In Israel the post-high school decisions take on a different flavor because of the obligation to serve in the army. There are essentially four options for observant boys.
- Hesder, a five-year program including 1.5 years of army service. Most yeshiva high schools aspire to send the majority of their graduates to hesder.
- Mechina Kedam-Tzvait, a one-year program specifically geared to those not inclined to do hesder. The mechinot prepare them for the army, and they have a reputation for instilling yiddishkeit in some of the less serious kids.
- Yeshiva gevoha, which involves learning in a haredi or hesder yeshiva for one year before being drafted.
- Straight to the army. My son said that a surprising number of boys in his class are choosing this option.
- The fifth option is to stay in a haredi yeshiva until you are too old or have too many children to be drafted.
My son will graduate from his religious-Zionist high school in a few months, God-willing. Tonight, the school invited the kids and their parents to learn more about the boys’ options. (When he saw that the invitation specifically mentioned “shnei bnei hazug” or both partners, a classmate quipped, “Can I bring my girlfriend?) As an incentive to come, they are going to screen the movie “Tay-oom Kavanot” about life in a hesder yeshiva. My husband did learn in a hesder yeshiva after high school, but he was too old to be drafted when we came so we are relatively unfamiliar with the army and the yeshiva selection process.
My son will go for his initial meeting with the army within the next few months. He has already told us that he does not want to go to hesder, because he wants to contribute the full three years to the army. He hopes that they will appreciate his talents enough to enlist him in the division that he wants, and if not, he will go to hesder. As one of my friends put it, though, the army’s goal is not always the self-fulfillment of an 18yo’s ambitions. At any rate he will not be drafted until some time next year when he turns 18 so he has a year after high school to play with. He plans to learn in yeshiva for the year.
During their senior year, 12th graders in Israeli yeshiva high schools attend two or three shavuot yeshiva (yeshiva weeks). This gives them the opportunity to experience different approaches. He has been telling us what various rabbanim in his yeshiva have been suggesting to him. One told him about a haredi yeshiva in Kiryat Gat where many boys from religious Zionist backgrounds learn before going to the army. This rav said that they don’t preach haredi ideology, and that they learn on a very high level, presumably higher than in the hesder yeshivot. We explained our reasoning for being opposed to that option. First, my husband doesn’t believe that the hesder yeshivot are necessarily at a lower level than the haredi yeshivot, and even though they might emphasize different aspects of learning. After a few years in top yeshivot there should not be a significant difference. Second, even though the haredi yeshiva might not preach, individual rabbanim might, and the attitude denigrating the army would still be present. We told him that it is his choice if he wants to become haredi and avoid the draft but that we don’t feel it is the proper thing to do. Third, the hesder yeshiva would help prepare him for halachic and hashkafic issues that he is likely to face in the army.
Another rav suggested Har Hamor, a breakaway from Yeshivat Merkaz Harav, but that one also does not match our hashkafa (religious outlook). His principal suggested Maaleh Adumim, which we have heard very good things about lately. His Rosh Yeshiva attended Kerem Be-Yavneh and our son loved the summer camp there. In the end, though, he went along with us and signed up for the first shavua yeshiva at Yeshivat Har Etzion. We explained that we think he will want to be in an environment that is intellectually open, based on his personality and learning style and his home environment. Now we’ll wait for his reaction.