“What are you going to do when you get out of here”?

“I’m going Air Force.  My Dad wanted me to go into the Navy; that’s where he served, but I’m definitely Air Force”.

We were sitting around small tables. There was a bunch of us, two sometimes three young women and one older person at each table holding animated conversations in English.

The room by itself was dour, devoid of personality.  It was unattractive, plain without any flavor.  Not so these young women: they were anything but plain.  They were energetic, hopeful and full of life.

The room had an institutional feel to it, and now that we had filled it almost to overflowing, the setting was claustrophobic. At the start I was hoping for a venue more conducive to holding a friendly chat, maybe with more privacy,  but now ten minutes into our conversation I realized that the backdrop did not matter as much as the participants.  And these participants were, how can I say it, they were WOW!

 Two young women, about eighteen years of age, were sitting in front of me.  I directed a question to one of them, a diminutive, intelligent-looking young lady: “What are you going to do when you get out of here”?


Without any hesitation, she answered “I’m going Air Force.  My Dad wanted me to go into the Navy; that’s where he served, but I’m definitely Air Force”.

These young women were high seniors, attending the Harel School in Nahariya.  I was part of a group of English speaking volunteers, helping them with conversational English in preparation for their oral English proficiency exam, the Bagrut.

The response “I’m going Air Force …” started a chain reaction of outcries from eavesdroppers throughout the room:

“Air Force?... no way.  Tanks, that’s where it’s at”.

“You got to be kidding; Artillery is the best”.

“The IDF?...forget it.  As soon as I get out, I want to get married and have lots of kids”.

The fellow student sitting next to the aspiring Air Force cadet looked up and quietly said with respect: “My older brother is in a combat unit, the Golani Brigade”. She then added: “But I like children; there are thirteen in my family.  I am going to help disabled children.  That’s what I am going to do”.

This was the future face of Israel.  Listening to them cannot help but fill you with pride.  I was part of a volunteer group sponsored by ESRA, an acronym for the English Speakers Residents' Association.  ESRA is an NGO that puts groups like mine into high schools and lower level schools throughout Israel.  In terms of public service this volunteering activity cannot be beat. 

It is so easy.  And who is actually deriving the benefit?  Not only does the student who will do better on his or her Bagrut benefit, but the volunteer reaps immense pleasure and pride from interacting with these young people.  In some ways it is not unlike the situation when someone wishes that you “schep nachas” from your children or grandchildren.

However scheping nachas in Israel is not exactly the same as the Jewish community in the Diaspora.  The Jewish community outside of Israel puts great emphasis on intellectual accomplishments.  The stereotype that has come down to us is a bookish intellectual male, who is a scholar, a doctor, a PhD, or an attorney.  Traditionally a Jewish man who is an accomplished pugilist or fighter is not held in high regard.  But here in Israel where public service, including two to three years in the military and personal sacrifice are the order of the day the outlook is much different. 

You only have to hear the emotion in the young woman’s voice as she declares with love and pride that her older brother is in a combat unit.   Then it becomes readily apparent that scheping nachas in Israel is different.  While we have more than our share of intellectual giants, we hold in great esteem those men and women who are our defenders.  They are patriots, a phenomenon not often seen outside of Israel.

This brings us back to volunteering and you and me having an opportunity to be contributing members to Israeli society.  It’s so easy, no previous teaching experience is necessary - in this instance just a willingness to chat with high school students.  When you volunteer, you meet with pupils, maybe once a month, sometimes more frequently on a one to one basis or in small groups. 

Michael Levinson heads up this successful ESRA program. If you are interested contact ESRA volunteer coordinator Lola Katz at 052-265 3847.  It is our chance to schep nachas from an extended Israeli family.