Twenty-five 11th- and 12th-graders at Marlboro Jewish Center’s Hebrew High School had the opportunity to get to know PFC Ben Maruscak, a 19-year-old former New Jerseyan who serves as a “lone soldier” in the Israel Defense Forces.
Lone soldiers are those who are in the military with no immediate family in Israel.
Maruscak came to MJC Dec. 1 at the invitation of Rabbi Michael Pont and Israel Affairs Committee chair Jules Cohn. In November they had been notified by Rabbi Paul Freedman, who works in Jerusalem with Nefesh B’Nefesh — the organization that assists new olim — that Maruscak would be on leave in Twin Rivers after his first 18 months in the IDF.
Maruscak shared with the students his experiences, both as a new immigrant and as a soldier.
Maruscak’s family were members of Congregation Toras Emes in East Windsor, where Maruscak attended Shalom Torah Academy through fifth grade and was active in NCSY. He spent his sophomore year at a school in Israel where he was one of 12 English-speaking students out of 400.
When MJC students asked why he chose to join the IDF, Maruscak said that he always knew he wanted to serve. The August after he graduated from Hightstown High School he made aliya on his own and was drafted after finishing three months of ulpan, intensive Hebrew language instruction.
Maruscak told the students he had completed eight months of infantry training and was now assigned to the Nahal Brigade, stationed along the Gaza border. He described this past summer’s Operation Protective Edge, demolishing tunnels and Hamas-occupied buildings, urban fighting, and the ever-present dangers of being stationed in a combat zone; it was, he told them “a life-changing experience.” His battalion is still stationed on the border, conducting frequent patrols in search of Hamas infiltrators. Sniper fire, he said, is “routine.”
In response to a question, Maruscak told the group about the treatment of prisoners captured by Israeli troops. He explained the five-step escalation policy that is followed before someone is apprehended, unless an IDF member is in imminent danger. He said Israel’s treatment of prisoners is distorted by the media and described the favorable conditions in prison facilities. When asked if he sees any discrimination against minorities in his unit, he said he does not and added that members of both the Druze and Bedouin communities serve in his battalion.
The last question was about his ability to speak Hebrew. He smiled and said, “I am fluent now.”
Maruscak told the students that when he gets time away from his unit, off-duty weekends are usually spent with a host family he knows from the States. He relaxes by going to the beach and playing basketball and soccer.
Maruscak, who will return to his brigade after his leave, said he hopes to be promoted to sergeant, which would mean he would be a squad leader, in charge of about 10 soldiers. He also said he is considering staying in the IDF after his three years or applying to the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya for studies in counter-terrorism.