Between their army service and post-army treks to exotic places, most Israeli youngsters have a long wait between completing high school and entering university.
Since 1953, religious soldiers who wanted to pursue their yeshiva studies while in the army, have been able to participate in the hesder program which combines army service with Talmudic studies, but for secular soldiers, no such option has been available until now.
Fifty combat soldiers representing all branches of the armed forces are part of a pilot program called the Academic Patrol, initiated by President Shimon Peres, whereby soldiers can combine academic studies towards a bachelor’s degree in engineering, physics or computer sciences with their army service.
The program, which is a joint endeavor of the Defense Ministry, the IDF, Beit Hanassi, the Education Ministry, the Open University, the Libi Fund for the Strengthening of Israel’s Defense, the Rashi Foundation and other bodies, was officially launched at Beit Hanassi on Sunday, even though the 50 students who are part of the pilot program have already been studying for several months.
Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi recalled at the launch that approximately a year ago, in the course of a meeting with Peres, the president brought up the subject.
“We already have Tzva Hagana Leyisrael (the Israel Defense
Force), how about Tzva Haskala Leyisrael (the Israel Education Force)?”
Ashkenazi remembered Peres saying.
knew that Peres was not merely probing, but had already made up his
mind to push the idea as far as it could go.
Peres has said many times that Israel’s impressive scientific and
technological achievements were born out of security needs. And at the
launch of the Academic Patrol, Peres reiterated the point that modern
warfare depends more on science and technology than on military
Noting that there had been some 3,000
applicants for the pilot project, Ashkenazi regretted that it had been
limited to 50 soldiers.
“But the tens will
become hundreds and the hundreds will become thousands,” he said. “This
is an important ambition with a significant investment.”
Peres congratulated Defense Minister Ehud Barak and
Ashkenazi for having the courage to introduce a new concept to the IDF.
“What looks like a small step today, will be
one of the great achievements of the State of Israel,” he predicted.
“It is an important phase in continuing to strengthen the foundations
of the IDF.”
Whereas Zionism was once expressed
in working the land, said Peres, it is now science that influences
everything we do.
soldier-students, Peres added, “You are the best, which is why you are
the first to embark on this program.The world is changing rapidly,
spurred by ongoing scientific developments. In 10 years’ time, the
world will be completely different from what it is today, and it will
be different because of science. You will be part of that revolutionary
Barak credited the soldiers for their
part in making Israel a strong and secure state, and declared that
Israel’s amazing achievements in the relatively short span of 62 years
could be attributed to talented visionaries.
Israel’s scientific accomplishments are beneficial not only to
Israel, but to the entire world, the defense minister added.
“You will continue to carry the torch of that
development, and you will continue to be the backbone of Israel’s
scientific progress and security. Whoever stands still will remain
behind. Today, we are taking a significant step towards the future,” he
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar praised
Peres as a man of vision and initiative, whose farsightedness had led
to many breakthroughs, of which the Academic Patrol was yet another
“This is a first step in integrating
army service with academic studies,” said Saar, emphasizing that the
time gap between school and university was much too long.
One of the benefits of the new project he said, was
that people would be able to join the work force sooner than in the
past. He welcomed the program as an opportunity for reciprocity, to
give Israel’s young men and women who were contributing to national
security the opportunity to learn while serving.
Saar was pleased that the project had been given the green light
by Israel’s Council for Higher Education and said that ways were being
worked out to provide greater incentives and more budget for
Saar said that the Open University, which has
grown steadily since it opened in October 1976, was a good platform not
only for this project, but also for a similar project that would enable
haredim to acquire academic qualifications without having to compromise
Saar now wants to involve Israel’s hi-tech companies in the program, so
that they will have an ongoing connection with the best and the
brightest, whom they will then be able to absorb in their operations,
thereby contributing not only to security and to scientific advancement
but also to the economy.
Open University President Hagit Messer-Yaron said that she was proud to
be associated with one of the most important flagships of the IDF and
the education system.
“We were recruited to help fulfill the vision of the president,” she
said, and praised Open University faculty staff for devising a
curriculum that will result in a “social, educational and scientific