Like most parents of 12th graders, I’ve been following along with my oldest daughter as she made her decisions about next year.
Israel drafts both men and women at 18. Religious girls can get an automatic exemption from the army by signing a declaration at the rabbinate stating that they are religiously observant. Most female high-school grads in the national-religious sector choose to do Sherut Leumi, or national service. Blogger Mrs. S., who also has a 12th grader, has written The Parental Guide to Sherut Leumi, complete with lexicon.
My sister asked how religious girls decide between the army and sherut leumi.
In 2011, a record 1500 religious women enlisted in the army. Most schools, including my daughter’s, discourage enlistment. A few girls from her class are going into the army, which has become less of a taboo for religious women, and the school does try to help. The army, for its part, has made accommodations by opening challenging positions for female religious soldiers in intelligence, the navy, air force, rescue units, and more.
My daughter had no interest in enlisting. When I asked her at the beginning of 12th grade what kind of position she wanted in sherut leumi, she could only list a couple of jobs she didn’t want. Fortunately the system steps in to guide the girls. The mekashrot are coordinators who represent three separate organizations, each one with its own bank of positions. “Employers” include educational and medical institutions, non-profits and governmental bodies.
The mekashrot visited my daughter’s school, one of the country’s largest, two days each week. The students learned about the options and requirements and filled out questionnaires about their interests, skills and preferences. I only happened to learn about the questionnaire when I found one on the living room floor. Unfortunately, I only glimpsed it before it got snatched away along with a remark about privacy invasion.
Afterward each student meets with each of the three coordinators. The first coordinator suggested to my daughter that she should work with the elderly. The second suggested working with the deaf, and the third thought she should help new immigrants at the immigration organization Nefesh b’Nefesh. My daughter was amused but asked for other suggestions and chose something entirely different.
My daughter and her friends applied for a large variety of positions, including:
- Children’s homes. These homes provide a family-like environment for children whose parents cannot care for them. The children live in small groups, attend local schools and continue to receive support after graduation. The volunteers help with homework and frequently get up at night for the children. After the kids get off to school, the volunteers go back to sleep. Despite the emotional and physical challenges, these spots are in demand.
- “Garin,” lit. seed. Originally, a garin was a group sent to build a new kibbutz or settlement. Nowadays it usually refers to a group that goes to an underprivileged neighborhood and tries to strengthen the population. I’ve written about the garinim toraniim, who have been accused of trying to push a religious agenda on the existing residents. There is also something called a garin mesimati, which sounds like it involves particular projects but is similar to a garin torani. These are also popular.
- Defense Ministry, secret service (shabak), foreign ministry, Prime Minister’s office, and so on. The volunteers may do anything from secretarial work to working with handicapped veterans, research, or public relations and are required to serve for two years. The Defense Ministry alone employs 200 volunteers. Some of these positions offer similar opportunities to those of non-combat soldiers, but without the uniforms and army bureauocracy.
- Special education. Volunteers work in small and large institutions for students of all ages. This is seen as a default position for some because there are so many spots, but volunteers are still chosen carefully. Kindergartens for autistic children prefer a ratio of one volunteer for each child.
- Museums and public tourist sites. Volunteers work as researchers and tour guides.
- Komunariyot. These volunteers head a community or neighborhood branch of a youth group, running a staff of counselors who are only a year or two younger (sometimes the komunarit ends up marrying a counselor she worked with when he was in 12th-grade). They work in schools during the morning as most of the youth group activity takes place during the afternoon and on Shabbat.
- Chutz laaretz. Open only to second-year volunteers with good foreign language skills, the volunteers serve communities throughout the Jewish world.
- Jewish education. Several programs provide Jewish enrichment in secular schools.
- Hospitals. Volunteers can choose to do administrative work or work with patients.
Volunteers need to work at least 40 hours a week, so they may work in a school or kindergarten in the morning and do something else during the afternoons. They get paid more than soldiers, but get fewer benefits. The three umbrella organizations maintain apartments for the volunteers in each city
Mrs. S. wrote about how all of the girls sign up online for the upcoming week’s information sessions and interviews at the same time. During these four weeks the girls did not study much! Then the answers started to come in. Some girls could choose from a few offers while others had to start again from scratch. But since there are more positions than volunteers most girls end up with something they like.
My daughter thankfuly “closed” on a spot yesterday, one of the last in her class. This means she cannot continue to look for a position, and her “employer” would stop trying to fill the place. Sometimes a girl will “close” on two different spots.
I believe the process helped her find a position to suit her talents and temperament. She is excited, but has not given permission to share!
If your daughter did national service, what did she do? Was it a good experience? I’d also like to hear from parents of religious girls who served in the army, as did the daughter of Mystical Paths.
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