Safra Turner

Mandatory IDF Conscription from a Hiloni Perspective

* To read another side of the issue, please read my colleague Varda Epstein’s Mandatory IDF Conscription from a Haredi Perspective.

Immediately before moving back to Israel in 2004, I sat with a Haredi friend over a cup of coffee and discussed what we were going to do when we return to Israel.

I was finally going to be with my husband, after a US enforced separation of newlyweds, long story and will be saved for some other time. I was going to study government and counter-terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, we were going to live on kibbutz and at some point I intended to join either the Mossad or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to give back to my home and my people.

My friend and her husband, who was a rabbi I had grown up with, were moving to Israel in order for him to be able to study Torah full time. They would receive a minimal living stipend and accommodations through the community that they were going to be a part of. She was going to try to work. They were pregnant with their first beautiful baby.

We were so full of ideology back then. Over the years we more or less lost contact, we went our way, they went theirs. My husband and I stayed in Israel, they returned to the States.

Our sunny summer day sipping iced coffee has stayed with me ever since. Then, I thought it was a nice gesture, coming to Israel to study Torah, living hand to mouth and supported by your community for your deeds. I don’t think I ever really understood it, but I certainly felt their passion. I loved that passion.

As the years went by, I began to better understand the divide between secular and Haredi Israelis, both in everyday life and in an area that we personally were affected, serving in the IDF. I watched as my husband was called up time and time again, during both peace and war, and began to understand just how much of government (er, our hard earned) money goes to support the Haredi lifestyle.

It was that community whose leadership was adamantly opposed to serving in the IDF and defending our home against its enemies. Those same people that supposedly sit all day long studying Torah for the sake of clal Yisrael, were the ones that we were financially supporting. Personally, I became disillusioned.

Why is it that most of us here in Israel must serve, but Haredim are often exempt? Varda Epstein has answered this question from a Haredi perspective. She and I agree to disagree. It is what I consider to be one of the most beautiful aspects of our people, we all have an opinion, and accept it or not, we are still allowed to it. That was also the reason we chose to write these juxtaposing posts, explaining both sides of the issue.

Here is the reason that I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world. I was not born here in Israel, and I only spent four years of my life in New York. I was raised in the vibrant and pluralistic Jewish community of Richmond, Virginia, where it simply did not matter how orthodox or unaffiliated one was, because we were all Jewish. Period.

I spent many a Shabbaton at friend’s homes, and all of my Jewish friends played with me. Some went to religious day school, some did not. Some went to Sunday school, some did not. We were all still Jewish, so much so, that I thought it was extremely odd that after returning to Israel, a Modern Orthodox friend told me that that I was wrong when I mentioned having Haredi friends, he said that it just wasn’t possible. I wasn’t wrong; I have had Haredi, Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and non-affiliated friends my entire life.

What is weird is that this doesn’t seem to be the norm here in Israel. Yet I am lucky, because I saw all of us as one, always.

I believe that Haredim should serve in the IDF or in the equally important national service, though many of my Haredi friends disagree. I just don’t understand the issue with protecting one’s family through IDF service or giving back to the country through national service. If some Haredi youth are simply not made for military service, then why not join Magen David Adom or volunteer at an orphanage for Haredi children or join the firefighters or volunteer in a home for special needs individuals?

On some level, I can understand the ideology behind not serving in the IDF, I had a Haredi friend that explained it very well over coffee, all those years back. I can understand it, if the reasoning for that young Haredi not to serve in the IDF is really based upon studying Torah full time, which he truly believes is better defense that physically soldiering.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. It was also made public in another recent article by Rabbi Dov Lipman that some Haredi youth actually DO want to serve, but will not/ cannot because of social barriers within their own community, including being outcast by their community leaders.

There needs to be some way in which Haredi youth can give back to the state of Israel. Even if Moshiach has not yet come, we still have a de facto state; and it is the state of the Jews. The only state of the Jews in the whole wide world (our autonomous Jewish oblast does not yet count, though maybe one day). We need to keep ourselves united and secured. We owe it to ourselves.

I just cannot imagine a Haredi family (or any family for that matter) in the middle of a war deciding not to pick up arms and fight when the battle is at one’s door; especially in Judaism, where respect for and appreciation of life is so high. I want nobody’s children killed for it, but I do want all of us to step up and take responsibility.

So who is right? I say me. Then again, when a community leadership shuns one for doing what is right for the state of Israel, then I must admit that it makes a lot more sense why it isn’t preferred by Haredi youth. Maybe in this case there is too much power in too few hands.

What I am beginning to understand is that not all Haredim are what they are made out to be in the news. My Haredi friends, acquaintances and those willing to stand up as a dissenting voice to the monopolization of the Haredi community, have well proven to me that there is more than just a mass of “black hats” out here. There are thousands and thousands of individuals who are make up what is called the “Haredi community”.

My husband still needs to defend our country once, if not more, every single year. It would be nice to know that we are defending all of the populations here in Israel, and that they too choose to defend their homeland, their families and themselves.

About the Author
Safra made aliya in 1997, and has been involved in the Jewish world both professionally and voluntarily throughout her life. She currently resides near Haifa and owns a small translation business. Safra is married and has one son.