This month across the country eighteen-year-old boys and girls including; veteran Israelis, new immigrants, Jews, Druze, Christians and Muslims, “Lone-Soldiers,” left-wing, right-wing, religious, secular, rich and poor will be drafted, or will volunteer into the “March ‘15” cohort of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The IDF plays an important role in Israeli society and is supported by a national consensus of the Israeli population. General Elazar Stern (res.) notes that,

“What makes the IDF exceptional compared to other militaries around the world is its diversity. It consists of a mix of people who in normal circumstances would never consider befriending each other, and here they are willing to give their lives for one another. If it was not for the IDF chances are that they never would have met, and now that they have met, it is not only the army that benefits from this friendship, it is the entire nation.”

Service in the IDF is mandatory for all Jewish and Druze citizens. The draft age is eighteen, with males required to serve for 36 months, and females for 24 months. In addition to the Jewish and Druze citizens who have compulsory service, Muslim, Christian, and Circassian citizens have the option of volunteering. Furthermore, polls consistently show that a majority of Israelis would volunteer to serve in the IDF, even if it were not compulsory. Regarding the sociological importance of military service in Israel, Yaakov Lozowick notes that,

“If one were to seek a single explanation for the cohesion of Israeli society and its ability to integrate masses of newcomers, this (service in the IDF) might be it. The central fact about military service is its universality; even today, when the distance between the ideal and reality is growing, the essence has not changed significantly.”

Lozowick observes that most of the youth in the IDF will have had more money spent on them by their country than most will make in their lifetimes. He mentions that many soldiers (in combat units) will endure sleepless nights and difficult conditions as they are being transformed into a fighting unit. As far as responsibility and maturity he remarks that they “will have been given responsibility such as many of their peers in other societies will never have.” He refers to the IDF as, “a citizen army that has contributed immensely to the cohesion of Israeli society.”

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Birthright “Amazing Israel” Mifgash IDF soldiers

(Photo:(c) T. Book, 2015)

Popular musical entertainer Idan Raichel in an interview with the Jewish Journal (2011) made a moving observation about the two-minute silence during Memorial Day (Yom HaZikaron) in Israel which is commemorated immediately preceding Israel’s Independence Day (Yom HaAtzmaut). Raichel who served in the IDF himself, refers to service in the IDF as a “basic ingredient” to “Israeliness.” Raichel commented that,

“I think that those two minutes truly reflect the Israeli way of life, the Israeli pride, our longing and sadness, our concern for and about the future, our patriotism and our mutual destiny. Those two minutes truly show what all Israelis have in common, if it’s our lives in the present, or the respect we have for our past. To me, those two minutes sharpen our minds and are the epitome of Israeli society.”