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Overland Park woman gains competitive position in IDF

Devra Klein

Of the thousands of soldiers currently on active duty in the Israel Defense Forces, less than 20 serve as photographers. Devra (Deborah) Klein, the 22-year-old daughter of Congregation Beth Shalom members Edward and Alicia Klein, is one of those select IDF photographers, serving in the Israeli Air Force.

“Generally, being a photographer is a very competitive position,” Klein said, “and it requires prior experience.” 

Klein’s journey to Israel and the IDF began the summer following her sophomore year at Blue Valley North High School, when she traveled to Israel for the first time on a USY Israeli Pilgrimage.

A couple of years later during her senior year, Klein said she told a friend, “I want to go to Israel and be an army photographer.”

“I learned the basics of photography by playing around with my father’s old film camera as a child. At Blue Valley North, I was on the broadcast team where we made biweekly video content for study hall. I continued photography while traveling with Kivunim.”

Klein said her experiences in the USY summer Israel pilgrimage influenced her decision to spend a gap year in the Jewish state following her graduation from BVN in 2013. She chose Kivunim, a program sponsored by the Jewish Community Center Association’s Mandel Center for Jewish Education and the Mandel Center for Excellence in Leadership. In addition to the Israeli experience it offers an academic program that provides 30 college credits and international travel.

“I studied Hebrew, Arabic, Middle Eastern politics and Diaspora Jewish history,” Klein explained. “I also traveled to India, Morocco, Jordon, many places in Europe and Scandinavia to learn about their rich Jewish histories and how they affect modern Israeli culture.”

It was during this year that Klein said she started genuinely considering becoming an Israeli citizen.

“The academic program encourages you to be actively curious and a critical thinker while engaging in different aspects of Israeli society.”

Nevertheless, she returned to the Kansas City area and enrolled in the five-year accelerated Masters of Architecture program through Kansas State University, which started in the fall of 2014. She opted to take her first-year classes through their joint program with University of Missouri-Kansas City because she “enjoyed the atmosphere of a city.”

However, she felt a strong pull to return to Israel, so after a year and half of working, saving money and calling Nefesh b’Nefesh (an organization that facilitates the aliyah process), Klein made aliyah in January 2016. First, she took an ulpan (intensive Hebrew language course) at Maagan Michael, a kibbutz in northern Israel located on the coast between Haifa and Hadera. It’s geared to students from age 18 to early 20s.

“While on the ulpan, I debated between doing my army service or skipping it because of my age,” said Klein, who at that time was a few months shy of her 21st birthday. “In the end, I decided to draft and did so mid-December 2016.”

After basic training and a Hebrew course at Michveh Alon, a special IDF base for new olim and minority communities near Safed, Klein was sent to the Israeli Air Force.

“After I was put in the general air force draft, I was sent to an officer to determine my job. I brought my portfolio and asked for the (photographer) position. I was actually given the job before they even looked at my portfolio,” she said.

Klein was then sent to “a very nice air force base close to Beer Sheva.” There, she documents the visits of foreign armies, diplomats and high-ranking Israeli army officials. She creates media for the various ceremonies and events, and she also coordinates with the Israeli Air Force’s foreign affairs office and the spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces.

“Though the official title is photographer, my work ranges from photography to filmmaking and graphic design, and my schedule differs every day,” she explained.

When she is not on duty, Klein lives on Kibbutz Nir Oz, which is located about 1.25 miles from Gaza. 

“It’s a truly cute and welcoming place,” Klein said. “However, it’s pretty isolated and difficult to get to, so I spend most of my weekends with friends in the major cities or camping.”

Klein’s air force stint ends in December 2018. However, she has enjoyed the service so far and is considering becoming an officer. If that is the case, she’ll remain in the air force for an extended period of time. 

If she chooses not to extend her IDF service, Klein is considering returning to university to finish her undergraduate degree. The Israeli government pays for immigrants to obtain an undergraduate education.