By Danny Brenner
Lieutenant Toby Cohen, 21, was born in Nigeria to a Nigerian mother and Israeli father • “I have fallen in love with Israel. This is my home and I see myself continuing my life here,” she says • Cohen serves in IDF Homefront Command.
The Israel Defense Forces, more than any other organization, represents Israeli society. It is a melting pot that includes soldiers from all ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds, men and women, but even this human collage always has something new. For example, Israel’s first female Nigerian officer, Lieutenant Toby Cohen, 21, who was born in Nigeria to a Nigerian mother and Israeli father. Her parents and 8-year-old sister live in the town of Kanu in northern Nigeria, while she immigrated to Israel on her own at the age of 17. Cohen serves in the Homefront Command.
“Even when I was 3 years old I knew I wanted to come to Israel. My father was born here and served in the Armor Corps, and our home in Nigeria was full of stories about Israel and the army,” she said. “On Rosh Hashana and Passover we would always travel to celebrate with Dad’s family in Israel, and as I was getting older I wanted more and more to get to know Israeli culture and strengthen my connection to Israel.”
When she turned 17, Cohen immigrated to Israel alone within the framework of the Jewish Agency’s “Young Judaism” program, and joined the Metzar pre-army educational program at Kibbutz Metzar in the Golan Heights.
On the Metzar program, Cohen learned Hebrew and her friends helped her get to know Israeli society more intimately and experience the country more completely. Cohen recalls that when her enlistment day arrived, her father came to accompany her on the special day.
“He was just as emotional as I was,” said Cohen. “For him it was a dream come true, and his being there really helped me.”
Cohen initially served as an operations sergeant in the Homefront Command, but was later accepted into the officers’ training course. “My mother and my entire family attended the officers’ graduation ceremony. It is very touching to be the first woman officer from Nigeria in the IDF. Obviously I have fallen in love with Israel. This is my home and I see myself continuing my life here.”
Tzvika Levi, who heads the kibbutz movement’s national lone soldiers program, said: “Yesterday I accompanied 250 lone soldiers to Bakum [the IDF’s main induction center at Tel Hashomer]. The State of Israel owes them an enormous thank you for their willingness, determination and desire to contribute.”
Levi emphasized the many hardships facing lone soldiers, saying, “When people say ‘Good job, IDF,’ they are talking about the lone soldiers who leave behind family, friends, jobs, studies and a comfortable life in far away countries, and come her on their own.”
Levi added that lone soldiers come to Israel “with only one purpose — to serve the country and contribute to its security, the purest and most honest way possible, and with all their hearts.”