Monday, June 25, 2012

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Nachal Charedi – Reality Check

by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths

soldierIn the past I wrote about my Air Force Daughter.  Since that time she has now been joined by Infantry Son.

Being ultra-orthodox, charedi if you will, we were not willing to throw our son into cultural morass of the Israeli Defense Forces at their whims.  Since the IDF has been “preparing” for ultra-orthodox recruits, we targeted him at the ultra-orthodox infrantry program – Nachal Charedi / Netzach Yehuda – The Mighty Men of Judah infrantry combat unit.

Our son contacted a friend, a former yeshiva student in yeshiva with him, who was now a training sergeant in Nachal Charedi.  He couldn’t help, letting us know “the battalion is full”.  The battalion is full??? What if you’re ultra-orthodox and you want to fight in the army? 

Next, by hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence), I was being picked up from the train station and was asked for a ride by someone from synagogue I recognized…in an army officers uniform.  Turns out he’s an army chaplain and a captain.  We asked him if he could help and he was able to put us in touch with Nachal Charedi’s battalion rabbi.  The rabbi was able to get our son on the list.

We breathed a sigh of religious relief, if not parental worry.  Our son was going to be in a proper religious environment, while putting his life on the line to defend all the Jewish people and non-Jewish citizens living here.

Two and a half weeks before his enlistment date we got a harbinger of things to come.  I received call… “hello, is this (Reb Akiva’s son’s father)?  Your son has to report for basic training tomorrow”.  “What???  His orders say 2 1/2 weeks from now.  We haven’t prepared him (done the preliminary army supply shopping), it’s not what his orders say.”  “He has to report tomorrow, the orders are changed by this call.  He should report to (normal Jerusalem enlistment point A).”

What can you do?  I took off work, ran home, grabbed my boy and headed to the mall.  Why?  As we learned with Air Force Daughter, there are things your child needs for army service that the army doesn’t provide.  Some are obvious (a cell phone to call home), some less so (a durable watch with a timer function).  We also had feedback from her on what’s a waste of money (like dirty laundry bags) and what’s good to have (boot polish). 

Enlistment day is a big deal in Israel.  It’s normal for a number of family members to join the enlistee in going to the enlistment point.  But everyone was ready for that in 2 1/2 weeks…so he lost out.

That evening we got a call…. “your son has to report to (unusual Jerusalem enlistment point B) tomorrow.”  “What, we were told (normal enlistment point A).”  “The orders are changed by this call, (click).”  I didn’t even know where enlistment point B was! 

He made the point, we said goodbye and off he went to be a soldier.

He was bused to the Nachal Charedi training base somewhere in the Jordan Valley.  Basic training is similar in every army.  The difference for Nachal Charedi is the unit has time for the daily Jewish prayer cycle, and a 45 minute religious learning time per day.  I had sent him with a couple of thin paperback editions of mishna and gemora, so he’d be able to use the religious time effectively.

He came home the first time 2 weeks later, for Shabbos.  I asked him how it was going, how was the availability to pray and the time for religious learning.  He said “we’re giving a minimal time to pray, you can just barely get through it if you go at maximum pace and are completely rested when you start.  It’s not adequate for Monday’s and Thursday’s (when the Torah is read).  Everyone just falls asleep at the learning time, as we’re exhausted and sleep deprived due to the training schedule.  And because our unit was called to training early, the glatt kosher kitchen isn’t open, the cooks haven’t arrived per the schedule yet.  We’ve been eating (glatt kosher) canned tuna and canned corn 3 times a day for 2 weeks (except for Shabbos where we had some Challah and packages of deli meat).”

Ok, I thought, it’s the army.  Screwing up logistics is normal, and training them till they drop as part of basic training is normal too.

During training they ask you what your army job preferences are.  They’ve “tested” you in advance, people with special skills might be directed to intelligence or radar or something like that.  And as part of training they rate how you do with the basics.  Being in an infantry unit, the choices are naturally somewhat limited.  Combat.  Supply.  Guard.   Those were my son’s choices.

At the end of basic training there’s an army ceremony for the graduating unit.  It’s a big deal, parents or family attend and greet the newly minted soldier.  We went to our daughter’s, driving all the way to Haifa for it.

Our son arrived home for his 3rd Shabbos off.  “Hey Tatti (Dad in Yiddish), my training is done.”  “What??? When’s your graduation ceremony.”  “Doesn’t seem we’re having one, and they told me they’ll call me with orders on what to do next.”

After Shabbos he got a call, “report to base [t]”.  We had no idea where that was, but turns out Israeli army bases are listed in Google Maps – so we were able to get directions.

To make a long story short… he arrived, he was assigned his last choice.  Ok, it happens.  But that’s where it went bad.

He’s not on a Nachal Charedi base.  His guard unit commanders are NOT from Nachal Charedi, not from the religious unit – only the soldiers are, and not all of them.  The commanders are male but do not respect the religious soldiers religious rights.  They are NOT given time for prayer nor for learning.  He’s been faced with numerous times of having to violate Shabbos or Yom Tov, and there is no unit or battalion rabbi to which to direct questions.  Unit members and even commanders have violated Shabbos or Yom Tov intentionally, including eating and shoving food in people’s faces on Yom Kippur.

He was not able to hear the megillah on Purim and has been extremely limited in the abilities to meet Jewish religious obligations for Jewish holidays.  NOT because his base is somewhere out in the middle of nowhere or because of army responsibilities, his base is near a residential mixed religious Jewish neighborhood, but because his commanders prohibit it or create a duty schedule that prevents it (when it doesn’t have to).

His Nachal Charedi – Ultra-Orthodox religious unit experience has been a nightmare.  The Israeli Army did not provide the capacity necessary for even the current numbers enlisted, and because of that he and the members of his unit have been shunted off to an area incompatible with even the minimal promises of a religious unit.  He’s being prevented from performing basic religious practices that are a guaranteed right of every member of the IDF – not to mention even the slightest accommodation of an ultra-orthodox soldier.

Oh, but they did give the unit a gift.  For the ultra-orthodox guard unit… they installed a big screen TV with 150 cable channels in their common room.  (Anyone who knows the ultra-orthodox community knows TV, particularly and especially broadcast TV, is avoided and prohibited.)

None of this is that unusual or so terrible for an army – getting the day to day things right is not their goal (killing people and destroying things in defense of their country is).  But if you’re going to promise to provide an “appropriate” environment to ease a significant percentage of the ultra-orthodox community into army service – treating them as bastard stepchildren is not the way to go about it.

My next child has already gotten their army exemption.

UPDATE:

Being this post is getting some significant attention, I wanted to add a few clarifications.  Some Nachal Charedi soldiers report a good experience, it seems the “luck of the draw” whether you get assigned to a core combat unit or thrown to one of the outlying units for “overflow” – and I certainly don’t want to bet my son’s religious life on the luck of the draw.

Also, some of my son’s yeshiva buddies, a couple of bochrim from the States and Canada that didn’t want to leave Israel, joined the IDF directly to the primary IDF combat brigades (Golani and Givati).  There they’ve reported a great religious experience!  Seems as religious guys in a non-religious brigade, their religious rights are scrupulously observed and their (generally) respected by their co-soldiers and commanders.  They’re even given extra time for davening every day (beyond the required time – which they get just by asking).  Being in a non-religious battalion it’s easy for them to be rotated off duty for Shabbos and it be taken by non-Shabbos observant soldiers (not by their request, that would be a violation of Shabbos).  They’ve told my son that 10% of the Golani combat brigade is religious bochrim, over half (of that 10%) from outside of Israel (the #1 sniper in Givati is a Chabad bocher from Crown Heights.)

18 comments:

Gibbo said...

Akiba I am lost for words......sad, angry.....dont know what to say :(

nechama said...

Rabbi, I have no words. I am stunned. I wish I knew a way to make this better. I am sorry.

Anonymous said...

Not surprised at all. Have advised my 17 yr. Old son to not make official aliyah and if he does, take the exemption for yeshiva. The erev rav run the IDF. May Hashem bless your son with chizuk/emunah to withstand this test!

Anonymous said...

Your son is indeed in an extremely challanging situation. BUT. THere is another way to look at this. As I have reminded my girls, we are not always put into a situation for our own comfort. It is obvious to me that Ha Shem placed him there to do a huge job. He is going to be a spokesman, a teacher, a guide to many hiloni soldiers there. For many, he will be the first dati person they have ever met. My Israeli husband, who is Hiloni (secular) always surprises me with the extent of his "religious" knowledge. He knows prayers, zemorit, etc. etc. - I asked him - where did you learn this? He told me - there were religious guys in his unit, and they were respected. When they went to war, the dati soldiers lead the prayers, and everyone joined in. Being a man of faith, you should be the first to realize that Ha Shem placed your son there for a reason. And obviously your son is very special - and he had a special father who was his example. The best thing would be to encourage him and remind him of this huge gift of service that he has received. Everything is from above and obviously Ha Shem trusts him.

ariela said...

So sad, but I think maybe HaShem has a reason for this too.

Moriah said...

Hashem wants Jews to violate Shabbos and eat on Yom Kippur...Really? Maybe He wants them to say emphatically "No" and through this protest bring attention to the lies and hypocrisy of the religious 'program' that makes a G-d -fearing Jew violate Shabbos...

Akiva said...

Anon 10:29 and Ariela - This was not a discussion of his personal approach. Yes, he's in the situation - he's facing a personal challenge. Certainly being in those circumstances for him is his path from Hashem. He should, G-d willing, face it, grow from it and stand strong through it.

But if the army is advertising a religions program and then providing this... then the religious community standing up and saying it's a lie is justified.

Neshama said...

That was a great line, "Israeli army bases are listed in 'Google Maps' – so we were able to get directions."
The whole world will know it too!

Akiva, you have some more work to be done. You need to get on the war path and make a big stir about the hypocrisy. How about a news article in one of the papers!

josh said...

How exactly is your son in Nachal HaHaredi? It is a specific combat battalion.

I'm not sure if you're just looking for an ear to listen or want to hear suggestions, but I think that you've suffered too long before coming for help. Has the army rabbinate ignored your complaints? Have they been contacted? If basic army rules are violated, has the army ombudsman been approached? Have you been in touch with the agudah lmaan hachayal haharedi organization?

Anonymous said...

Something is very wrong here. I have a son in the paratroopers and a son in Golani (through their respective header yeshivot) and they've never encountered anything like this. My paratrooper son has been asked to give shiurim to the other soldiers and they've been able to daven (although not in exceptional situations) and observe to their hearts' content.

Akiva said...

On an individual basis, generally speaking, it seems religious soldiers NOT in religious units are (generally) respected (at the very least for choosing service). But the religious units are still suffering from significant INSTITUTIONAL discrimination.

Yishai said...

Have you tried contacting a few higher-ups in the Army? I think if a few dati leumi colonels or generals heard about some of these abuses, at least one of them might have the guts to raise hell, and insist that changes are made. Similarly, have you tried contacting MKs or government ministers? Most politicians are very interested in getting charedim in the IDF, so you would think some would be willing to talk to the officers in your son's unit and make sure things improve, so this doesn't turn into a public relations nightmare.

yoni r. said...

I think your update is a good example of tafasta m'ruba lo tafasta, tafasta mi'ut tafasta.

David said...

My son is in his third year of the Nachal. His experience was not like this at all. Have you contacted the rabbonim of the Amuta, Rav Bar Chaim or Rav Fuchs? Were they able to help?

koillel nick said...

Cross-currents.com posted your essay. Please request that they add your update. They ignored my request for them to do so the other day.

Anonymous said...

There are people to turn to in order to fix the situation -- in other words, through official military channels. In general, when most kids go in to the military here they have protektzia from their fathers, older brothers, uncles, etc. that served before them and have connections to make sure that their little brother/son/etc. is treated well.

Many religious boys go through the military here and are treated well.

My son was treated very well in his IDF unit. One of the things he did to help himself was to work very hard and make sure that others in his unit as well as his mefaked knew that he was willing to be "one of the guys" in terms of helping to carry the work load and he wasn't looking for a free ride or to be "special".

thejulianfamily said...

Hi Akiva, I replied to your post on cross-currents but I don't know if you are reading the replies there so I'll add it here too. As the father of the soldier you have the right to lodge an official complaint with the Netzig Kvillot Lechayalim. The issues you raise are not just disturbing on a religious level but are direct open violations of the Pekudot Ramatkal, official IDF regulations. I would recommend that before taking this to the public and possibly causing many people to reconsider their respect for Netzach based on an extreme exception, please use the official army channels for resoving this. I can tell you from multiple personal experiences as a Charedi soldier myself that the IDF is really trying it's hardest to make us comfortable. The Netzig Kvillot considers every complaint with the utmost severity even after the soldier is no longer under the command of the one he or his family is complaining about. One of my own commanders was removed from a position of command and subsequently released early from service because of a complaint made by a friend of mine to the Netzig Kvillot. Additionally as someone mentioned above, the rabbonim of Netzach should be made aware of the situation, as well as other officers involved in taking care of the religious nature of Netzach. I would be happy to provide you with some phone numbers if you would like.

A happy and worried Charedi soldier.

Motti A. said...

I am not an official spokesman of the Nachal Chareidi, but as my son just finished 2 and 1/3 years, and the fact that I have spent a few shabotot and chagim with them, I feel I am qualified to respond.
The Nachal Chareidi has strict requirements from their soldiers, and those that do not meet the requirements are removed from the battalion. It seems that your son was sent to S..k.n Base which is not the Nachal Chareidi, but a unit that had access to privileges of the Nachal Charedid soldiers that were based there in adjacent barracks. Why that happened, I'm sure your son can tell you better than I can, but seeing the picture on the blog, I think I even know your son. Ask him if he knows Rabbi Adler from the frum communitty nrearby, whose son was a combat medic.

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