I still remember arriving the first day. I'd just received my uniform and put it on. After collecting my equipment, I received my M-16; I turned to the commander leading me through all of this and asked, "What do I do with this?" He said, "Don't lose it."

I grew up in a traditional, although secular home but my parents gave me the greatest gift of all: a Jewish education. I attended Hebrew schools from nursery through grade twelve, learning about Jewish traditions and holidays and about Israel. I developed a strong connection to my country. In grade twelve I went on a Taglit-birthright trip together with my class and finally visited the country I had studied about for so many years.

Upon high school graduation I attended Queen's University, receiving my degree in engineering. Every summer for the duration of my studies, I returned to my homeland—volunteering first for Magen David Adom (the ambulance service), then the Marva Program (2 months of military introduction). I spent the summer of 2006 at the Technion in Haifa. When the Second Lebanon War broke out that summer, and Hezbollah's Katyushas (launched from Lebanon) were raining down on the city, I fled south to Tel Aviv. I utilized my time in Tel Aviv to volunteer for Save a Child's Heart, an organization that rescues children with heart disease from developing countries.

Three summers in Israel and I felt my mission was incomplete. I was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for a cause that was greater than myself. Despite having little support and strong resistance from my family and friends, I made an unpopular decision based on the need to stand up for what I believe in and to do the right thing. I enlisted in the IDF and was placed in the decorated 50th battalion of the Nachal infantry brigade on August 9th, 2007—the day before my twenty-second birthday.

My experiences in the army can be divided into two categories: training and front line. During training I was yelled at, tear gassed, forced to go days with barely any sleep or food, deprived of showers and clean clothes, and required to sleep outdoors during the miserable desert winters.

Through all this difficulty, I always felt a sense of pride: wearing both my uniform and my kippa, laying down my gun underneath my seat when I went to put on my tefillin every morning, saying kiddush Friday night when the company was stuck on base for Shabbat.

Once we made it to the front line, my battalion was given a mission.I had to recite twice a day: "The 50th battalion will protect within its jurisdiction the Jewish community of Hebron, Kiryat Arba, the immediate surrounding area and those passing within our jurisdiction. We will meet and defend all hostile terrorist attacks. We will enforce law and order. All this in order to provide security to the Jewish community of Hebron and the citizens of the state of Israel."

In short, we had to protect 750 Jews living in a valley between mountains containing 300,000 Arabs.

There were two ways in which we defended the citizens of Hebron. First, we were sent on eight-hour long patrols. We walked through the Arab areas surrounding the Jewish community, areas which the Jewish civilians were banned from for their own safety. During the patrols we performed arrests, roadblocks, searches and lookouts. The area we patrolled used to be inhabited by Jews, but is not safe anymore. Once I was stuck doing a patrol on Friday night and decided to pray Kabbalat Shabbat on a rooftop. It occurred to me that no Jew had prayed Kabbalat Shabbat in this immediate area for years, yet I was doing it wearing a helmet, bullet proof vest and military vest, and carrying a loaded gun.

When we weren't assigned to patrols we were forced to be on guard duty in one of eleven different outposts. We spent twelve hours a day in isolation: not allowed any external communication, not allowed to sit, not allowed to rest, not allowed to read and not allowed to listen to music. They weren't able to keep us from talking to ourselves. We did that a lot.

I spent weeks on end sleeping four hours a day, eating two meals a day and standing twelve hours per day with no one to talk to, Through all this difficulty, I always felt a sense of pride: wearing both my uniform and my kippa. with fifty pounds on my back, waiting to be shot at. When we were relieved at the end of the shift, we returned to base, ate a meal and got our four hours of sleep. Then we were woken up for the next shift. Even when we were off duty, we were still on call. We had to remain ready to go within two minutes if anything were to happen. This meant that we had to be fully dressed at all times. So we went weeks on end forced to wear the same clothes that we were shvitzing in all day, not able to shower, and forced to sleep in stuffy rooms fully dressed including our boots.

On the rare occasion that I didn't have any mission after 6 PM on Friday nights, they let me leave the base and take the five minute walk to the Cave of the Patriarchs for Kabbalat Shabbat. The Cave of the Patriarchs, or Ma'arat Hamachpelah, is the one thing that made all the suffering which we endured worth while. The synagogue that is built upon the resting place of Adam, Eve, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah gave me a feeling that I did not even get when I approached the Kotel. At the Wailing Wall, everyone prays in his own minyan, and you sometimes struggle to focus when the people beside you are not praying with you. At the Ma'arat Hamachpelah , there is one large minyan where people sing louder than I've ever heard. A service which can last half an hour in other synagogues lasted two hours with unyielding singing and dancing. Whenever I pray now, I always think to myself: I wish this prayer will be as good as the ones in Hebron.

My battalion was made up mostly of Jews who were not accustomed to pray regularly in their civilian lives. When we were sent on dangerous missions to stop terrorist attacks and arrest top Hamas officials, I started a tradition to say Tfilat Haderech (a prayer said when traveling) as we set out. This tradition quickly grew and eventually, even secular soldiers who didn't pray at any other time wanted to say that prayer as we set out on our missions.

When the time I had committed to serve in the IDF was completed, I felt I had not given enough. However, I realized I would never feel that I had done enough. I spent over a year of my life enduring conditions which would be considered illegal here in Canada. I'd hurt many people whom I love and left the comfort of my Canadian life for one of the toughest lives, on the other side of the world. I was able to move on knowing that just as I had taken the place of those who have fought before me, there will be those who will take my place and fight for Jews and Israel once I leave.

Generation after generation, brave Jews have stepped up to fight for the one dream we all hold dear: Am Yisrael chai, that the People of Israel lives on.