November 4, 2016

Doing Your Due Diligence

Nina Robins ‘19

Mandatory army service is a familiar and generally welcomed concept in most Israeli households. In a process similar to American college applications, Israeli teenagers test for different military skills, complete preference questionnaires, are reevaluated several times, perhaps appeal to higher units and are finally placed into ideal roles. Although strenuous, this process is usually a given.
Israeli teenagers enter the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) with a deeply fostered patriotism.
“I pay taxes and I go to the army,” Roni Golan, one of this year’s Rishonim, said. “It’s a phrase… I think it’s a national responsibility for the simple reason that there’s no option.”
Many Israeli teenagers, including Golan, believe that Israel’s relationship with its citizens is reciprocal.
“You receive things from the country, like defense, specific things that the government and country give you,” she said. “I think on the simplest level that you can’t just receive without giving.”
These teenagers and others believe that Israel is dependent on the protection provided by its citizens in the military.
“With the stabbings happening since last year, many of them have taken place in Tel Aviv, where my brother lives, and a shooting in the Sarona Market,” senior Mikayla Talmud, whose brothers served in the IDF, said. “These occurrences are more often than we would like to believe.”        Some soldiers are also inspired to secure Israel not only as a sovereign state, but as a religious homeland.
“I think that being Jewish is very special,” senior Nadav Aronoff said, whose brother is currently a paratrooper. “Being that there is only one Jewish state, we must do everything we can to protect it.”
Some people, however, are not subject to the draft. For the moment, sects of ultra Orthodox Jews, such as Haredim, are some of the only groups exempt from mandatory army service. These groups consider Talmudic studies a benefit to Israel as the center of Judaism, but do not necessarily believe in Israel’s political sovereignty.
“Many religious Zionists would say that the only reason Israel has been allowed to exist is because of the amount of Torah learning that goes on in Israel,” sophomore Eitan Szteinbaum said. “If that just diminished, and you sent [all the yeshiva students] to the IDF, Israel would just collapse.”
Critics of this exception argue that the opportunity to study is always present after service, but Szteinbaum offered a retort.
“In the yeshiva lifestyle, they’re learning every day, every year. It doesn’t end.”
However, there is a compromise in place. Certain units of the IDF are designated specifically for Haredim, where Torah study and national service complement each other. Golan’s brother served as the commander of such a unit.
“When I went to the ceremony, they had beards and peis, which was really impressive to see,” Golan said. “They found a way to combine their beliefs with their duty to the country and that it could and [does] happen.”
Besides religious Jews, most Arab and Muslim Israelis are exempt from the draft.
“The Israeli government doesn’t want to force them to fight their friends and brothers living in Muslim nations or in the Palestinian territories,” senior Kim Robins said. “It would create a conflict of interest and make military operations much more complicated.”
However, some Arab and Muslim Israelis volunteer to serve in the IDF, such as the Bedouins who often serve as navigators in the desolate desert.
While most Israelis are willing to fight for their country, some fight for the right to stay home instead.
“Israeli society is still really divided over the issue of the draft,” Robins said, “but people are starting to come together and instead of fighting one another, are getting ready to fight bigger enemies.”

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