Hannah Schwarcz was in New York on October 7 and didn’t find out about the massacre until October 8. By October 9, she was back in Israel to rejoin her IDF unit.

Hannah Schwarcz has Israel in her blood.

Her paternal grandmother was born in pre-state Palestine, and her maternal grandfather, originally from Morocco, established and led a Zionist Jewish community near Paris, where Schwarcz was raised.

The first visit to Israel Schwarcz can remember was at the age of five or six for a cousin’s bar mitzvah, but she was certainly here before that. With a lot of extended family in Israel, there were annual trips throughout her childhood. As such, there wasn’t a time that Schwarcz wasn’t aware of Israel. And with so many aunts, uncles, and cousins having served in the IDF, it was natural that she would end up in uniform herself one day.

After graduating from a Jewish high school with definite Zionist leanings, Schwarcz came to Israel on a post-high school program with Masa Israel Journey. She spent a year volunteering and learning more about Israel.

With that background, it wasn’t a surprise to anyone when she joined Tzofim Garin Tzabar as a lone soldier and moved to Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu. She joined a combat unit known as Caracal, which is composed of male and female soldiers. The unit takes its name from the caracal wildcat, native to Africa and the Middle East.

Soldiers of the Caracal battalion finish a 20-kilometer march in the Negev in May marking the end of their training. (credit: ILLUSTRATIVE: REUTERS)Enlrage image
Soldiers of the Caracal battalion finish a 20-kilometer march in the Negev in May marking the end of their training. (credit: ILLUSTRATIVE: REUTERS)

Although she started learning Hebrew in high school and did ulpan in Israel, she credits the army for helping her master Hebrew because “If you don’t speak Hebrew in the army, no one will speak to you in French,” she said.

During her service as a lone soldier, Schwarcz trained as a combat medic and routinely treated fellow combat soldiers who were wounded in battle. After finishing her original army service, she enrolled at IDC Herzliya, where she completed a BA in business administration and finance and a master’s degree in government, counterterrorism, and homeland security.

When COVID hit, Schwarcz had been living with two of her brothers. One was studying at the Technion, and the other at Ariel University. Rather than be alone in their apartment, she returned to her native France, where she took temporary jobs to fill her time.

On Oct. 7, Schwarcz was in New York. Since she observes Shabbat, she didn’t find out about what happened until she turned on her phone on October 8. By October 9, she was back in Israel, packed and ready to rejoin her unit.

Coming back to Israel to fight in Gaza

She spent three months in the Gaza border area, taking care of soldiers who were wounded fighting in Gaza. At night, the members of her medical unit slept in one of the kibbutzim on the border or in a nearby field.

“When there are wounded soldiers, we have to be there in two minutes,” she explained about why they slept so close to the front.

After that, she was attached to a tank unit, where she was the only medic in the field with them, spending every day in Gaza.

In one especially difficult circumstance, she and a colleague were told they had to tend to a terrorist. “They told me that I have to take care of this terrorist. He was severely wounded. I had to take care of him, knowing that this guy maybe killed people. It was very hard for me. The people who told me to take care of him told me that he was very important to the investigations, so I saved his life.

“We knew for sure he had information. Even with that, it was hard to save his life. It was hard to use our blood supply to save him. I was working with a paramedic, and I asked her: ‘Why are we doing this to save his life?’ She said, ‘He has to live because we know for sure he has information.’

“This is what we do, but it was very hard,” she confessed.

Schwarcz is currently in her third assignment as a reservist, working as a combat medic in Nablus dealing with what she called “the everyday conflict in Judea and Samaria.”

As a religious Jew, Schwarcz observed that “sometimes it’s harder to be religious in Israel than abroad. In the army, it’s very hard. We have to break Shabbat because of pikuah nefesh [the mitzvah of saving lives]. We cannot stop to keep Shabbat because we have a job to do.”

In her initial combat service, she was with an all-female unit. “In reserve duty, they don’t really understand what a girl is doing in Gaza in combat. They sometimes don’t agree,” especially since some of the soldiers she serves with were in the army before women were admitted to combat units.

It’s been harder for her to find positions as a woman. She has been the only woman in a unit when the only other woman on base was in an administrative position. The men she has served with “have a lot of questions,” she said. But after seeing her in action, “It changed their mind, and they understood that maybe a woman can save the world,” she said with a smile.

BEFORE PUTTING her uniform back on, Schwarcz ran My Bookeuse, a luxury event planning and travel company specializing in exotic locations such as the Mediterranean island of Ibiza, the Greek island of Mykonos, Saint Tropez in the French Riviera, and Dubai.

“I started when I was in university. I was organizing parties for people in university and in Tel Aviv,” she reported.

Although most of her clients were Jewish, she had some clients from Qatar.

Schwarcz, who speaks French, English, and Hebrew and understands Spanish, is not sure what will be with My Bookeuse after the war. She’s open to the possibility of applying her graduate school education and looking for a position in the realm of security.

Although she considers her aliyah a success, Schwarcz identifies her biggest challenge after making aliyah as “the different culture; because even if we know Israel, it’s not the same as visiting. There is a big difference.”

She faced other challenges as well. “When I first came to Israel, I didn’t know a lot of people. I didn’t have close family here.” The family she did have she didn’t know very well, and she came before the big wave of aliyah from France in 2012 and 2013.

There were not a lot of young French Jews like herself when she first arrived. “This was hard. It got easier over time,” she noted.

Her advice for prospective French olim? “If someone wants to come to Israel, he/she has to be ready to come. A lot of French olim went back to France. They expected something else, and [Israel] wasn’t what they expected. Sometimes they didn’t integrate with Israelis. They stayed in France [while living] in Israel. [A person] has to be ready to be Israeli and not French in Israel. Then it will be easier to come here,” she advised.

“Just be open-minded and open about what’s [actually] happening. Israel is not what you think when you grow up. You have to understand that it’s a hard country. We are living in war every day. Every day is the war. Every day you have a terrorist attack,” she said.

On the other hand, “Because of the situation here, people are more alive than in other countries. They all have opinions, and everyone has something to say.”

Despite her accomplishments, Schwarcz doesn’t think of herself as unique. “I am not superwoman, so it’s only your will” that determines your success. “You just have to be open-minded and understand that we are a special country. You’re in situations you wouldn’t be in if you were abroad.

“My brother, when he was drafted, saw that it was very hard. But he understood that if I did it, everyone can do it,” she concluded.  ■

The writer is a freelance journalist and expert on the non-Jewish awakening to Torah happening in our day. She is the editor of Ten from the Nations and Lighting Up the Nations.


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