December 10, 2008
Meet the IDF: Ido Niv, 21, Maglan Elite Combat Unit
His grandfather was a Holocaust survivor in Poland who made his way to Israel after World War II and later served in the Golan Heights. Niv's father served in a tank unit in the Israel Defense Forces.
In 1998, Niv's older brother, Lior, began his compulsory military service in a paratrooper unit near the Lebanon border. On the night of Jan. 31, when Lior was 21 years old and serving as a first sergeant, his IDF post was attacked. The station Lior was guarding that night was bombarded by heavy fire and rockets, and he and two others were killed instantly by a missile.
"I'll never forget the day they knocked on the door to tell us Lior had been killed," said Niv, who was 12 at the time. "It was just me and my mother at home. It changed our lives forever."
Four years later, Niv announced to his parents that he wanted to serve in a combat unit. According to Israeli law, any bereaved young soldier who commits to serve in a combat unit is required to have his parent's approval, as well as the state's.
"My parents didn't want me to do it, and it took a while to convince them," he said.
For two long years, he fought for the right to enter a combat unit.
"I had the option of taking a light service next to home, getting coffee for the commanders," he explained, "but I wanted to serve my country. It was a strong feeling for me."
Eventually, Niv's parents capitulated and allowed him to take the rigorous physical and mental exams required by the IDF to enter an elite combat unit. In 2005, he was accepted into the Maglan unit, where he completed his compulsory three-year service in November.
"I wanted to be in Maglan because it's one of the best units," he said. "But the army basically decides where you go. You don't have a lot of choice after you pass the exams."
A day never passes for Niv without thoughts of Lior and what he has lost, but for Niv, serving his country is the most natural thing in the world.
"It changed our lives forever, but when I went into the IDF, the wound was no longer fresh," he explained. "It becomes a part of you, and you always wonder what he [Lior] would have done after the army, if he would have married and had children, but you learn to live with it."
During his service, which he is under strict orders not to discuss, Niv often thinks about his brother and what he experienced.
"He was my age now when he was killed," Niv said, his bright blue eyes shining.
Today, dressed in a white T-shirt and a pair of baggy blue jeans, it's hard to imagine him as a highly trained soldier, carrying a gun and defending his country.
"I opted to stay for another year in the same unit," said Niv, who had just completed his compulsory service.
When asked what that will entail, a big smile crossed his face and he replied, "Pretty much the same thing I've been doing up until now, but with a lot better pay."
After an extra year as a "career soldier," Niv plans to travel throughout South America with friends and then return to Israel to study.
"I don't really know what I'll study yet," he said. "I'll come back from the trip in a few years and see what happens."