Kibbutzniks still punching above their weight in IDF

96% of kibbutz youngsters completed army service in contrast to 25% who evade service nationwide.

idf training 224.44 (photo credit: IDF)
idf training 224.44
(photo credit: IDF)
In contrast to recent trends in society as a whole, almost all kibbutz youth enlist in the IDF after high school. Ninety-six percent of the youngsters in 103 kibbutzim (about 40% of the total) studied recently by the Kibbutz Movement, or 1,460 soldiers, completed army service, with most of the remaining 4% avoiding service for medical reasons. Nationally, a quarter of eligible draftees do not serve in the IDF. Aviv Leshem, a spokesman for the Kibbutz Movement, attributed the high rate of service to the tradition that children feel growing up on a kibbutz. "We've seen that our tradition and heritage are stronger and that they influence the kids to go to the army," Leshem said Wednesday. "The personal example of people who have already gone [into the army] influences the young people. Stories and adventures have a huge influence on the kids." Gavri Bargel, the movement's general-secretary, also credited the kibbutz educational system, which includes seminars about army service beginning in 11th grade on concerns that students may have about service. "From a young age we teach our kids about contributing to the state," Bargel said. "Army service is one of the central principles of contribution. Every citizen needs to do it. We teach this formally and informally." The only disappointing aspect of the survey results for the Kibbutz Movement were that only 9% of soldiers from kibbutzim go on to become officers, and that only a small proportion of those officers are women. Though those figures represent a major decline from previous decades, Leshem said he understands the change. "Forty years ago half of the officers were from kibbutzim," he said. "Now there's a desire for individualism, to serve three years and then to work and travel, to go and study in university." Bargel added that those who do not go on to officer's school continue to serve the state professionally. "I'm happy that youth want to contribute to the state in other ways after the army," he said. "Our job is to send the message that army service is the right thing to do, and that any kind of service is important, that youth contribute to the state in every way." Even so, the movement has set up a program to start next year to motivate more young people to become officers. The program will engage youth deemed eligible by the IDF to become lieutenants in one-on-one counseling about the benefits of becoming officers. Leshem said that the movement was surprised to find that its members' army service stayed strong in light of the general decline in enlistment. "We thought there would be a worse reality," he said. "At one point kibbutzniks were separated, but now they study with everyone else. We thought that the general inclination of the population, that you don't need to go to the army, that you can start working and go abroad, would influence the kibbutz." These fears were exacerbated by the general decline in the kibbutz movement. In recent years, more kibbutzim have privatized, and more members are working outside of their kibbutzim. "Once there's privatization there's more individualism," said Leshem. "People may translate that into less volunteering and less responsibility to the community, [but] it isn't expressing itself in less enlistment."