On Ammunition Hill, the site of a bitter face-to-face battle during the Six Day War, families fanned out picnic blankets. An older man worked the grill, his form almost obscured by smoke. Mothers fussed, doling out favorite foods, and girlfriends’ laps served as resting places for young men’s heads as they recuperated after a 50-kilometer march, their guns lying beside them.
The uniformed teenagers, dozens of them, awaited the start of a ceremony that would award them red berets and mark their official entry into the IDF’s Paratroops Brigade.
Among them, one man stood out. He wasn’t from Israel nor was he surrounded by family — and at 29, Private Isaac Moyal was the oldest person to ever join the paratroopers.
“This is my dream,” Moyal said as he adjusted his beret, its presence signifying the completion of his training and its scarlet color — a switch from the basic green all soldiers begin with — identifying him as a member of the Paratroops Brigade.
Moyal was born in Lyon, France, and his family moved to North West London when he was four. He grew up in England and attended several Jewish schools before studying physiotherapy, then found work as physiotherapy assistant, property manager and inventor.
He developed a wide range of interests, from freerunning to rollerblading to break dancing and Chinese kickboxing, in which he has a brown belt. He studied Krav Maga, hurled himself out of a plane at 10,000 feet, and received a patent for an alarm system he designed and invented.
But despite his involvement in the Community Security Trust, an organization dedicated to protecting the Jews in Britain, it was always his goal to go to Israel — and to join the force that protects it.
The trouble was that in 2012, when he finally made aliya and moved to Israel, he was pushing 30.
He had two bags, nowhere to stay, not much Hebrew to speak of — and a nagging feeling that if he did not join the IDF soon, it would never happen.
After a brief stay with his distant relatives, Yair and Maya Ayash, he put in a special request to join the army, because of his age, and waited for a response.
The IDF nod finally arrived, and he began his paratrooper training in August. It was physically intense, from the weapons training to the 50-kilometer, all-night march that capped the six-month period.
Then came the jump. Moyal learned how to parachute out of a plane — different from the tandem jump he once did, as it requires soldiers to jump alone from a plane while carrying their combat gear.
“Before the jump, there is a lot of noise with the door open, but a second after jumping, the silence hits you,” he said. “Looking up at an open chute, you can relax and enjoy for a short while until you prepare for the landing.”
Moyal scored high marks on his running and shooting tests, never lagging behind his younger counterparts or acting as though he needed special consideration because of his age, said Gal, a second lieutenant in the Paratroopers Brigade who didn’t want to share his last name.
And he learned that size doesn’t matter for those training to be soldiers.
“When you look at a soldier, you think he should be big and tough,” Moyal, who is on the diminutive side, said. “But I think you have to be mentally strong. You don’t have to be really big to be a great warrior.”
Gal noted Moyal’s mental strength, saying that the age difference between the paratrooper and his peers didn’t cause a rift but rather allowed him to be a leader.
“He’s very sharp,” Gal said. “When you look in his eyes, you can see he has a special way of looking at things.”
The age difference did come into play, Moyal admitted; he sometimes felt as though he wasn’t able to use the skills he has cultivated over the past 10 years during the daily grind of basic training. However, his experiences allowed him to offer soldiers advice and support when they had friends who opted out of the training or got in trouble, or when a friend or family member died. It helped, they told him — and it got to the point that younger soldiers would seek out Moyal for advice.
He added that some of his peers were motivated by Moyal’s age, astonished by his ability and willingness to keep pace with them during training. Despite their differences, though, he said it wasn’t difficult to work with his younger counterparts or relate to them — they taught him as much as he learned from them. During the grueling routine, he said, they kept him young.
“I’m still a child myself,” he laughed.
Moyal said he requested a five-year assignment in the Army, to start, and was told to begin with two. He hopes to make the IDF a career and to become an officer — and he has what it takes, Gal said.
“He’s a perfectionist in whatever he does,” Gal noted. “He has to make whatever he does perfect, and that’s what an officer in the paratroopers needs. He needs to care for his soldiers and to be someone who can be followed.”
A younger solder there that day has the same dream. Idan Elimelech, 19 — his age much closer to that of the average paratrooper — is the third and youngest child of Yaela and Avi Elimelech, and their third to enter the IDF.
“I don’t sleep in the night,” Yaela said. “I all the time think about him — if he’s eating good, feeling good and not in pain. And now, I’m even more worried, because now he needs to do what he learned.”
She said the quiet, athletic boy who would drop his backpack and pick up his guitar as soon as he came home from school has found his place in the IDF and, like Moyal, hopes to remain. She’d like him to serve his three years and come home — or enter “the real world,” as her older two children did, she joked — but she understands.
Unlike most of his peers, Moyal didn’t have his family there, and it was difficult, he said. His cousin recently got married, and his sister just had a baby. But he wasn’t alone that day. The families of his peers easily took him in, including him in their circles and heaping food on his plate.
Gesturing at the circle of people who had included him, shared cookies and all, Moyal said, “You don’t feel alone in Israel.”