Main Events

Mara Tamaroff with her portrait as
IDF combat photographer
Photo by Tim Boxer

Army Didn’t Want Her In
But Couldn’t Keep Her Out

By Tim Boxer

ARA TAMAROFF left suburban Philadelphia for a year of study at Hebrew University, arriving two months before the current conflict broke out.

She also waitressed at La Piato, just of Ben Yehuda Street. In fact, she worked alongside an Israeli Arab, two Palestinians and a Russian woman.

Suddenly the second intifada changed her life.

“Don’t call it intifada,” she corrected me. “In the first intifada they used rocks. Today they’re shooting bullets, throwing grenades, and firing missiles. This is a war.”

Customers stopped coming, the Arab waiters disappeared, and the restaurant closed.

At the end of her year at Hebrew University, Mara joined the army.

She wanted to be in a fighting unit, but they rejected her because in high school gymnastics she broke her back and had surgery.

“I started to cry. I said I’m not leaving until you put me in the army.”

The IDF can rack up success in the battlefield, but when they came up against Mara, steeled with determination in her eyes and strength in her heart, the recruiters wilted.

They sent her to basic training with other people with disabilities, some of whom were in wheelchairs. These people had normal hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., as many had to get home for medication and treatment.

Of course, that did not satisfy Mara.

So they placed her in the army spokesman’s unit. Still they treated her with kid gloves, insisting she take a desk job as a translator. She balked.

“I just took a camera and went out with combat units to shoot pictures,” she said.

Israel police officers Supt.
Ami Baran, Cpl. Lital Shemesh,
and Commander Sarina Yehuda

Mara told me her story at the Palace Hotel where Israel Bonds had assembled 13 military and police officers fresh from Mideast turmoil. They were preparing to embark on a North American speaking tour to convey first-hand accounts of their experiences with Palestinian terrorists.

As a combat photographer, Mara began documenting military operations in dangerous areas like Jenin and anti-terrorist actions elsewhere, going where civilian press were barred.

“In the photography unit,” she said, “we send out photos to the media.”

Last month she accompanied a patrol searching hundreds of houses in Hebron for illegal weapons.

In one house they ripped up the floorboards. They found bomb making material and a terrorist cowering under the floor.

One day Mara befriended a girl from the military court in Tel Aviv. After Mara left her she heard an explosion. She grabbed her Nikon and ran out to the old central bus station.

Her dramatic photo of the carnage was blasted on the front page of the Jerusalem Post.

She collected photos from the grieving families to help identify the bodies. From one envelope she pulled out a picture of the young woman she met at the military court that day.

Now a corporal, Mara is second in command of her unit, with 10 army photographers under her. She even has a seat on the helicopter of Chief of Staff Moshe “Boogie” Ya’alon  (who succeeded Shaul Mofaz when he left to become minister of defense).

“I am Boogie’s personal photographer,” Mara said proudly.

When her two-year service is up next January, she will go back to her family in Philadelphia where her father James is an oral surgeon and mother Donna an English teacher for dyslexic students.

“I plan to major in advertising and Middle East Studies,” she said, “but I want to work in Israel.”

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