‘Sparks’ encourages Bukhari women to join IDF

Program puts candidates through nursing school or other training before serving in military

A female IDF soldier shaking out a blanket during a week-long survival course for women in the infantry at an undisclosed location in Israel (photo credit: REUTERS)
A female IDF soldier shaking out a blanket during a week-long survival course for women in the infantry at an undisclosed location in Israel
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The IDF has begun a program to encourage young women from the Bukhari community to enlist in the military, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
According to Col. Alex Merayav, the Bukhari community is reluctant to see young women enlist in the army, preferring instead to see them attend school in order to prepare for careers.
The Bukhari community in Israel, which numbers between 100,000 and 120,000, originated in the Emirate of Bukhara, which once straddled the modern-day Central Asian countries of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
While a large number of Bukharan Jews immigrated to Israel during the 1920s and 1930s, most made aliyah following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The IDF’s “Sparks” program would allow women from the Bukhari community to go to school to learn a profession such as nursing before serving in the military. Once they complete their service, they will then be able to join the workforce as trained nurses with several years of experience under their belts.
But one member of the Bukhari community was skeptical, telling the Post that most members of the community, including males, prefer to go straight into the workforce instead of serving in the military.
Like the Israeli healthcare system, the IDF is suffering a critical lack of physicians and nurses. A 2017 report by military ombudsman Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick found that each doctor in the IDF is responsible for treating approximately 1,200 soldiers, and one mental health officer is responsible for 2,300 soldiers.
“Good luck with that,” he said in message when told of the program.
“The Bukharim think the army is a waste of time. They prefer to work and earn money.”
For Merayev, the highest ranking Bukhari in the IDF, “not everyone understands the importance of the army,” which he called “a bridge” for Israeli society.
In recent years, groups that have lived on the sidelines of Israeli society and which shunned the IDF, have begun seeing the army as a platform for social mobility.
“The soldiers of the IDF make up the mosaic of the country,” Merayev told the Post, adding that there are other programs in addition to Sparks which encourage members of the religious community to enlist.
Merayev explained that the tracks which are open for religious men gives them the opportunity to study for a degree in computer science or to be a technician, while signing to serve three years in the IDF.
Last October, the IDF opened up a track for religious women that combines the study of practical computer software engineering with military service.
The IDF’s J6/C4I and Cyber Defense Directorate track – named “Marom Yael” for the biblical figure – is done in collaboration with the Education Ministry and the ORT Hermelin Academic College of Engineering and Technology in Netanya.
Merayev also oversees a project that bring Holocaust survivors to IDF bases across the country in order to show them the military’s capabilities up close.
“Every time they come and see the soldiers of the IDF they feel victorious, proud and emotional,” he said, adding, “Remembering is a passive act, but you must be active and do something” for Holocaust survivors.
“There are so many communities which need help in this country,” Merayev said. “I do what I can and I am always overwhelmed by those I help, how their mindset changes. If everyone helps a little, it can go a long way.”