I’ve come to the point in my life where I have been out of the army longer than I was in it. I don’t know how long it takes for regular Israelis to leave the army mentality, but I think I’ve finally allowed the civilian mentality to more or less take over. Sure, I still know some army jargon, and I reminisce from time to time about the “good ol’ days”, but I think I have become a regular person again, with regular person concerns and regular person lines of thought. But I’m definitely not the same person I was before I drafted.
I’m sure there are kids out there now who are saving up and telling their families goodbye as they embark on an adventure to draft to the IDF, just as I had been many years ago, and while I can’t in good faith discourage that, I would like to give something to those kids to think about. Maybe you are a parent of such a child, a teacher, or even that kid him/herself. If so, please read this. Hopefully, you will see a different perspective on drafting, and maybe that will either convince you to seek what you are looking for elsewhere or it will strengthen your resolve and frame drafting for you in differently. DISCLAIMER: this only applies to potential volunteers from abroad. If Israel asks you to draft, you should definitely answer the call of duty.
Drafting will not make you cooler. Cool is something that you either are or you aren’t, and while you can change it with your attitude, it has very little to do with being in the army. I’ve met many uncool soldiers, and while drafting may give you a couple of good stories, so will literally anything else. As long as you leave your house and do stuff, you will eventually get a good story or five. When in doubt, go lick the Liberty Bell or something. Also, this equally applies to being good with women or other things like that. I would even argue that drafting lowers your chances of finding women, since you spend too much time on base anyways.
If you think the army will “whip you into shape”, think again. The Israeli army isn’t exactly the most disciplined army out there, and that doubly applies to the positions typically open to lone soldiers from abroad. Sure, I guess it will have to tame you on some level, but it isn’t the North Korean army, and you will find that once you leave (even for the weekend), you will fall into old habits. Similarly, the IDF doesn’t turn its soldiers into gym bros either. Everyone I know who developed good workout habits in the army did so irrespective of (or just as likely, in spite of) army protocol and discipline. The army does a terrible job cultivating good habits in its soldiers, and the food on base is not healthy at all. You will definitely lose weight in basic (simply because you are running around all the time), but once that’s over, you are on your own with your health. And at that point, just go to the gym or something.
Also, don’t think you are gonna get too much action. The army is 99% sitting around some place with a gun, making sure someone doesn’t enter, exit, or pass. There is also a lot of time spent sitting around and waiting for someone to tell you what to do. In fact, I would say that a combat soldier’s job is to wait. Sure, there will be a little action, and you may enjoy it, but I’m sure skateboarding can be just as exciting, and with much less investment. And if you have an itchy trigger finger, you will be sorely disappointed to find out that most soldiers shoot exactly nobody in their service.
You definitely shouldn’t draft if you want to be a hero. Israel has heroes, no doubt, but they are the exception that prove the rule. Most regular people in Israel draft, and almost none of them are lauded as heroes. It’s almost like when everyone is a hero, nobody is. And on an even more fundamental level, most of Israel’s heroes are dead, and it’s precisely how they became that way. Israel doesn’t need more dead heroes. We need more live Jews.
Drafting for Zionism is in my opinion also a terrible idea. Not only will you get discouraged almost immediately (since political ideology is rarely a good, long term motivator), but you will find that the army is an excellent way to become disillusioned. If Zionism is your goal, literally do anything else.
And don’t think for one second that you drafting matters. You cost the army more money, you require more special treatment, and there are so many Israelis who could do what you are doing. If you want to help the cause, write a check. The army, in my experience, is much more of what you can take from it than what you can give to it. Rarely, if ever, do people ever give more in their service than they receive in return. And to be clear, that’s not even a bad thing, but rather simply a reality that a big organization like the army has a lot to offer its soldiers, and the individual soldier is pretty expendable.
Why should you draft? Well, I think the best reason to draft is to help you become Israeli. Sure, not every Israeli drafts, but you can tell the difference between Olim that have drafted and Olim that haven’t almost immediately, or at least I can. And while you may be able to integrate without it, it is such a good shortcut to integration that it can’t be ignored. It also helps you feel like you’ve “earned” your place in Israeli society. In a world where people are trying to always get something for nothing, you might find that you will feel much better about your place in Israel if you had to pull some thorns and thistles to earn it. And while you can disagree, I have found that in my experience, the army was really the friends I made along the way.