October 27, 2021
By Mark Chesnut
In 2021 America, as Covid seems to be winding down and social unrest continues, firearms training continues to be a very popular endeavor. Because of that, it seems like you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a self-proclaimed “firearm instructor.”
So, how is an interested gun owner supposed to choose the best instructor for him or her? Don’t they all have basically the same training and experience, and don’t most teach basically the same methods?
The answer, of course, is no. Those looking to train with proven methods that have truly survived years of combat should consider a trip to Cherev Gidon Israeli Tactical Training Academy, where Director Yonatan Stern and other Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) veterans teach the Israeli doctrine of gun fighting, designed to win—and do so as quickly as possible.
Born in Israel in 1984, Stern is no stranger to turmoil. In fact, growing up in Hebron, constant terrorist attacks made him aware of what was going on around him at a much younger age than youngsters in the U.S. Consequently, he volunteered for the Israeli Police at just 16 years old.
“It was a very exciting youth, I guess you could say,” Stern said in an exclusive interview with Firearms News. “We were doing patrols and catching terrorists. What 16-year-old is issued an M1 Carbine and is patrolling a war zone and catching terrorists? That’s what I was doing when I was 16. We were in shootouts when I was 16 and 17 years old.”
Stern joined the IDF in 2002 when he was 18, right at the peak of the action of the Second Intifada. In the army, he was trained as a designated marksman.
“I was issued an M16A2 E3 marksman’s rifle, basically an ultra-accurized version of the M16A2 rifle,” he said. “We were kind of bridging the gap between the riflemen and the snipers. Snipers were 1,000 meters and above, and the riflemen were up to 600 max. We were designed to fill that gap—the 600- to 1,000-meter role—which was very, very common in the combat operations that were taking place at a time.”
After his three years of service, where he participated in many battles, Stern went to college to study government and counter-terrorism operations. He moved to the United States in 2007 and immediately became aware of a situation that wasn’t present in his home country.
“I saw that there’s a lot of guns, there’s a lot of gun ownership, but there’s not a lot of training,” he said. “In Israel, there are almost no guns in civilian life, but everyone has firearms training because everybody has been in the military. Here, everybody’s got a whole cabinet full of whatever they want, but there’s just not much training. And with that, there’s a lack of safety.
“I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to bridge that gap. I’m going to fix this problem. I’m going to take the proficiency that we have from Israel and provide that to Americans who have access to the tools but don’t have access to the skills that we have access to.’”
Stern got together with some fellow young IDF veterans and began teaching some training courses in California highlighting the Israeli method. After a few years, he formed Cherev Gidon, an aptly-named organization dedicated to giving gun owners the very best defense training available.
“Cherev Gidon means the ‘Sword of Gideon,’” Stern said. “It’s a reference from the Bible in the Book of Judges. Gideon didn’t want the soldiers who knelt down and drank from the river. He only wanted the guys who were tactical, who used their hands to cup the water, but kept their eyes open looking around them. They were aware. They were constantly in what Jeff Cooper would have called Condition Yellow. Whereas those guys that were kneeling down sucking in the water, they were in Condition White and Gideon didn’t want them. I felt that was a good name for the school.”
While Cherev Gidon met with some initial success, it quickly became apparent to Stern that California wasn’t the right home for his organization. He subsequently relocated most of his operations to Upstate New York, but alas that didn’t work out either.
“I was running a lot of operations in Upstate New York,” Stern explained. “All of a sudden, Cuomo passes the Safe Act, and with the stroke of a pen outlaws every single long gun we were training on. It was quite a blow, so we had to figure out what to do for the East Coast people.
“The combination of what California was doing, which was our main base of operations, and what New York was doing, which was our secondary base, made me come to the conclusion that we needed to move the whole organization to a friendly state that would be close to the areas where most of our clients are coming from. I settled on Wayne County, Pennsylvania. It’s geographically close to all the population centers where people are that want the training—New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, etc.—but then you’re outside of those Bolshevik states that are trying to crack down on everything you do. We don’t want to pay taxes and give our money to these radical left-wing dictators like Cuomo, who are just trying to take away our rights.”
After the move in 2013, Cherev Gidon has experienced steady growth. Stern now trains people in that area, along with spending winter months training West Coast gun owners in Arizona. More recently he has even added Florida to his coverage area during the winter months when the northeast weather isn’t conducive to serious firearms training.
“Our goal is to provide the Israeli professional defensive tactical shooting skills that we have from the IDF and from the Israeli Security Services to everyday Americans to make them as proficient as possible with the firearms they own and make them, more than anything else, safe,” Stern said. “We also want to help them be able to use those skills to defend themselves if, God forbid, there’s a case when they need to.
“The majority of the training is pistol training. But we also do a lot of AR, AK, Galil and also a lot of Uzi training. That’s very popular.”
Stern has about a dozen trainers who work with him in the Northeast (many have other jobs, also), along with another handful in Arizona and Florida. All have one thing in common.
“Everybody that I hire is an IDF combat veteran,” he said. “They have to have the skills. They have to know the Israeli combat shooting doctrine in rifle, pistol, Uzi and everything. I’m not going to just hire anybody. For somebody that is an NRA-certified instructor that comes and asks me to hire them, I’ll have to say, ‘Sorry buddy, You don’t have those skills.’ You need to be an IDF veteran because only IDF veterans are going to know the kind of training doctrine that we have. And we all have to be on the same page here.”
So, what’s so special about the Israeli shooting doctrine? For one thing, everything Stern and his trainers teach has been battle tested for decades in some of the most dangerous engagements around. He likens it to a well-known Israeli martial art form.
“It’s kind of like the equivalent of Krav Maga, the Israeli combat martial art,” he said. “It differs very much from other martial arts. There’s not much art involved. It’s rugged, it’s ugly, it’s dirty. You go for the groin, go for the eyeballs, kick below the belt—do whatever is necessary to win and win as quickly as possible. And the Israeli shooting doctrine is the same thing except for guns.
“We grip the weapons differently, we reload differently, the way we move is different when we’re doing room clearing. There are a lot of differences. It’s its own unique doctrine altogether. But if someone wants to really be prepared for a real combat engagement, in my opinion it’s second to none. Not to say that there aren’t any other skills that are good, as well. But I do know one thing: The Marines get trained in Israel. If you look at a lot of the fighting skills of the U.S. Marines nowadays, they’re straight out of the Israeli textbooks.”
As for Stern’s average student at Cherev Gidon, that’s hard to say given the wide variety of gun owners who attend some of Stern’s courses.
“We get a variety of people,” he said. “We get a lot of law enforcement officers who want to get an added edge with some really effective skills. Of course, we get a lot of civilians. Some of them are already previously trained but they’re not satisfied with the level of training they have and want to go to the next level, have a more combat-oriented scenario-based training. They want to know how to effectively defend themselves.
“The average person who comes to us is a regular man or woman who is concerned for their safety, probably has guns at home and they want to know how to use those weapons effectively. “
Stern said that a growing amount of his business is beginning to come from the Jewish community, where many find themselves under attack in many ways, including synagogue shootings. In fact, one of Cherev Gidon’s most popular courses currently is a house of worship active shooter armed response course.
“There are a lot of synagogues right now that have realized what they need to do and are forming voluntary armed response teams, the idea of which was founded in Israel,” Stern said. “You’re the first line of defense. You’re not going to wait for the cops. You’re not going to wait for the army. It’s you, cause that’s it.
“So, a lot of synagogues are adopting that methodology and are forming these civilian armed response teams, and they need the training. They need to know how to fight as a team, how not to shoot each other, how to identify each other so you don’t have friendly-fire incidents and, more importantly, how to identify themselves to law enforcement when they arrive on the scene. We have all kinds of tactics from Israel that we have refined over the years, and they are becoming very popular in many churches as well.”
So, what does the future hold for Cherev Gidon? In a word, growth, according to Stern.
“In the future, I would really like to expand to many more locations,” he said. “I’d like to be able to expand all over the country to get as many people trained as is humanly possible.
“I want to have more people in the Jewish community getting armed and trained, because unfortunately they are just playing catch up right now. Historically, gun ownership in the Jewish community in America has been lower than in the general population, and we’re trying to fix that.
Stern also wants to grow the awareness of training, which will lead to more Americans being more competent, and confident, as they practice their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
“We need to have more awareness of the importance of training,” he concluded. “A lot of people in America are focused on fighting for our gun rights, and that’s very important. But part of the battle is sure that everyone who is armed is also trained to show that we’re responsible citizens. We need to show the world that we’re not just a bunch of gun nuts, and that the armed citizen is a force that’s going to minimize the threat posed by bad guys and empower the good guys.
“In general, we want to make America a safer place, less prone to tyranny, and where the citizenry is not going to be intimidated by bad actors out there.”
For more information about Stern and Cherev Gidon, visit www.CherevGidon.com or facebook.com/cherevgidon.
Freelance writer and editor Mark Chesnut is the owner/editorial director at Red Setter Communications LLC. An avid hunter, shooter and political observer, he has been covering Second Amendment issues and politics on a near-daily basis for more than 20 years.