IDF Lone SoldiersMonday 28/08/2017

In Israel, whether you are sitting on a bus, waiting on line to buy a falafel, or simply walking down the street, you will almost always see men or women dressed in an olive green, tan or a blue uniform. These are the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces. With about 177,000 soldiers on active duty, the IDF is comprised of a myriad of young men and women. About 6,300 of those are considered “lone soldiers,” or soldiers serving in the IDF that have no support or family ties in Israel. About 45% of “lone soldiers” come from other countries, and leave family and countless friends behind to serve the Jewish state. The other 50% of those lone soldiers are comprised of orphans, are from low-socioeconomic status, or least common, come from ultra-orthodox and Haredi backgrounds.  These religious men and women volunteer to serve in the IDF and are then shunned and disowned by their families and communities.

It is a common belief amongst the ultra-Orthodox and Haredi sects of Judaism, that the state of Israel should not exist until the Messiah comes. Due to this belief, do not support an Israeli army. In their communities, the mentality is that men must rigorously study the Torah and religious texts all day while the women must support the men by working and taking care of the family. The leaders of the communities believe that going to the army stops the men from studying all day, which they believe is their obligation to God. Some Haredi’s go as far to say that joining the army is an “assault” on the Torah by the Israeli government. In addition to this view, some Haredim also claim that being in the army exposes ultra-Orthodox members to the “negative influences” of the secular world.  In June of 2017, over 20,000 anti-Zionist Jews, mainly members of the Hasidic sect of Judaism, gathered in Brooklyn to express their outrage of the conscription of Haredi yeshiva students. Protestors spoke out against Israel’s arresting of individuals who resisted the compulsory draft mandate, claiming that their “brethren in Israel” were being persecuted and oppressed.

Those from the ultra-Orthodox community that do end up joining the IDF are often kicked out of their houses and are shunned by their families. One example of this is a young man, who spoke to Al-Monitor and asked not to divulge his name, revealed that six weeks before his draft date, his mother told him that if he did indeed choose to serve, he would have to leave the house. “When she understood that I was determined, he said, ‘Take your things and don’t ever come back.’ That’s what I did. I left with nothing and not knowing where I was going.” The young man tried to contact his mother during basic training, but she refused to answer him. During his basic training in the Givati Brigade, he continued to study Gemara and finished an entire treatise by the time he was inducted into the IDF. The fact he studied Gemara while in the army made his community even angrier.

The Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin share more of these kinds of stories and tell the testimonies of the lone soldiers they have helped. Another story is of a young man, A., decided not go to yeshiva anymore when he was 12 years old and was taken in by a grandfather after being kicked out by his family. When his grandfather passed away, the only place for A. was on the street. Since he came from a long line of great rabbis, A. received some interaction while he was living on the streets; however, once he joined the army, the community cut off all communication with him.

About 400-600 Haredi or former Haredi soldiers who have no family ties come to the Lone Soldier Center yearly, needing help in various areas. “Many of these soldiers don’t know how to budget their money in the army, since they weren’t taught math beyond grade level,” says Lizzie Noach, the Project Coordinator for the Lone Soldier Center. “They don’t have a formal education; many come to see Tziki (Aud, the coordinator for at risk soldiers at the Lone Soldier Center) for help pre-army. They don’t really speak English and have poor Hebrew, as they only speak Yiddish at home and in yeshiva.” Additionally, Noach says the Ministry of Defense does not always give Israeli lone soldiers, “lone soldier” status to receive even the general funds and benefits that are given to all lone soldiers. To prove lone soldier status, one must provide paperwork proving that they have either have no family support in Israel, contact with any family members or that they are not receiving money from family members. However, for soldiers who either left home in their teens or were living on the streets before joining the army, this paperwork is non-existent, as there is no record of where they had been living prior.

It is common, coming from a religious background and religious education, that many of these ultra-Orthodox soldiers do not have general knowledge of basics of math, science, and technology among other things. Tens of thousands of men in the Haredi school system are not educated in math or science past a fourth grade level. Moshe Shenfeld, the head of Out for Change, an organization which assists former members of the Haredi community in educational and vocational training, reports that just 3-5% of boys who study in Haredi schools receive a full matriculation degree.

According to Out for Change, the government sets aside NIS 500 million a year to assist students from the ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, who are a part Haredi community, that want to further their education after their formal schooling is completed. These funds are used to set up courses from the Education Ministry to help such students fill the gaps in their education and receive a matriculation certificate, provide vocational training, and job training during their army service. However, this money is only for soldiers and those who are still a part of the Haredi community, who serve in religious units. The Netzah Yehuda Battalion, part of the Kfir Infantry Brigade, is one of the two strictly Haredi units in the IDF. Today, it is the largest battalion in the IDF with over 700 soldiers in four different companies and one elite counterterror squadron. Haredi soldiers typically spend two years serving and then one year completing high school completion exams and acquiring skills for a profession once they reentered civilian life. Netzah Yehuda offers resources to help these soldiers complete matriculation and pre-college studies. For soldiers who do not qualify for government tuition assistance, “Friends of Nahal Haredi” helps to subsidize costs of tuition for schools and programs that help Haredi soldiers complete their core education. However, they only help soldiers within that specific unit who do not qualify for assistance, and not infantry soldiers in general.

Soldiers who come from an ultra-Orthodox background who join other units that are designated to be religious or Haredi units, are also given financial assistance from the Ministry of Defense to complete their matriculation, as many of these soldiers do not have the requisite level of core education necessary to either enter university or become a member of the workforce post army service. Unfortunately, there are many other Haredi and ex-Haredi soldiers who do not get assistance at all, simply because they are not members of religious units.

Yossi Klar from, Out for Change says, “What the army does with Haredi soldiers is it gives them two things depending on age and route they take. If you’re younger than 21 and fit, then you are integrated into a Haredi infantry unit; there, the last eight months of your 2 year and 8 month service, are spent in school, completing your education, while if you are non-Haredi, or you used to be, you won’t get those 8 months for education. You have to serve those 8 months in full army service.”

The second route for Haredi soldiers, if you are over the age of 21, is integration into non-infantry units, where they are given jobs such as electricians and other technical jobs. “The army puts an emphasis on making sure every job they integrate to, they will find a job when they leave the army,” Klar says. “We used to call it ‘creditation.’ This is the credit you get from serving in the army, you come out with a job. To getting into a job in the Intelligence community, you need to have very high ratings in your tests before you go into the army, and ex-Orthodox people usually don’t have those ratings like non-Orthodox people because they did not have basic studies and those tests test basic studies in Israeli curriculum so they usually get very low grades. Haredi people are integrated even though they have low grades into any unit they want, and ex-Haredi people cannot do that, so the discrimination goes both ways.”

Soldiers who come from an ultra-Orthodox background who join other units that are deemed religious or Haredi, are given financial assistance from the Ministry of Defense to complete their matriculation, as many of these soldiers do not have the requisite level of core education necessary to either enter university or become a member of the workforce post army service. Unfortunately, there are many other Haredi and ex-Haredi soldiers who do not get assistance at all, simply because they are not members of religious units. The Ministry of Defense does not give the same financial assistance to religious soldiers in regular units as they would to religious soldiers in Haredi units due to the individual soldiers’ choice to not continue along the learning path, as many religious units set aside time for Torah learning.

It is an absolute travesty that the Ministry of Defense does not allot the same financial aid to the Haredi or former Haredi lone soldiers as they do to the ones serving in the religious units of the IDF, simply because they aren’t following the religious path of learning. They still lack the same core education as their religious unit counterparts and deserve the same kind of financial assistance to help them complete their high school matriculation after their army service is finished. JIJ is lobbying the government to help those who are no longer members of the Haredi community, but still suffer the same educational and vocational detriments as those who are still members.  Nob profit organizations such as the Lone Soldier Center and Out for Change can only do so much; it is up to the government and the people to help make a change to help those that give up so much to help.

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