.
Her work in the military involved doing work “to prevent an attack,” said Blumenstyk, who assisted in moving information “up the ladder” to the highest levels of the Israeli military.
At first, the work was relatively low-key and she lived close enough to her base to go home every night. However, after the Second Lebanon War broke out, Blumenstyk found herself confined to a small room and in the thick of the war effort.
“For me, as a 19-year-old, I felt as if I was helping my people, family, and friends,” said Blumenstyk. “It was empowering and really expanded my horizons.”
Both women said the military was also a place where Jews of the spectrum of religious affiliations and other religions and groups mingle and find common ground.
Blumenstyk said she has volunteered for 14 years for Children’s International Summer Villages, which promotes peace through education about intercultural diversity. “Some of what I learned in the IDF I will be able to use as a peace educator because I learned to work with so many people,” she said.
Both women are convinced the military was one of the driving forces behind large numbers of women in the top ranks of government, education, and business.
“My mom is CEO of one of the biggest web security companies in Israel, and she is in charge of nearly 1,000 employees who are mostly male — and she bosses them around,” said Blumenstyk. As a result of her army service, “I know there is no ceiling and everything is open to me as much as to a guy.”