They lined up, shoulder to shoulder, in their tan uniforms. They stood up straight. “Hakshev,” they said in union. Listen.
They were nine teenagers from Nahariya, Israel, cadets in the Israeli Air Force and students at the Amal School in Nahariya. On Monday morning, they re-enacted their daily muster at the Frisch School in Paramus, before a room-full of ninth graders, just slightly younger than they are.
They had arrived in Newark hours before, on a weeklong visit to northern New Jersey. By the end of the trip, they planned to meet with teenagers at the Bergen Academies in Hackensack and Teterboro; the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly; the Wayne Y; the Solomon Schechter day schools in Oakland and Bergenfield; and Temple Emanu-El of Closter, Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake, and Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge. Their schedule also included visits to two Paramus malls, an afternoon and evening in New York City, and miniature golf.
The visit was arranged by the Center for Israel Engagement at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, which took several Bergen County high school teachers to visit Nahariya schools last school year.
At Frisch, the Israeli visitors joined engineering classes. They demonstrated a Lego robotics invention they had brought with them. In one classroom, they teamed up with groups of Frisch students on an instant innovation project: Given 10 sheets of paper and tape, how could they make the strongest or tallest structure?
Their school combines a high school with a two-year technical college. Its students are both civilian and Air Force cadets. All of the Israelis visiting New Jersey now are cadets. Some of them are high school students and others are in the technical college program, deferring their army service for two years while they study.
As the Israelis explained in an assembly for Frisch’s ninth grade engineering students, as Air Force cadets they have sworn an oath to the military, their country, and their school. Their school day is an hour longer than their civilian schoolmates — they begin and end their day with a military roll call in front of their commander. When they are in school, they wear uniforms and follow a dress code.
Liza Gilgof, 17, explained how that works.
“We have a shirt, we have pants, and we have shoes. Girls’ shoes are smaller and very light. Boys’ shoes are very big and heavy. The shirt has to be tucked in. Girl’s pants have to be outside the shoes. Boy’s pants have to be inside the shoes.
“There’s a nail polish code for girls. White, pearl, pink pearl, or French tips, or natural. It’s the same for our toes, because we can wear sandals,” she said.
Boys must keep their hair short.
“Each morning the boys put their hand through their hair,” she said. “If the hair is over their fingers it’s not according to code. They get detention. They have to say after school for an hour or two.”
The Nahariya students were selected for the trip after they were tested on their English and their ability to work together. Besides English classes, “we learn English from books and movies and games,” Liza said. “My 9-year-old brother is a gamer. He has great English from them.”
Inbar Markowitz, 18, is student in the school’s mechanical engineering track. She is a freshman college student.
She said that the cadet track “really provided me a job and a major in life. Before I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Now I know I want a military career as an Air Force mechanic.”
The Israelis also spoke about their interests, in the slightly formal style that a high school presentation seems to demand.
Inbar is a national horseback riding champion, the Frisch students learned.
Alexei Balbanov, 17, said he went on a survival course this summer. “We went from Mount Meron to the Hermon Mountain, about 60 miles, with 30 pounds on my back for five days,” he said. “It was an intense course. I really enjoyed it.”
Amit Peretz, 18, said she likes snowboarding, skiing, and skydiving.
The cadet program offers three majors: Electronics, robotics, and mechanics. Amit said she’s in the electronics track, but that wasn’t her first inclination.
“I thought it was weird for a girl to study electronics,” she said. Then she learned that “the army needed more engineers, so I decided to try it. I was surprised to find out I liked this major. Studying about binary codes can be very interesting.”
She told the Frisch students about a program called Derech Isha, Her Way, designed for girls in technical studies. “We studied powerful women,” she said. “We understood we can do exactly what men can do, even more.
The program, she said, “made me understand I could do anything I want.”
Ksenia Kolyakov, 18, is studying mechanics. She said when starts her military services, “I want a big responsibility. To fix planes, or submarines, or maybe be a pilot.
“The country needs us, female and male as one,” she said.
As a child, she liked to play with Lego and build things. Now she aspires to a job she saw in class trip to an Air Force base: a technician “able to take apart an entire engine to the last screw and put it back together.”
Ilia Zobov, 18, was born in Vladivostok, near Russia’s eastern border. He’s decided to stay on after 12th grade rather than going directly to the army. He sees two years of technical studies as a mechanic as a chance for a high-ranking Air Force job “like working on the new F-35 fighter jet.”
He said that after three or more years in the military, he’ll be in an excellent position to start working at a high tech company.
“The opportunities in front of me are vast,” he said.