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
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
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
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
“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
“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.
that this first group will serve as a pilot program for future groups of new
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.”
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
“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.
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.”