Nitza Goldman
An Olah Chadasha learning to make sense of the world.

Where Is the Hesder for Women?

At 19-years-old, I made aliyah. At the time I was in the safe hands of my Midrasha, Midreshet Amudim, where I spent my shana alef and shana bet years. To have that security while I had to deal with the bureaucratic process of aliyah. I felt like I had aliyah in the bag, but I needed to figure out my next steps. Do I go to the army, do a year of Sherut Leumi, start my higher education? I decided I was not going to do  Tzahal, so I got a patur (exemption) for that. I decided I didn’t want to do Sherut Leumi because truth be told I wasn’t fully aware as to how many Sherut jobs there were outside of the hospitals, schools, and tours. So I decided to take the route of starting school. For a majority of standard universities in Israel (Hebrew University, Ben Gurion University, Technion, etc) they require chutznikim, students from outside of Israel, to take a college preparatory year also known as Mechina, to make sure that chutznikim are at the same knowledge level as their future Israeli peers. And they also have an academic ulpan to set you up for success in the academic Hebrew speaking classroom. So that’s what I decided to do, even though I was (and still am) planning on attending an art university or art college here, which does not require that year.

My shana bet year ended and I was alone in this family-centric country. I went home for a month to get more of my things and to visit with family before heading back to start my aliyah journey alone. I returned to Israel and started my life here living in a dorm, without the safety and security of my midrasha to keep me sane and whole. It’s been a really isolating realization that I don’t have the security of an immediate family here that I can fully trust to fall back on, in case things don’t work out and I need a place to stay while I get on my own two feet. 

What I’ve noticed though, these past few months while I’ve been here on my own, is that it’s a lot harder for 20 year old (religious) women to make aliyah than 20 year old (religious) men. Men have the option of doing Hesder Yeshiva, a 5-year program split up between 2 years at yeshiva, 1 year and 8 months in the army, and a year and a bit back at yeshiva. Say an 18-year-old boy decides that this is what he wants to do. He has the option to stay at the yeshiva he’s at now, if Hesder is an option there, or go to any of the Hesder Yeshivot in Israel. Just by doing that, he has secured five years of a place to live and to fall back on. After that, he’ll be between the ages of 22 and 23, and by then he can choose university or to travel. Women do not have this kind of program. While Midreshet Ein Hanatziv and Midreshet Lindenbaum have their own Garins, army units, it isn’t the same as Hesder. Lindenbaum has two programs you can do: 1. Do a full year of Midrasha, then draft through Lindenbaum. Complete your army service. Maybe do another year if you want to. 2. Do three months of Midrasha and then draft. It’s really not the same as Hesder.

If a woman decides to do Sherut Leumi, she can sign up with one of the organizations that will help place her. But Sherut Leumi is only required to do one year, a second year is totally optional. And there aren’t Midrasha programs similar in the way Hesder is for Sherut Leumi. Once a woman is done with her year or two at Midrasha, and decides she wants to stay in Israel, which kudos to her, she’s going to have a harder time adjusting. She has no Hesder options, and while Garin Tzabar is a great way to do the army as a lone soldier, it can still be isolating depending on where you are, or it might change your religious derech if one is concerned about that. By the time she’s done with either Tzahal or Sherut she’ll be 21-23, and she’s likely not going to have the safety of her Midrasha to fall back on after wards, since not many American Midrashot have a post Sherut (Tzahal or Sherut Leumi) program, which can make transitioning easier to a new life in a familial place. And she’s not going to have the same guarantee of 5 years living in one place while starting  life in a foreign country. It’s going to be moving from Midrasha, to the residence of the duration of your service, to the next place. All within a matter of 3-4 years. It’s not a steady way to live. 

B’kitzur, men in their early 20s when making aliyah have more of a support system from their Yeshivot than women do in their early 20’s when they may not have so much of a support system from their Midrashot. We need to figure out a way to make this transition from growing up in Chutz to Israeli adulthood better for the women who stay. Either we start programs affiliated with the Chutznik and Israeli Midrashot, not just the two mentioned above, a Hesder type of program, for either Sherut Leumi or Tzahal. Or something else. I don’t have the answer, but I wish that I had more of a safety net affiliated with my Midrasha, and I’m sure many other Olot Chadashot would want that too as they begin their transition into adulthood in Israeli society.

Had I had the option of a Hesder-like program for Sherut Leumi or Tzahal, I would have weighed all my options more, because it means at the end of the day I would be having an easier transition similar to the men my age when they make aliyah. This imbalance in transition can make it really hard for women to own their success stories and thrive in Israel on their own.

About the Author
Nitza Goldman is a 22 -year-old Jew from Las Vegas, Nevada who spent two years learning at Midreshet Amudim, before making Aliyah. She is currently at Bar Ilan University studying Jewish Art.
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