From Dundas to the IDF

March 2018
Wendy Schneider

Jamie Ennis, 21, has an air of quiet and self confident humility for one so young. The youngest of four sons born to  Dundas residents Gilda and Jeff Ennis, the recently graduated paratrooper was on a month’s leave from the Israel Defense Forces last November when he met with the HJN.  

Ennis’s journey from typical Canadian surburban kid to the IDF began five years ago, when he was a participant on Camp Ramah’s Israel Seminar. Impressed by the Israeli soldiers he met on that trip,Ennis returned home determined to do something “that served a bigger purpose than just myself.” He promptly signed up for a military co-op, spending his final years in high school as a part time reservist with the Canadian army. Despite having to put up with the occasional antisemitic remark from “guys who had never seen a Jew in their lives,” Ennis enjoyed the mental and physical challenges of military life, and after a single semester at university, decided that it made sense to serve somewhere “where I felt more of a connection.”

Gaining entry into Machal, the IDF division for foreign volunteers, is not as easy as one might think. Suspecting that his application had been overlooked, Ennis spent hours at Machal’s Tel Aviv office pleading with anyone  who would listen to review his file.  

”I had to be really Israeli about it,” he said. 

In the end his persistence paid off. Ennis was drafted into Machal in December 2016, and three months later, succeeded in passing an intense selection process that saw him gain acceptance into Israel’s elite paratooper brigade.

Up to this point Ennis’s  single-minded focus on achieving his goals had served him well, but paratrooper basic training  would sorely test his limits.  Of the 110 original recruits in his unit, only 70 remained at the end of the eight-months of grueling combat training. Most of those who dropped out did so during the final field exercise Ennis described as “two weeks of almost no food, no water, no sleep and shooting live ammo with tanks and helicopters. 

“I don’t know how I did that. I just found my limit,” was a common refrain among the recruits, only to be faced with an even greater challenge the following day.  The final challenge was the “beret march” a 60-kilometre hike in full combat gear that would earn those who completed it the coveted red beret of the paratroopers unit.

“For those of us who finished that training, we realized that all the limits we set for ourselves are artificial,” said Ennis. Things had come full circle since his first encounter with the self-assured soldiers who had made such a lasting impression on his 16-year-old self. Now he was one of them.  

Now that basic training is over, does he think things are going to get easier?

“I doubt it,” said Ennis. You’re never done training.”