How much does it cost Israelis to send their children to the IDF?

The high cost of living impacts all parts of life in Israel, and joining the IDF isn't free. Here's a look at how much it will cost to send your kids to the army.

Young Israelis arrive to the Israeli army recruitment center at Tel Hashomer, outside of Tel Aviv on March 17, 2020. (photo credit: FLASH90)
Young Israelis arrive to the Israeli army recruitment center at Tel Hashomer, outside of Tel Aviv on March 17, 2020.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

Tens of thousands of young adults who are designated for the draft are recruited into the IDF each year in three main recruitment cycles: in March, August, and November. Thousands of them will become soldiers in mandatory service already in the current cycle, which began last week (July 31) and will end in early September (September 4).

Recruiting into the IDF is an exciting event for recruits and their parents, but it involves a significant financial expense. With the end of the "recruitment chain," the young recruits will put on their uniforms for the first time in their lives and take the first step into the period of military service, but not before going on a shopping trip and paying hundreds of shekels (from their parents' pockets) for the equipment required for the trainees.

Supposedly it is possible to start serving even without shopping, since the IDF is supposed to provide the soldiers with all the equipment required for their well-being and to fulfill the tasks assigned to them, but every Hebrew mother should know that honestly, it is impossible without preliminary shopping, not all of which is cheap. We went out to check: what are the new recruits forced to buy and how much does it cost?

The equipment that the IDF provides to the soldiers upon their arrival at the reception and sorting base includes basic items: a kit bag (which you receive on the day of recruitment, and does not solve the need for a large bag that you bring from home), sets of uniforms, shoes, a coat, a belt, a beret, dog tags, a lock, a rubber band for shoes, razors, a toothbrush, cable ties, a whistle, a watch cover, gun oil spray, gloves, socks, a short-sleeve shirt and a "neck warmer.” Soldiers destined for combat will receive additional equipment that will suit field conditions.

It seems that the list of equipment that the IDF provides is comprehensive and sufficient, but in practice, parents are forced to spend hundreds and even thousands of shekels on essential accessories, such as: white and green shirts to wear under the uniform, military socks, sports clothes (including shoes) for fitness training, underwear, a wristwatch (preferably digital with a stopwatch), medicines that cannot be obtained in the military clinics, plasters, anti-mosquito spray, and a cloth bag for washing.

 A new soldier on recruitment day into the IDF. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON UNIT)
A new soldier on recruitment day into the IDF. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON UNIT)

At the level of personal hygiene, they are also forced to purchase: toiletries, flip flops, a shower towel, toothbrush and toothpaste, hair bands, feminine hygiene products (for women), anti-chafing cream (for men), a sheet, a blanket, and a pillow for the bed (even in field conditions, when sleeping in a sleeping bag, it is recommended to bring at least a sheet to make it more pleasant during the few hours of sleep).

And if you thought that was enough, then no - additional essential equipment that the young recruits are expected to bring includes a brush and shoe polish, a cell phone charger, and accessories such as: a flashlight, batteries, a cigarette lighter, a black marker for marking, and an additional lock (the list of recommended equipment was taken from the Meitav "Recruits" website and most of them they will have to buy).

The "stars" of the IDF

It is hard to say that the IDF is not making an effort for the soldiers. As part of an overall trend to improve the service conditions of the conscript soldiers in the IDF, new recruits will receive digital credit with a sum of money to use for their needs. They will receive the "Star Card" about two months before their recruitment through a text message to their cell phone, with a general budget adjusted in advance for the purchase of personal equipment in civilian chain stores according to their preferences.

The "stars" added to their credit can be redeemed from the moment they are received until the day before release.

There are three types of stars: "personal stars" intended for purchasing underwear and winter items; "Sport stars" intended for the purchase of sports equipment, clothing, and footwear; and private money stars that provide discounts for purchases at special prices that the IDF obtained for the soldiers.

All new recruits to the security services will receive the same initial amount of stars for use throughout the service period (215 stars, equivalent to NIS 287). Combat support soldiers and combat soldiers will receive additional stars in two installments: one month after enlistment and one year after enlistment. During the entire service, combat support soldiers will receive 695 stars (equivalent to NIS 927) and combat soldiers will receive 1,515 stars (equivalent to NIS 2,020).

According to data provided by the marketers, it is evident that the estimated cost of a "soldier basket" for recruitment ranges from NIS 700-1,200, with the difference stemming from equipment that combat soldiers need compared to soldiers on the home front, or the equipment for recruitment in the winter season, which will cost a little more. As mentioned, the estimated cost of the initial equipment after the utilization of "stars" results in a financial expenditure of hundreds of shekels from the pockets of recruits and their parents.

Shop smart before you start your IDF service

Before you go shopping, we put together tips and recommendations for wise consumerism and proper preparation for the long-awaited recruitment day. The nonprofit Paamonim has some tips for new recruits:

The budget is limited and not always enough, therefore it is important to purchase quality products at discounted prices and not to buy what you are not sure you will need. Shopping at the base will be possible in case you need to fill gaps. Do not be tempted by salespeople who insist otherwise.

Do not hesitate to ask an acquaintance who has already gone through this how you should prepare. If you are planning a "recruitment party," prepare ahead of time a list of gifts you would like to receive and thus you will have “stars” left to purchase other items you will want or need later.

Try to save money during your service - it is important to try to save up money during your service for travel, living necessities, housing, or studies. The recommendation is to try to save a third to a half of your military salary so that when you finish your service, you can fulfill your dreams with the savings you have accumulated.

Help for IDF recruits

We checked what discounts and benefits are offered to recruits: the "Yoter" benefits club, which was established at the initiative of the IDF Personnel Division and in cooperation with the Association for the Soldier with the aim of providing discounts to soldiers in mandatory service, helps care for the well-being of approximately 265,000 recruits, soldiers in mandatory service, and soldiers on the verge of being released from the army.

On the day of recruitment, each soldier will receive a kit from the club, which includes: toiletries and care products, leisure products, food, a case for a dog tag, and more.

In addition, club members will receive benefits during the entire service period at dozens of chains and hundreds of businesses, including: Delta, Rikushet, H&O, Japanika, Israir, Stimatsky, Fix, Opticana, Kravitz, April, and many others.

You can join for free starting three months before recruitment through participating banks.

According to Asher Azoulai, manager of the Yoter Club: "The Yoter Club operates all year round to provide soldiers with benefits that will make their financial affairs easier. The club also operates in the fields of culture and leisure, studies and employment - and once a year, it holds an event in which over 45,000 recruits and soldiers take part."

Filling in the gaps

The "Kaveret" (formerly the Shekem) chain of convenience stores, which is operated by the Association for the Soldier at 300 points of sale at bases and IDF units throughout the country, allows soldiers a convenient service to fill gaps in equipment, so it's not too bad if you forgot something that later turns out to be necessary.

The chain provides access to self-service stores, sales behind the counter, deliveries that arrive at outposts and remote bases, and an online website that allows the families of soldiers, including the recruits, to order from the store's products and send them to their loved ones at the bases, including packages filled with items such as hygiene products, toiletries, clothes, complementary cellphone accessories, and drinks and snacks, with guaranteed delivery to the soldier within up to four business days.

According to Kaveret CEO Zvika Goldenberg: "Most orders from the website are made for soldiers to the training bases. The first months in the army and in training in particular, are a challenging time for soldiers and the families who try to facilitate adaptation, encourage and send treats and missing items.

During the previous July-August recruitment cycle, thousands of packages were ordered for recruits and 175,000 entries were registered on the site, the vast majority from Israel, but also from families of lone soldiers who live abroad.

The most popular products that are ordered for new recruits: shampoo/conditioner (the most popular being the Pinuk brand), wet wipes, a pack of three pairs of underwear, anti-bacterial socks, a universal backup battery, shoe polish, Bamba 80 grams, Coca Cola 1.5 liters, Klik chocolate bags, Doritos, Oreos, and potato chips.

New soldiers saying goodbye to their families on recruitment day. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE)
New soldiers saying goodbye to their families on recruitment day. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE)

Tips for new IDF recruits

  • Prepare for two weeks - you never know if you will stay the first Saturday at the base, come prepared with enough clothing and sleeping equipment.
  • You don't need to buy everything in advance - on your first trip back home, you will know better what you need and what additional equipment will make it easier for you and is worth purchasing.
  • Reduce weight in your backpack - make sure you have enough undershirts, underwear, socks (and winter clothes), and don't load it with unnecessary items of clothing.
  • Mark your personal equipment - write your name and your phone number with a thick marker on the backpack, flashlight, penknife, multi-purpose tool, etc.
  • Rubber flip-flops for the shower - it is recommended to shower with flip-flops to reduce the chance of getting foot fungus. 
  • Quick drying towel - a towel that dries quickly will be ready for the next use faster. It is important to hang the towel to dry after each use.
  • Get to know the military slang - that way you will understand what is wanted from you and you will be less frustrated in conversations with commanders and “pazamnikim” (more veteran soldiers).
  • Talc for shoes and ointment for chafing - the talc helps to dry the sweat on the foot and the use of sweat-wicking socks helps to keep the foot dry for a long time. The structure and elasticity of the appropriate socks will prevent friction and calluses.
  • Headlamp - A headlamp can make it easier for you, especially at night. It's easier to search for equipment or do additional operations when both hands are free.
  • Pocket knife/multi-tool - will save you time in unpacking your personal equipment.
  • For those who wear glasses - take care to bring an extra pair of glasses.
  • First aid - you should have a small first aid kit for an immediate solution until you get to the medic or clinic at the base.
  • A cover for the sleeping bag/military blanket - you can wrap the sleeping bag, which turns into a kind of duvet. This can be done with the military blanket as well.
  • A watch with a stopwatch - it is recommended to have a watch with a stopwatch, it will help you stay on time and it is better if it is waterproof and shockproof.

Additional tips that may be helpful from Mr. Avi Sharaf, from the Kal Gav company: "It is important to be careful before purchasing equipment for recruitment and to differentiate between products that the recruit must have for the day of the recruitment and products that he might want to have. One of the most important products for recruitment is the backpack for carrying things from home to the base and back, it is important that the backpack has a back system with a waist belt that will reduce the pressure from the shoulders and back and transfer the mass of weight towards the waist. Another important parameter is the size of the backpack."

Shabtai Kimchi, CEO of the Trek Market chain for trips and camping, added: "During the recruitment cycles, the demand for products intended for soldiers may increase by tens of percent, such as: toiletries, underwear, socks, and specific equipment such as backpacks or durable clothing, the costs of these items may change according to the preferences and personal needs of each recruit."

What deals are available for the August IDF recruitment cycle?

The Rikushet chain gave customized training to the sales team so that they can guide the recruits to what they need, focusing on buying essential basic products first.

On the occasion of the August recruitment, Rikushet launched a sale giving an over 50% discount on the CLASSIC package (for those who pay with the Yoter credit card + stars) and another option to purchase two complementary products at attractive prices. The online sale will take place until August 10, without the ability to combine discounts and promotions.

The CLASSIC recruitment package for female soldiers will cost NIS 248 (paid with a "Yoter" credit card and after a 10% discount at checkout + a redemption of 215 stars), instead of NIS 614. The package includes:

  • 6 pairs of socks
  • Colmax commando socks
  • 4 olive/white short sleeve t-shirts
  • 4 moisture-wicking shirts
  • A moisture-wicking towel with velcro
  • A laundry bag
  • Sandals
  • An Ercon water bottle for the belt
  • A 20 mm number lock
  • Pepper spray

The CLASSIC recruiting package for male soldiers will cost NIS 255 (paid with a “Yoter” credit card and after a 10% discount at checkout + a redemption of 215 stars) instead of NIS 669. The package includes:

  • 6 pairs of socks
  • Colmax commando socks
  • 3 pcs cotton boxers
  • 2 pcs moisture-wicking boxers
  • 4 short-sleeve cotton t-shirts
  • 4 moisture-wicking shirts
  • A moisture-wicking towel
  • A cotton laundry bag
  • A shoe brush and polish
  • A belt pouch
  • A chain and cover for the dog tag
  • A black permanent marker
  • A 20 mm number lock

The chain clothing store H&O also offers a deal for new IDF recruits, providing a 25% discount (which stacks with other discounts available) on everything the new soldier needs, as well as leading sports and underwear brands. 

The chain was chosen by the IDF to help supply equipment to soldiers and new recruits who either pay with a star card or private funds.

According to H&O CEO Yossi Malka, "We have invested in improving the quality of products and found ways for them to be usable in different weather and terrain, depending on what the soldier needs. We offer a number of items, ranging from undershirts, socks, underwear, bags, and toiletries."

An example of some of the prices available for new soldiers paying with stars include:

  • A pack of six army socks for NIS 37.50
  • A pack of seven women's underwear for NIS 53
  • A pack of five pairs of black.white women's socks for NIS 30
  • A pack of seven men's boxer briefs for NIS 75
  • A pack of five white or olive green cotton t-shirts for NIS 90
  • Three women's white or olive green cotton t-shirts for NIS 53

This sale will be available at all H&O branches until August 31.

At the Delta retail chain, you can purchase packs of two shirts that can help evaporate sweat to keep cool, available in khaki or white (NIS 100).

You can also buy Delta's exclusive tight-fitting CUPRON boxer briefs made of fabrics with copper fiber to prevent bacteria and bad odor at NIS 129 per pair.