Religious girls can opt out of Israel’s mandatory conscription, many choosing to do national service instead
Military service is mandatory for Israeli youths starting at the age of 18 – however, not everyone does it.
Religious Jewish Israeli girls can choose to receive an exemption from conscription on religious grounds, with many choosing to instead enroll in Israel’s national service program. It isn’t only Jewish youth who go for it, though. Arab youth do so as well, and their dilemma is what sort of service to choose from.
To help them in their decision, the Authority for National Service, together with Hamad and the national service wing of Israel’s Education Ministry, organizes a colossal fair where 81 different organizations try to attract volunteers. That’s in addition to a website, which has 1250 other options.
When i24NEWS visited, the two-day fair had attracted 6,000 female 12th graders looking to sign up.
“I have so much gratitude to this young generation that really feels the duty to give to their country,” said Reuvan Rinsky, the Authority for National Service CEO.
“We have over 18,000 young people volunteering for the national service, over 5,000 Arabs, 1,300 ultra-Orthodox community and the disabled and youth at risk, over 2,000 young people who volunteer for national service.”
For religious girls, one or two years of national civic service is one of the pillars of Israeli society.
“I’m religious, so I decided not to do the army. But I decided I still want to contribute to my country somehow,” explained second-year civic service volunteer Atara Abraham, an ER medical assistant at Sheba Tel Hashomer hospital outside Tel Aviv.
Atara might be beyond choosing her national service, but she was at the fair this year to recruit others, telling i24NEWS: “I give them a flyer and tell them about what I do. And then, if they seem interested, I tell them how amazing it is, how fun, and it’s no responsibility to give us their number.”
But while Atara’s area is focused on health, there are many more areas offered, from welfare and education to government, or cyber and security. There’s even an organization called Jewish Identity.
“A lot of kids don’t know about Shabbat or helping each other. This is a Jewish value, and we want to teach them a lot of interesting things.” said Yuval Moscowitz, a Jewish Identify Advisor.
There was even something for those keen on history.
“A lot of places can use the girls because it’s cheap labor force, but in our organization, for example, they really want the best for you,” noted Nava Paltiel, an advisor to the Society for the Preservation of Historical Sites in Israel.
There were also booths for those who like social work and helping the disabled.
“I think I’m going to go with special needs, but I’m not sure. There’re so many great options,” 12th grader Tehilla Borvik decided.
Shira Winkler, another 12th grader attending the fair, said, “I just want to be with children and teenagers and help them if they come from other countries if they need social help.”
But Winkler also thought that not all the advisors at the fair were as helpful as they could have been. She told i24NEWS: “There are too many people, and they can’t really talk to you specifically or help you find the starting place that will be helpful for you, so it’s just a big mess.”
Whichever area these girls choose, national service is a full-time Sunday to Thursday commitment, with no great financial remuneration since it’s volunteer work.
“Not the bare minimum, but an amount we can live on,” said second-year volunteer Avis Alfa, a doctor’s assistant. But, she added, “We don’t do it for the money.”