Have you ever heard of the term “adulting”?
It’s the word used by millennials to describe an action typically done by adults. The reason this new term is used as opposed to “being a responsible adult” is because millennials are typically children. Adulting activities include going to the dentist, picking up a bill, and maybe cooking a meal that didn’t come out of one box.
Joking aside, the reason this is important is because one of my favorite pastimes has recently become complaining about the volunteers from abroad in the IDF. Keep in mind, I say this as a former Mahal volunteer. We have more and more kids coming from abroad to serve in the IDF, probably because its trendy. As more and more of them come, they realize that the IDF isn’t summer camp, and that Zionism rarely pays the bills. If the recent phenomenon of suicides by lone soldiers is any indication, many of these kids are ill prepared to be in a shed rearranging cleaning supplies, or swabbing toilets, much less be on the battlefield. But even ignoring the suicides, I’ve noticed that the posts on the serious lone soldier Facebook group have become even more whinier than when I was part of it, and I wasn’t exactly Captain America myself. Even I had limits beyond which I wouldn’t bitch, which I can’t say for some of the new meat.
None of this would be an issue if Mahal kids served a full service, didn’t need to be trained in Hebrew, got very few special perks, did reserves like everybody else, and could be punished for desertion. But none of those things are true. Mahal kids, even the well meaning ones, cost the Israeli taxpayer thousands of dollars, and accrue other hidden costs that aren’t necessarily monetary on its surface. But at the end of the day, everything can be boiled down to shekels if you are dying to do so.
No doubt there are perks to having such a program, even one as poorly executed as the one we currently have. But at the end of the day, Israelis are spending money on giving American kids a Call of Duty experience, and then go back to America none the wiser. But the truth is that Call of Duty is less costly, and is way more exciting. And if you don’t believe the recent media hype, it gets way fewer kids killed as well. At a certain point, even Zionism has a limit. I’m not naive enough to believe in something simply because Zionism.
I think part of the problem is that drafting is easier than ever before. Mahal was originally a program designed for World War II vets to help their fellow Jews out in ways only they could. It wasn’t advertised on a website in decent English; it was advertised in the newspapers, when American Jews saw what happened to their European counterparts in the Holocaust, and the images of that happening again in Israel burned into their brains like a second Holocaust. It certainly helped back then. Mahal essentially built the IAF. But nowadays, most Mahal volunteers are eighteen year-old pups who never held a gun before. Very useful indeed.
But I also think that we don’t expect a certain level of maturity going in. Sure, everyone who drafts becomes more responsible. Like Thanos, it is inevitable (there, I made an Endgame reference. I need a shower). But for the most part, we get 18-year-olds with no life experience. And the army never checks for it. There is a very simple reason for that though: until recently, that was never an issue.
The Israeli kids don’t need to be financially stable. For the most part, they live at home. The couple of dollars they receive for whatever it is they do goes toward popsicles and bubble gum and trading cards (kids still do buy those things, right?). The parents still bear the cost of making sure the soldier has a bed and food. That was the unspoken agreement between the IDF and the Israeli populace in 1948. And the Mahal volunteers, until very recently, were financially responsible, because the difficulty of drafting was an effective tool at weeding out children, or at least transforming them from children into adults. But that difficulty has been stripped from the process. Like modern video games, Mahal holds kids by the hand until they get to base, never expecting the kids to go through any sort of difficulty beforehand. And it shows.
But on a more fundamental level, why are we paying for kids to have a summer camp program at our expense, when we should be putting that effort towards making sure these kids stay here and making sure the IDF is first and foremost about stacking bodies?
The way I see it, a big issue is that we have way too many naive Jews coming on a plane and thinking that serving a year and a half where most of their service is training of various sorts is helpful, even when they are earnestly trying to help. I’ve always said that doing the army is personal, and drafting for Zionism is just asking for trouble.
But what if we could change the purpose of Mahal? What if we could turn it from a program for frat boys to get cool pictures with guns in uniform, and into a program that not only encourages, but facilitates long term Aliyah that will more likely guarantee that those who come actually stay here? That would be way more helpful to the Zionist enterprise, and would probably result in a stronger army.
Here is a crazy idea that would never work: what if there was a program that you needed to do before you drafted? One where you live in Israel for a year and a half on your own, to prove that you have the mettle to make it here?
Let’s go over the process: Suppose you are a smart Jewish Yehsiva bochur, trying to decide what to do after Yeshiva high school. Sure, you could go to YU (all the other schools are obvious goyishe nonsense), but that would cost you and your family a lot of money. And besides, you spent the last twelve years being indoctrinated into blindly supporting Israel. You need to move to Israel and make Aliyah, like a good Jew.
Great! You apply for the program. Assuming you get in, you take a flight to Israel with a bunch of guys and girls who are as interested in this as you are.
You spend the next six weeks in intensive Ulpan and physical training, while also meeting your new friends and trying to figure out who to rent a place with. Remember, it’s independent living, so you need to get a place.
After those six weeks, you have chosen roommates and a new home, and have procured yourself a job working 30 hours a week. You still need to show up to Hebrew classes and planned exercises, so you can’t expect these kids to show up for more than 30 hours. They also have to take other classes on how to cook, clean, manage finances, and other useful life skills that are useful for living on your own, especially in the army.
In the meantime, you are expected to show up once a month to a Shabbaton, or something similar to the like. That way, you continue keeping up with all of the new friends you made during the six weeks at the beginning. Also, you are all required to live in the same city, or even the same neighborhood. That way, even on off Shabbaton, you still have a brand new community.
However, don’t be fooled. For the most part, this is a very hands-off project. The kids are free to do whatever they like, so long as they show up to the mandatory meetings regularly, aren’t breaking the law, keeping the apartments clean, working an average of 30 hours a week, and are ending the months with pluses in the bank. The kids are still free to engage in whatever activities they wish. This makes the program feel less like a rigid program and more like real life with training wheels. The kid will learn independence, which will make him a happier person, as well as a productive soldier and citizen.
After a year and a half passes, your mentors decide if you are ready for the IDF, and if so, where. And if you aren’t fit for the IDF, you can still do National Service, or go straight to college or trade school, still on the Israeli dime. Not everyone is fit for the army, and there is no shame in it. Now these kids have a fighting chance of actually contributing something meaningful to society, instead of being a drain on it. On top of it, some kids who may not wish to serve can still make Aliyah. We have enough kids who actually want to serve. I see no reason to prevent someone from coming because the army is not their idea of a good time.
None of this needs to be strictly religious. There can be a secular version, and an ultra-Orthodox version. The point is in creating communities of young people who learn together what being Israeli truly means, not religious indoctrination.
The importance of this is that now you have turned drafting at eighteen from an irresponsible, ill-thought out, and selfish action of a child into one of the greatest experiences you could give somebody on their way to adulthood.
Why not Garin Tzabar? Well, Garin Tzabar, for the most part, is about living on a Kibbutz. This was great in the olden days, when the sign at Ben Gurion said “Welcome to ye old Israel,” but the fact is that more than ever, young people are driven toward the city. Even Garin Tzabar acknowledges that, with them making some new Garinim in cities. But also, Garin Tzabar is not a vetting process. It’s the opposite. What I am proposing is in many ways a vetting process. The IDF doesn’t get bogged down with bad soldiers who should not be here, because there is a year and a half to figure out who doesn’t draft.
The funding for such an immense undertaking is something I never thought about. After all, this is simply a thought exercise. And yes, you will get less kids. But I assure you the ones that come will be in it for the long haul. And isn’t that what Zionism is truly about?