The Nahal Haredi is raising funds to renovate a dormitory and educational center to prepare haredi soldiers for the Israeli job market. Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu is supporting the efforts, and attended a fund-raiser last week in New York.
"Ninety-nine percent of the haredi guys who join the army through us do it because they want to get a job afterwards," Nahal Haredi executive director Rabbi Tzvi Klebanow told The Jerusalem Post Monday. "For guys who have been taught all their lives that Zionism is bad and the State of Israel is run by apostates, you can't expect these guys to be too patriotic. Their incentive is mainly economic."
Young haredi men cannot legally join the workforce until they have performed mandatory army service. Most receive a deferment to learn in yeshiva and indefinitely postpone their army service. Others work illegally or receive an exemption by faking mental instability or medical disorders.
According to the Tal Law, men aged 22 can enter the workforce for a year. At the end of the year they can either return to yeshiva or continue to work. If they choose to work they must first perform national service, which includes volunteer work in a hospital or some other community service.
Until recently, most haredim were not required to perform national service.
The Nahal Haredi needs to raise $1 million to renovate and refurbish an abandoned building in the Jerusalem forest that can house 150 ex-soldiers, Klebanow said. It has raised a few hundred thousand dollars so far, he said.
The Nahal Haredi offers yeshiva students the option of army service in a religious environment. It is a combat battalion. Seventy percent of the soldiers are haredi and 30% are religious Zionist. The haredi soldiers serve two years of combat service. In their third year they study for high school matriculation (60% of them) or occupational training (30%). Some return to yeshiva.
Until now the soldiers have been scattered in different locations. The educational center is slated to open in August.
According to Chaim Guggenheim, business development manager at Manpower Bereshit, a job placement agency that specializes in the haredi population, the Nahal Haredi is one of the few avenues open to ultra-Orthodox young men who want an occupation.
"Receiving an exemption from the IDF due to a psychological problem is a stigma that remains on one's CV for life," he said. "Besides, army service is an important acculturation process that makes the transition to the job market smoother."