For Sgt. Gali Niv, leaving New Jersey to serve in the IDF didn't mean giving up on her passions of gymnastics and fitness
For teens in Israel, it a given that coming of age means serving in the IDF. It’s a part of the fabric of Israeli society that young men and women dedicate a part of their youth to defending and bettering the state. However, for Sgt. Gali Niv, who grew up in Livingston, New Jersey, such a choice was hardly natural.
Immediately after high school, Gali moved away from her family, friends, and a budding career in gymnastics to move to Israel. Gali, a two-time New Jersey state gymnastics champion, embraced her Israeli roots, immigrated to Israel, and joined the IDF.
“It was always something very important to me. Both my parents are Israeli, and my grandparents survived the Holocaust. It was something I always grew up with, the desire to give back to the Jewish nation,” explained Gali. “After high school, I wanted to come here to experience something new and challenge myself.”
Throughout her military service, which concluded last week, Gali has managed to stay connected to her passions of gymnastics and fitness, serving as a fitness instructor at the Air Force’s Air Defense Training School. “It was very hard to get the job; it was a long process that took several months,” she said. However, history seemed destined to repeat itself – Gali was given the same position that her mother held during her army service.
Using her knowledge of fitness and nutrition, Gali has taken it upon herself to not only train her soldiers, but also educate them on the virtues of eating properly. “It is really important for me to eat right and be healthy. Because of that, I’ve started a lot of projects about eating healthily and trying to educate the soldiers on what you should and shouldn’t eat, how to work out and deal with food, and how that all relates to your fitness,” Gali explained.
The soldiers have come to appreciate her contribution to the base and to them personally. “When soldiers come to tell me, ‘We never worked so hard; we never thought that we could do this,’ that’s really rewarding,” she said.
Even the commander of Gali's base has relied on her expertise; Gali trained several of the base's higher-ranking officers. “It’s an honor to get to train the people who normally tell me what to do. I get to show them my skills and they love it and appreciate it,” said Gali. “Now there are guys who are 40 years old who are training for a marathon.”
“The best part about this was that [the other fitness instructors and I] made the army what we want; we put our stamp on it,” Gali reflected on her service. “Now when I leave, they’ll feel that I left; they will miss all the small stuff that I added, like Zumba classes. I got to leave an impression.”