Tobi grew up on the stories of her father, an Israeli who served in the IDF as a soldier in the Armored Corps. “At age 16, I decided that it was my time to make a change. I joind a program which send young people to Israel, and eventually helps them make Aliya,” Tobi says. “After one year I joined a ‘Mechina’ (a pre-military program), and it was there that I started to feel more connected to the army.”
Tobi Cohen had everything that she could ever want: a home, family, friends, school. But for many years she had a feeling that she was missing something. “I always wanted to come to Israel, ever since I was a small child,” says Tobi, who spent her childhood in Nigeria. “I wanted a deeper connection, to understand what ‘Israel’ is, and not just through stories.”
Tobi’s journey was not easy. The language barrier was a major difficulty for her. “New immigrants are often embarrassed and ashamed to speak, because they may say something wrong, and I was one of them,” Tobi says. “But at some point I realized that I couldn’t go on like this. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, and it was hard, but it was worth it.”
A Far Away Dream
“Here in Israel, everyone sees the army as something very ordinary – they simply grow into this reality,” Tobi says. “For me, it was a far away dream that I wanted to fulfill.” That’s probably why Tobi was so enthusiastic to become an IDF officer. “After a a few months in the army, I already wanted to become an officer. I know it might sounds strange, but I fell in love with the army.”
Lt. Tobi struggled her way to Officers Course, slowly overcoming her difficulties with the language along the way. Her family supported her all the way from Nigeria, she says. “They flew to Israel and surprised me at the end of the course.”
Lt. Tobi Cohen is in charge of all the tutorials of the Home Front Command. She serve as a Deputy Training Officer in Haifa region. These include guidance on how to act during natural disasters such as earthquakes, fires and floods, as well as emergencies such as rocket attacks or the threat of a biological/chemical weapon. She works both with soldiers and civilians, making sure everyone is prepared for the worst.
A Glance To The Future
In three months, Lieutenant Tobi Cohen will complete her military service. “I’m so happy that I went through this experience,” Tobi says. “It was not easy, I must admit, but I don’t regret doing it for a split second.”
“I think that joining the army is amazing, and gives you a different perspective on your life. No matter how long a soldier serves, even if it is for a short period of time, it is an experience that changes your life.”
Read more about her below.
From Africa with love: IDF gets first female Nigerian officer
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.
Lieutenant Toby Cohen: “It is very touching to be the first woman officer from Nigeria in the IDF” | Photo credit: Michel Dot Com
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.”