Deaf, Old or New? National Service Options for 12th Graders

File:PikiWiki Israel 13321 Soroka Hospital in Beersheba.jpgLike 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.

You may also enjoy:

Religious Accommodations for Soldiers in Hesder: Interview with My Son

The Real Reason Haredi Families Go to Hotels for Pesach (on Mishpacha’s Insane Cleaning Schedule)

Genetic Testing in the Religious Zionist Community



  1. Thanks for the informative post, Hannah. I can totally see Maor doing the same thing next year and not letting me anywhere near her questionnaire.

  2. Mazal tov to your daughter on her “closing”!

    I’m impressed that the mekashrot visited twice a week. In my daughter’s ulpanah, the mekashrot didn’t seem to have a regular schedule and would show up at random times. Needless to say, this was very frustrating for the girls, who eventually realized that the only way to get in touch with the mekashrot was by phone. (One of them was actually on Facebook and was thus able to help the girls in real time, when they were trying to sign up online for the sayarot.)

    • Mrs. S: My daughter’s school is one of the largest, if not the largest, in the country. Her problem was that the interview kept getting delayed and she didn’t know why.

  3. Liat is working at Shalva, an after-school/respite-type program for disabled kids, ages 3-21. It’s not an easy sherut to get. She works extremely hard, sometimes around the clock and clocks way more than 40 hours a week. She is always exhausted and when she comes home sleeps for hours on end. And yet, she loves the work, her kids, her new friends and is having BAH a great year. The application process was quite stressful and at the the beginning of the year a couple of kids she knew were not happy with their respective placements and switched out. Most of her friends are happy with what they have chosen and the process for next year is a much less stressful. Good luck to your daughter.

    • Baila, that sounds really challenging, and rewarding. Is she going to do a second year?

    • Nurse Yachne says

      Actually, for a girl who is at all serious, a “difficult” position may be easier. You don’t have to put up with as many incompetent or lazy peers,a dn you have the satisfaction of actually *doing* something. My older daughter worked at an ulpana for troubled girls, and my second daughter is doing a challenging army posting. Both seem satisfied,

  4. I think that anything anyone does for the state of israel is a great mitzvah. any friend of israel is a freind of mine. any enemy of israel is an enemy of mine–Jewish or not. Charedi or not.

  5. In Jerusalem many schools encourage the girls to do the army: pelech, Hartman, Thilah, etc….

  6. My daughter finished her sherut last summer. She worked in Bikur Holim hospital in Jerusalem and thoroughly enjoyed it – to the extent that she now wants to study nursing. At the time when she had to choose a position, her high school (private “chardali”) discouraged work in hospitals because of the possible tzniut or even safety issues, e.g. being alone with a porter or even a doctor. I thought this was absurd but in actual fact the girls were given a course on personal safety by the hospital itself, so this is evidently a known issue.

    (As an aside, when I asked my daughter why she was so insistent on working in a hospital she said “it’s the way I feel I can make the greatest contribution to society”. I must admit I almost fell off my chair in shock. I felt she had had a personality transplant! 🙂 She usually prefers make-up and fashion to anything gory and icky).

    In the end, the only problem arising from her work was the precarious financial position of the hospital itself. It was consistently threatened with closure throughout her year of service, with the sherut leumi girls taking up the slack, including night duty and overtime when the medical staff went on strike due to unpaid wages. She started being a general gofer on the wards, but “graduated” to a sort of nurse’s aide by the end of the year. The girls are taught to make beds, take blood pressure, ECG’s, admit new patients (at least to the maternity ward) etc.

    The year of sherut and the work itself, plus the independent living, made my daughter grow up and mature in a way that was almost unimaginable before she started. She also made some excellent new friends and really loved living in Jerusalem.

    • Anne: I heard of another girl who worked there and was asked to do tasks above and beyond her duties. How wonderful that it helped her choose a career.

  7. Hannah, do you think your daughter was encouraged to go to NBN because of her bilingualism? I assume they keep track of who speaks what (in addition to Hebrew)…I think I remember hearing that the banot sherut who work in the hospitals/camps/programs for Zichron Menachem have to speak 2 languages also?

  8. My kids – jewish education center for chilonim school children , social work – adopting 2 families

    the question is also – do you do 2years , what about midrasha ?

  9. When I saw the headline Deaf, Old, New, I thought this was going to be more on the alleged shidduch crisis. LOL.

  10. “A few girls from her class are going into the army, which has become less of a taboo for religious women”

    taboo in all religious circles? or maybe only in certain circles?
    i know that until about 10 years ago kibbutz hadati required that its girls be drafted. and there were non-kibbutz girls who were drafted into nahal gar’inim. and i knew religious girls drafted into other parts of the army. maybe that’s just the girls i knew.

    anyway, interesting post on the path into sherit leumi. usually the pespective in these posts is of parents writing about children going into army.

  11. “Children’s Homes” sounds like the job I had until I got an office job a couple months ago. Now we’re still up in the night with no one to sleep during the day. Can I get a sherut leumi girl to come take care of my kids between 12-6 AM so we can sleep?

    My daughter’s special ed classes have always had a couple sherut leumi girls. It makes to total staff to kid ratio like 2:1 some days, since the kids are frequently out with illness or appointments.

    I remember the sherut leumi girls who did Israeli programming in the Jewish schools in Pittsburgh when I was in college. They hosted a couple nice parties for us college students, too. I remember having milk and honey to celebrate… I don’t know, maybe Tu B’Shvat.