Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Appreciating this step they have taken to make aliya

Ruth Eglash..
10 July '12..

As the battle rages over who in the country will be forced to serve in the IDF, a new training program is looking to help those young men and women who – against all odds – choose to come to Israel and volunteer for full military service.

For Rachel Kaplan, a new immigrant about to join the IDF, the decision to volunteer was simple.

“I have been a Zionist my whole life and I wanted to do something to help Israel,” explained the 20-year-old Kansas native, who made aliya a year ago and will be drafted in November. She added that for her, moving here was not enough. If she wants to build her home in Israel, she said, she has no choice but to also join one of the country’s most important institutions.

Incredibly, Kaplan is not alone in signing up for military service, and, in order to ease the transition, next week she will become one of 16 new immigrants – all of whom already have their army call-up papers – who will take part in a new month-long pre-army preparation program aimed at enhancing the experience and boosting the potential of lone soldiers.

The program, which includes tours of strategic and historic landmarks, lectures on the basic facets of Zionism and important insights into the history of the State of Israel, was devised by a group of young Israelis who not only want to help lone soldiers succeed in their military service but also want to thank them for their commitment to Israel.

“We want to send a message that we appreciate this step they have taken to make aliya,” explained Amichai Shikli, director of the Mechina Tavor, a yearlong pre-army training program where high school graduates live, learn and volunteer in the community.

“We want them to know that we care about them and that are honored that they love the country too.”

According to Shikli, the general program is aimed at young Israelis who want to do more for their country and have some spare time before being drafted. He said that many of those who complete the “mechina” (preparatory program) go on to become officers and gain high status in the army. The goal is the same for the immigrant soldiers, who, as part of the new program, will received a condensed version of the mechina.

“We hope that the new immigrants who are going to do this program will get similar opportunities,” said Shikli, who, in the two months since deciding to create this program, has managed to secure some funding from the Defense Ministry and from the World Zionist Organization.

He hopes that this first group will serve as a pilot program for future groups of new immigrant soldiers.

As well as providing extra opportunities for the lone soldiers during their service, Shikli said that the one-month mechina program also aims to build a connection between the new immigrants and young Israelis their own age.

“We want to make sure that they will stay in Israel even after the army and one of the ways of doing that is by strengthening their bonds with the people here,” he said.

With that goal in mind, Shikli selected six of the program’s most recent graduates to stay on through the summer and volunteer as counselors for the lone soldier’s group.

“I had such a great experience on the mechina program that I wanted to share that with someone else,” said 19-year-old Tal Katz, who recently completed the program and who will join the army in November.

“These people have made aliya and I really respect them,” he said, adding “I really want to help them and I know that being part of this program will be very useful for them.”

Katz recalled that during his own year on the mechina program, a lone soldier came to visit the group and shared with them some of the challenges they faced in doing the army without the support network that most Israeli-born soldiers have.

“I have also heard stories from my father, who made aliya from France at 19 and joined the army,” added Shikli, sharing what has personally driven him to make this program a reality.

“He did not speak Hebrew well and suffered in the army for that.”

“Being in the army is not part of our culture,” admitted British-born Hannah Confino, 21, who will join the army immediately after completing the mechina program next month.

“Israelis, however, are brought up in a military culture and I hope that by meeting them and being part of this program, I will gain a better understanding of the army and how it works,” she said.

Confino, who made aliya last January, also pointed out that one of the problems faced by new olim is “that we all stick together with other English speakers.”

“I made aliya because I love Israelis and I hope this will give me a chance to build stronger relationships with them,” she said, adding “I really want someone that I can call if I have problems. A good support network is invaluable when you are a lone soldier.”


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