When I was 6 years old, I wrote in my journal about my dreams of living in Israel and serving in the IDF. For as long as I can remember, I have been telling my friends about my ultimate plan to fully integrate into Israeli society by giving back to the land that has given so much to me. Since then, as I grew older and became more religious, I looked into Sherut Leumi (National Service) as a possible option for myself and decided that it was the best fit for me. Opting to do national service instead of the required army service is an option that is available to religious girls who feel that army service is not the best choice for them within the modesty standards they observe. It is also becoming more acceptable as an option for others, both male and female, who are exempt from military service for various reasons. National Service provides an opportunity for volunteers to play a much needed role in society while serving their country.
I wanted to do something meaningful and impactful. I remember the feeling I had when I stepped off of the plane in August 2017. I felt overcome with emotion by the fact that the next day I would finally be starting my service. I felt so much excitement, happiness, fear and uncertainty. Most importantly, though, I felt hopeful. Truthfully, I did not know what to expect. The only information I was given about the next twelve months of my life was the address of my government-funded apartment and my job location. Sherut Leumi, in most cases, includes long days full of hard work, both emotionally and physically. I worked for the year in an institution for children with a wide range of disabilities. I truly enjoyed the work, and l absolutely loved the children to whom I was personally assigned. What I truly struggled with, however, was just about everything else. To say I experienced culture shock would be an extreme understatement. I was quickly thrown into a completely Israeli environment and started working in Hebrew. I knew that in the long run my decision to work completely in Hebrew would be helpful, but I had no idea what other hardships lay ahead of me.
Many others have experiences similar to mine. Young people who make Aliyah without their families and serve in the IDF or engage in National Service are supposed to be provided with services and benefits. The benefits for those doing national service include housing with working kitchen appliances, a washing machine, and WiFi. Unfortunately, for myself and other bnot sherut, some of these benefits were not as readily available as they should have been.
Unfortunately, there is very little structure in place for lone bnot sherut. The Sherut Leumi system is not in tune to the needs of lone bnot sherut. Our apartment experienced frequent power outages, broken washing machines, ant infestations, mold growing on interior walls and shortage of hot water. Our WiFi was not connected until 6 months after we moved in. I was assigned to live with other English speakers and we often discussed our shared struggles. It was helpful to know I was not alone and that other girls were going through the same thing. Being able to share these experiences with other lone bnot sherut was helpful when confronting these stressful episodes, as there was not really anyone in authority who understood these challenges.
Many of my friends agreed that the coordinators assigned to us through the Sherut Leumi system, and at our places of work, were unaccommodating and unsympathetic to the needs of lone bnot sherut. As lone bnot sherut, we were promised various benefits that we were not given – including extra vacation days and advisors we could speak with. Towards the end of the year, a group of around twenty lone bnot sherut visited one of the lone soldier organizations to advocate for ourselves by explaining that we were in a similar situation to lone soldiers and needed help. The representatives at the organization expressed their desire to help, but due to lack of funding, they could not provide us with much more than information about upcoming social events. There was an organization created by former bnot sherut that seeks to support lone bnot sherut. While helpful and appreciated, unfortunately, they were not able to help us with all our issues. I am blessed with extended family in Israel who were able to help me navigate the medical system when I was sick and also provided a haven for me to stay when conditions in my apartment were challenging. I look back on the year now and think how ironic it is that my job was not my greatest struggle.
Moving one’s life to Israel is not a simple process and requires numerous bureaucratic and government office visits. There needs to be support and infrastructure to ensure that the benefits and rights lone bnot sherut deserve are being recieved. I believe it is extremely important for religious girls to come and give back to Israel. Due to the current disorganized system for lone bnot sherut, many girls simply do not serve, or in some cases, do not even come to Israel. We need assistance – both physically and emotionally. Without any support system, it is a struggle to deal with all the bureaucracy, especially in a foreign language. Thankfully, I have become more accustomed to the system and I truly grew a great deal over my year of Sherut leumi. I feel extremely grateful for my experience and know it was worth the struggle. I was rewarded each and every day by the smiles of the children I worked with. I am honored and proud to look back on my year of service. However, it is a shame that I look back on my year as a time of constant struggle and hardship. This is something that can and should be fixed so that others don’t have to struggle with the same thing. I think it is important for new citizens to serve the State of Israel. However, the current Sherut Leumi system needs to make changes to make it more welcoming and supportive to lone bnot sherut.