"Marva program has changed my life," says Jonatan Tiktin from Mexico, one of about 100 young Diaspora Jews who came to Israel through 'Israel Experience' on the Marva program, to get a taste of life in the Israeli army.
"As a Mexican Jew, I never really thought about how important it is to be a Zionist and how important it is to represent the Jewish state wherever you go. My point of view was really different in the past, and now I want to join the army and help the State of Israel with pride," enthused Tiktin after his eight-week exposure to the IDF.
The Marva program is based in the south of Israel, where participants undergo abbreviated basic army training, including roughing it out in the field and they go through weeks of resilience and enhancing capability.
The project is run by 'Israel Experience', an educational subsidiary of the Jewish Agency, and the Security-Social Wing of the Ministry of Defense as well as the IDF Education and Youth Corps.
During the program, the young people are inducted as soldiers, and go through a shortened enlistment process while learning what young Israelis go through when they are drafted into the army.
After that, the young people go through an “IDF week”, when they tour bases in all parts of the country, meet with soldiers, and hear from them about the importance of the army in Israeli society and security.
Participants tour Israel from the south to the north, spending a week in the south and the outskirts of the Gaza Strip, where they meet with the residents and learn about the value of Negev settlement as defined by David Ben-Gurion, "the people of Israel will be tested in the Negev."
An 18-year-old participant from South Florida relates after the Marva experience that he wants to enlist in the IDF. According to him, previously because of his lack of knowledge about the history of the State of Israel, he was not mentally prepared to see himself serving in the army.
But now he is ready for the life of a soldier in the Israel army and the program helped bring him to the understanding that Israel is his home.
Ilya, a participant from Germany, says that the program gave him a unique opportunity to get to know the IDF way of life and gave him a lot of knowledge about Israel, its history, society and army and now he understands the honor of wearing an IDF uniform.
The young people also met with State President Yitzhak Herzog, who told them, "Your very participation is beyond logic, it is emotional, spiritual, it is something that is deep in the heart.
To be proud Jewish soldiers, who are connected to the State of the Jews – the State of Israel, is amazing. I want to wish you all great success, that you return safely back to your communities, where you can be leaders and ambassadors of Israel."
During the training, participants learn about Israel's wars, battle heritage, as well as the history of the State of Israel and Jerusalem, which deals with the connection of the soldiers as Jews to the heart of the Jewish people – Jerusalem.
A powerful week during the program is called "Embassy Week", during which participants are provided tools to fend off boycott movements against Israel in their countries. The week began with a meeting with Jewish Agency Chairman Doron Almog, who spoke about the importance of the connection between Diaspora Jewry and the State of Israel.
The young people were given a broad overview of the Middle East and the threats to the State of Israel by IDF spokesperson, Major Liad Diamond.
Nili Kovacs from Los Angeles relates: "When I joined the Marva program, I already knew that I wanted to enlist in the IDF and move to Israel. My family is Israeli and I grew up listening to stories about my father's service in Givati and how he made friends for life during his service, about how he bonded through blood, sweat, tears and discomfort.
Marva taught me how to adapt to uncomfortable situations that I would never have expected myself to be okay with. It starts in the morning when you wake up at 5 a.m. to run three kilometers and being able to take a shower within 10 minutes."
Summing up, Ilya, the participant from Germany, says: "One of the tasks of Marva is to turn the participants into ambassadors for Israel and the IDF. This summer I am going back to study in Germany. Since I see it as my duty, I will represent the people and the State of Israel wherever I go."
"Whether it's university or work, I feel well prepared for it. But even more than that, I am excited to have the privilege and passion to educate the Jewish youth in my area and strengthen their Jewish identity and their Zionism, when I have a package of answers about the IDF and Israel."
Marva Commander Shir Bennett stresses: "It is a sense of mission and responsibility to bring young Jews from all over the world to get to know the army, which is the place that unites Israeli society. I tell them you are part of us, an inseparable connection. There are soldiers who defend the country on the Gaza front, and you are at war on the front lines against the supporters of the anti-Israel boycott."
'Israeli Experience' CEO Amos Hermon notes: "These young Jews get a small taste organized by 'Israeli Experience'. For many of them this is an opportunity to get to know Israel. They fall in love with the country and then return to enlist in the IDF.
"During the program, the young people connect to their roots, tradition and Zionism, they understand the meaning of the IDF and the strength of the State of Israel. The attachment to the country is strengthened after the program and become an inevitable part of their Jewish identity that goes with them everywhere, even when they choose to stay abroad."