December 10, 2008
Meet the IDF: Zina Milstein, 19, Infantry Unit 500, Infantry Instructor
"A lot of people said that I couldn't do it because the girls in these roles are really tough," she said, laughing at the irony. "But I didn't make aliyah by myself and enlist in the IDF to sit around guarding a peaceful border and making coffee for my superiors."
Born and raised in New York, Milstein attended Solomon Schechter Jewish Day School until the eighth grade and then went to a public high school in Westchester. The youngest child and only daughter, Milstein has one older brother and four older step-brothers.
The summer before her senior year in high school, she went to Israel on the Chetz V'Keshet (Bow and Arrow) program, which gives tours to groups of Israeli and American youngsters interested in volunteering in the IDF or making aliyah. Milstein knew she wanted to make aliyah and wanted to serve, but she didn't hear about the Garim Sabach program until that trip.
"It's mainly for kids who have one Israeli parent, but there were a few other Americans like me, too," she said. "We just had to work a lot harder to learn Hebrew."
Through the program, Milstein was able to spend her first three months on a kibbutz, taking intensive Hebrew courses in the morning and working in the orchards in the afternoons. Although she had a fair knowledge of Hebrew, she couldn't speak the language well enough to serve in a regular IDF unit.
"I did my testing for the army on the kibbutz, and I didn't score high enough to be in a combat unit because I'm allergic to bees, and I have asthma and scoliosis," she said. "But I refused to take no for an answer."
On her quest, Milstein visited at least 10 different doctors until she could raise herself up to a physical profile score of 72 -- high enough to be in a unit that supports combat soldiers like the one in which she now serves.
"I was very Israeli about it, and once I got my profile score up enough, I went to the tryouts and passed the other tests," she said.
In July 2007, Milstein was officially inducted into the infantry instructors' unit. The first six months involved hard training.
"We have to understand what they're going through and how they feel, so if the combat soldiers have to do 30 of something, we do only 15," she said. "We know what's it's like to go for a week without showering and having to carry your pack until you're exhausted."
Last summer, after seven months of rigorous training, she began officially teaching soldiers how to be snipers.
"I got mixed reviews," she said, regarding her family's response to her IDF position
Training a sniper, according to Milstein, is different than any other weapons-training course. "You have to teach a person how to think, breathe and act like a sniper," she explained. "It's not about just knowing how to use a weapon."
With nine months of compulsory service left, she has no regrets and plans to stay in Israel after the IDF to study dance and psychology. A former dancer, she'd like to eventually go into dance therapy.
"I wanted to do something in the army, not just sit around," she said. "I get phone calls from soldiers after missions calling to tell me they killed a terrorist and to thank me for the good training. It feels good to know I'm making a difference."