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The IDF does not recruit them. The Israeli government, without a sufficient number of volunteer positions, has nothing to offer in the way of alternative national service. But many Arab, handicapped and immigrant youth want an equal opportunity to serve their country.
According to a recent survey by Mutagim Research, 90 percent of Israeli youth would choose to participate in some form of community service in the event that they were not drafted into the IDF. However, only about half of Israeli 18-year-olds end up in the army, according to Ronit Amit, manager of the Gandyr Foundation. As for the other half, the Israeli government does not have enough volunteer positions to support them, since religious women fill 90% of the 13,000 civilian service positions.
“We know that the most popular reason to want to serve is the opportunity to contribute to society and to be like other friends going to the army,” Amit said, “They don’t want to be placed outside of normal life.”
When all of his friends were drafted, Dvir Mauda, a 19-year-old with cerebral palsy, said that he missed the feeling of “being crucial.”
To that end, Mauda moved to Sderot, where he volunteers at the Tachlit Center, working as a secretary and providing private lessons in English and math to at-risk youth.
“Civilian service is another good way to contribute to your country,” Mauda said. “One should never give up on doing something and do his part for the society he lives in.
“I feel so much satisfaction from doing it, I feel it formed my personality and gave me a way to learn about myself as an adult,” he said.
Although Mauda was able to find an opening, he is one of the lucky few. About 5,000 positions are needed to meet the demand of these young people who want to serve, but only about 1,200 places are available. Thus, about 70% to 80% of these young people are left without a way to serve society.
“The government of Israel does not allow people with some disabilities or other disadvantaged people the ability to contribute to their country,” Amit said.
The major obstacle to expanding national service program is funding. Each job – including the training and enrichment programs – costs the government between $4,000 and $5,000 a year, according to Amit.
In an attempt to establish a more inclusive national service program,
Gandyr, along with various other Jewish organizations, like Apple Seeds Academy and
Bat Ami, has offered the Israeli government $7 million to offer 500 more
volunteer positions to teens unlikely to serve in the IDF.
The government has yet to make a decision about this donation.
“We think we are starting to gain partners in the government, but it is only the start,” Amit said.
If successful, this national service initiative could have positive
implications not just for society but for the volunteers themselves.
Entering the labor market at age 18 with no army service is not a
promising start to an Israeli’s career, said Amit.
“Those kind of youth don’t have the same entrance points for the rest
of their life because they don’t have the same academic opportunities
and civil rights that come from serving in the military,” Amit said.