Boston cousins stymied in quest to join IDF

Due to changing army regulations, these volunteers can no longer put 'their life on the line.'

idf women 88 (photo credit: )
idf women 88
(photo credit: )
Cousins Aaron, 24, and Andrew Blank, 25, of Boston have had their efforts to join the IDF under a program for Diaspora Jews stalled due to a change in army regulations. Aaron and Andrew arrived in April after making plans to join the IDF via Mahal 2000, a nonprofit organization that is the only program through which non-Israelis can join the army. Mahal is the Hebrew acronym for mitnadvei hutz la'aretz, volunteers from outside of Israel. The cousins received details on the program and eligibility requirements from Mahal 2000's chairman, Avi Naor, before they arrived. They were told they were eligible as long as they were under age 26. A week after their arrival, they met with Naor and signed up for the program. Everything was in place for them to join the IDF. Andrew and Aaron Blank rented an apartment on Tel Aviv's Rehov Dizengoff and started preparing for the army. Then, in mid-June, they received a phone call from Naor informing them that the army had lowered the age limit to 23 for men (and 20 for women). Aaron and Andrew were suddenly too old. Male new immigrants are eligible for army service up until the age of 27. Aaron and Andrew were aware of this but were under the impression, after speaking with immigrants who had been in their position and with Naor, that this process was a lengthy one. They were attracted by Mahal 2000 because it provided a "fast track" into the military. From Naor's point of view, Mahal 2000 and its volunteers are suffering from a decision they played no part in making. "The authorities change the rules and there is nothing we can do," he said. Aaron and Andrew Blank have been left in limbo. The Mahal 2000 is available only to non-Israelis. Participants come not as new immigrants but as volunteers, and receive a visa that disqualifies them from working in Israel. Aaron and Andrew Blank can neither join the army, nor work. Andrew left his landscape construction firm behind to come to Israel, and is now managing it from Tel Aviv. Aaron spent nine months accumulating savings specifically to fund his stay. The length of time they can remain in Israel, unemployed by the army or by anyone else, is finite. The Blanks have long wanted to volunteer in Israel. Their desire to join the IDF is more recent. They come from what Aaron Blank calls a "Zionist family." In 2000, a cousin of theirs made aliya and they began to take a greater interest in Israel. At college, Aaron took classes about Judaism and Jewish history. A year later, he came to Israel for the first time, on a trip with Taglit-birthright israel, which arranges short tours for young Jews who have never visited on an organized program. In 2004, he spent 10 months in Israel with the OTZMA volunteer program. Army service, said Aaron, would provide an "opportunity to acclimatize to life in Israel before making aliya. On a previous visit I fell in love with the country, and a very important part of that was a desire to serve in the IDF, in a combat unit. "There is no rational reason to join a combat unit, I just have a very strong desire to fulfill my duty to this country. Maybe it's a pride thing, but I want to physically defend Israel. I want to put my life on the line." Information of the program can be viewed at