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Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

IDF deploys FAU student in Israel-Hamas war

Jonathan Cohen, a student at Florida Atlantic University, is a combat medic with the Israel Defense Forces, serving in the Israel-Hamas war.
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Courtesy of Jonathan Cohen
Jonathan Cohen is armed and in IDF uniform gear.

Jonathan Cohen, an Israeli-American student at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), is a combat medic serving as a staff sgt. with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the State of Israel’s military, in the Israel-Hamas war.

Cohen hails from Boca Raton, Fla. and was raised in a religious Jewish household. After graduating from Spanish River Community High School in May 2015, Cohen moved to Israel and served in the IDF. 

“I knew I’d always regret it if I missed my opportunity to serve, [after] I heard about terror attacks in Israel,” said Cohen. “I realized that all of these attacks targeted [people, who] were wearing yarmulkes, dressed religiously [or] were Jewish/Israeli.”

As an IDF soldier without immediate family in Israel, Cohen applied to Garin Tzabar, an international program for Jewish adults seeking to immigrate to Israel after achieving citizenship through Aliyah and serving in the military.

In June 2015, Cohen integrated into Israeli society as a citizen, building a family within a kibbutz, a community in Israel. 

Photo of Cohen during his service with the IDF in 2017.

When Cohen first arrived in Israel, he studied Hebrew in a six-week Ulpan course and trained for three months in military school. The IDF soldier served for two years and eight months with the Israeli Border Police, a counter-terror unit in internal security.

After about six years in Israel, Cohen reintegrated into the United States as a Boca Raton resident. He enrolled at FAU in May 2020 to complete his bachelor’s degree in health sciences and become a physician’s assistant (PA) one day.

Cohen, who had intended to make Israel his permanent home, returned to the U.S. after discovering the limited educational opportunities for pursuing a PA career in Israel. He believed this transition presented more significant challenges, which required him to leave behind the life he had built in Israel. 

After Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, Magen — the kibbutz where Cohen lived, located near the Gaza border — was devastated by Hamas bombings. He felt helpless not being able to protect his community in Israel.

“[I] watched the atrocities from the comfort of my home [continue to unfold], with my eyes glued to the news,” said Cohen. “I felt compelled to return to Israel and serve my country; it [was] an inner calling that I knew I had to return [or] I’d regret it for the rest of my life.”

Israeli officials drafted over 300,000 reservists to provide emergency backup to active-duty troops on Oct.7 when Hamas terrorists attacked Israel, Reuters reported. 

Cohen is an IDF military reserve force member. According to the Israeli embassy, IDF reservists regularly train and, “in time of war or crisis, are quickly mobilized into their units from all parts of the country.”

On Oct.13, Cohen was deployed overseas to assist his IDF unit, making significant sacrifices in his personal and academic life.

Those close to Cohen, especially his mother, initially attempted to convince him to remain in the U.S. After recognizing his determination, his family supported his desire to return to Israel to serve.

Cohen relies on social media platforms like WhatsApp audio and video chat to communicate with his family and friends, including his three nieces and nephew.

Cohen participates in a group chat for Israeli-American students at FAU. There are 45 members in the group, including his friend Jordan Neuman, who shared his thoughts on Cohen’s decision to deploy in the war. 

“[His] decision to fight back for his country was risky considering what’s happening in [the Israel-Hamas war], but [Israel] needs all of the help they could get,” said Neuman. “I’m not so worried because he did [serve with the IDF] before.”

Cohen, an FAU senior, communicated the circumstances of his absence to the FAU dean and professors, approving his file for an “Incomplete Grade” to postpone his classes and to complete the required coursework after his service. 

FAU student Inbal Shachar, who used to sit next to Cohen in class, shared her reaction to his departure to Israel.

“I was sad that [Cohen] was leaving, worried about his safety and wellbeing, but I am very proud of him for making this decision to serve because he, along [with] the other soldiers, are protecting our country and its people,” said Shachar.

Cohen was a student leader for the 2023 International Israel Summit in Boston, representing Hillel of Broward and Palm Beach, a resource for Jewish Student Life at FAU. He has earned recognition from Hillel’s Executive Director, Adam Kolett, for his commitment to the Israeli-American community.

“[Hillel is] very proud of his actions of bravery, showing appreciation for both his American and Israeli homelands,” said Kolett.

IDF medic Cohen on a mission near the Gaza Strip. (Courtesy of Jonathan Cohen)

As a special forces reconnaissance member within the Armored Tank Corps, his IDF unit of the 188th brigade travels from their nearby base to the Gaza Strip, providing emergency medical treatment and protection to other Israeli troops. 

His primary mission is to evacuate and transport injured Israeli soldiers inside Gaza safely across the border to a secure location.

As an IDF combat medic, Cohen describes his experience of his missions to Gaza as traumatic amid explosions and gunfire, saying he saw “mutilated and burned alive-deceased bodies paraded on public display [of the] ruthless killing of innocents.”

Cohen asserts that Hamas terrorist attacks deepen the divisions between Israelis and Palestinians.

“This isn’t about being pro-Israel or pro-Palestine; this is about making a clear distinction between legitimate resistance and unspeakable crimes against humanity,” said Cohen. “You can support the rights of innocent Palestinians and still take a moral stance against heinous violence and brutality.”

Cohen and his fellow IDF soldiers have a strong sense of camaraderie and notice the support from the U.S. during the war.

“The community and brotherhood amongst soldiers [is] unparalleled; we are united, determined and our morale is high,” said Cohen. “We receive constant donations of supplies, home-cooked meals and words of encouragement from people all over the country.”

In the U.S., Cohen is a paramedic at the Wellington Regional Medical Center emergency room. He embarked on his professional journey by volunteering, dedicating his time to gaining practical experience in emergency medical services and rescue training at his local fire station.

JVAC’s Fort Myers Relief Effort, in 2022, for Hurricane Ian’s destruction.
(Courtesy of Jonathan Cohen)

Cohen volunteers as an Emergency Medical Technician for the Jewish Volunteer Ambulance Corps (JVAC), a South Florida emergency medical service provider. 

JVAC’s founder, Isaac Hersh, acknowledges Cohen for representing the organization’s values of selflessness and positively influencing his community.

“His ongoing contributions, both in times of crisis and through consistent volunteer work, demonstrates [his] commitment to providing vital medical assistance and support within the Jewish community and beyond,” said Hersh.

Cohen advises individuals in the medical or military field to dedicate themselves to making an impact, particularly in saving lives through their professions.

“Be ready for a journey that will challenge you in ways you could never imagine. Both [careers] need dedication, resilience, faith, commitment and passion,” said Cohen. “Embrace the opportunity to make a change, be ready to adapt, hold onto your passion and embrace the suck.”

Michael Cook is a Staff Writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Michael Cook
Michael Cook, News Editor
Michael is a junior multimedia journalism major with a minor in public relations. His journalism journey began in 2021 when he served as a writer and won "Journalist of the Year" for his high school yearbook. He currently aspires to become a television news producer.

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    HeidiJan 3, 2024 at 4:57 pm

    As a Jew myself, also a retired paramedic , all I have to say is this man is a murderer. This is disgusting and such propaganda how the narrative can be written as if the Palestinians have no right to life of humanity. This man should not be permitted near any patients.

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