When our friends returned to Israel, after spending ten years in the States, their daughter was almost sixteen year old. Since she spoke Hebrew with no trace of an accent, and this was the beginning of the tenth grade, and all the students were new to the school, every one assumed that she was a regular Israeli. For the better part of the year, she sat in class understanding very little, but no one suspected anything.
A native accent is deceptive, and could even be dangerous, not only in high school, but especially in the army. Nowadays there are quite a few children of Yordim (Israelis who left the country) that return to Israel on their own to serve in the army. Those young people speak fluent Hebrew, but like my friends’ daughter, they are not Israelis.
Returning to Israel from another country after growing up believing that here was their real home, these young people have many dreams and expectations. However, they lack the knowledge and the necessary experience of our society to be able to deal with the reality of the army.
Usually that gap between expectation and reality leads to some kind of disillusionment. But in extreme cases it could result in loss of life: several lone soldiers committed suicide.
Finally the army took notice and acknowledged the need to do something, and it devised a special course to prepare lone soldiers for the new and unfamiliar reality of the army.
One of the organizers talked about the new training on the radio and she explained that the participation was voluntary. I feel that this is a mistake. Like my friends’ daughter, who knew how to speak the language but had problems understanding, those soldiers have no way of knowing what they don’t know.
In our own society where we are familiar with the social codes and nuances of the language, we still make countless mistakes about gestures, intentions and even understanding the meaning of explicit words. We make wrong assumptions and draw erroneous conclusions. Emails, for example, are notorious for causing misunderstandings as we read them too quickly and hit the send button before we had time to think.
But when it comes to serving in the military, soldiers could not afford making such mistakes. Misunderstandings lead to unnecessary conflicts and could result in feelings of loneliness, isolation and persecution. Sadly some severe misunderstandings could also be the cause of suicide. Sometimes those young person cannot see a way out. It is a known fact that late adolescence is a vulnerable age and it is especially hard on lone soldiers who lack the necessary background and support. Therefore it is crucial that lone soldiers learn basic cultural codes and regulations of the Israeli army and become more familiar with the nuances of the language.
I applaud the army for finally offering such an important course, but I urge the organizers to make participation mandatory.
And finally, I hope that the students in the preparatory course will have the chance to see Zero Motivation, because, like the course itself, it is a shortcut to understanding the essence of the Israeli army and the society around it.