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Where does a charedi teenage boy who doesn’t fit into the traditional yeshiva framework go? In the past, he’d flip pita in a bakery or load shelves in a supermarket. Today, boys who can’t handle the strenuous regiment of a yeshiva day, or who want to move towards a profession, can begin serving in the IDF in a battalion that caters to the unique needs of a charedi lifestyle.

 

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Nahal Haredi Fills the Gap Nahal Haredi, officially named Netzah Yehuda, is an elite combat battalion in the IDF comprised of charedi Jews. The concept took shape over a number of years as Rav Yitzchak Bar Chaim, a mashgiach, in a yeshiva in Jerusalem, watched boys who were failing in the traditional system drift towards a hopeless future. When he met retired Brigadier General Yehuda Duvdevani, Department Head of Agaf HaNoar VeHanachal, the Youth Mission Division for the Ministry of Defense, the two brainstormed and, in 1999, Netzah Yehuda was born. The first unit of soldiers had 35 young men. Currently, annual recruits exceed over 600 and there are more than 6,000 Netzah Yehuda alumni. The vision of Netzah Yehuda is vast: to educate and support soldiers and alumni who will contribute to the nation’s security and become leaders who will sanctify Hashem’s name and work towards mending the torn fabric of Israeli society. With Boston-born Rav Tzvi Klebanow as director, the Netzah Yehuda Non-Profit Organization interfaces with the IDF and the Ministry of Defense to make sure this vision becomes a reality.

 

What’s the Problem? “In order for the IDF to provide an environment for charedi boys to perform military combat service without compromising their lifestyle, two big changes had to happen,” says Rav Klebanow, a tall man with a flowing white beard, from his office in Jerusalem. “The base had to be closed to women and a high standard of kashrut had to be enforced,” he explains. Although ninety-five percent of instructors in the army are women (women make excellent instructors), the challenge was met: Netzah Yehuda bases are closed to women. Next, acceptable kashrut standards had to be implemented. Supervising the trucks that leave the army food base to ensure that all products sent to the Netzah Yehuda bases meet the expected standards solved the problem.

An additional challenge involved improving the secular education of charedi boys. “While many yeshiva boys have sharp minds, some skills are lacking simply because they weren’t taught,” says Rav Klebanow. Today, after six months of basic and advanced training, followed by eighteen months of service, soldiers spend their third year following one of several paths: studying aggressively for a year to complete their bagrut (matriculation) and pursue an academic career; pursuing vocational or engineering studies; or, in a small number of cases, studying for a year in a yeshiva.

Recruits to Netzah Yehuda are expected to adhere to three requirements: to observe Shabbat, to wear a kippah, and to refrain from bad language. Taking into account the notorious language that sounds through army bases, Rav Klebanow’s comment rings true: “When commanders from regular battalions come in, the thing that strikes them most is the obvious use of clean language,” he says. Then he adds, “Shmirat Halashon, the laws of proper speech, ensure a basic building block that helps any cohesive unit excel.”

Zissy Gold,* whose son joined Netzah Yehuda, makes the following observation, “Nahal Haredi wasn’t our first choice for Yosef. We wanted him to excel in yeshiva, but he wasn’t able to do so. Now that he has completed his service, I can only say that Nahal Haredi, and Rav Bar Chaim in particular, did much more for him than we could have expected.”

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Rhona Lewis made aliyah more than 20 years ago from Kenya and is now in Beit Shemesh. A writer and journalist who contributes frequently to The Jewish Press’s Olam Yehudi magazine, she divides her time between her family and her work.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I stand with Israel now and forever from USA and thank all the friends of Israel for their support. You are either with Israel or you are with the terrorists. Below is proven by Archaeology all over Israel: 1. Israel became a nation in 1312 BCE, two thousand years before the rise of Islam. 2. Arab refugees in Israel began identifying themselves as part of a Palestinian people in 1967, two decades after the establishment of the modern State of Israel. 3. Since the Jewish conquest in 1272 BCE, the Jews have had dominion over the land for one thousand years with a continuous presence in the land for the past 3,300 years. 4. The only Arab dominion since the conquest in 635 CE lasted no more than 22 years. 5. For over 3,300 years, Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital Jerusalem has never been the capital of any Arab or Muslim entity. Even when the Jordanians occupied Jerusalem, they never sought to make it their capital, and Arab leaders did not come to visit. 6. Jerusalem is mentioned over 700 times in Tanach, the Jewish Holy Scriptures. Jerusalem is not mentioned once in the Koran. 7. King David founded the city of Jerusalem. Mohammed never came to Jerusalem. 8. Jews pray facing Jerusalem. Muslims pray with their backs toward Jerusalem. 9. In 1948 the Arab refugees were encouraged to leave Israel by Arab leaders promising to purge the land of Jews. Sixty-eight percent left without ever seeing an Israeli soldier. 10. The Jewish refugees were forced to flee from Arab lands due to Arab brutality, persecution, and slaughter. 11. The number of Arab refugees who left Israel in 1948 is estimated to be around 630,000. The number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands is estimated to be the same. 12. Arab refugees were intentionally not absorbed or integrated into the Arab lands to which they fled, despite the vast Arab territory. Out of the 100,000,000 refugees since World War II, theirs is the only refugee group in the world that has never been absorbed or integrated into their own people’s lands. Jewish refugees were completely absorbed into Israel, a country no larger than the state of New Jersey. 13. The Arabs are represented by eight separate nations, not including the Palestinians. There is only one Jewish nation. The Arab nations initiated all five wars and lost. Israel defended itself each time and won. 14. The PLO’s Charter still calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. Israel has given the Palestinians most of the West Bank land, autonomy under the Palestinian Authority, and has supplied them. 15. Under Jordanian rule, Jewish holy sites were desecrated and the Jews were denied access to places of worship. Under Israeli rule, all Muslim and Christian sites have been preserved and made accessible to people of all faiths. 16. The UN Record on Israel and the Arabs: of the 175 Security Council resolutions passed before 1990, 97 were directed against Israel. 17. Of the 690 General Assembly resolutions voted on before 1990, 429 were directed against Israel. 18. The UN was silent while 58 Jerusalem Synagogues were destroyed by the Jordanians. 19. The UN was silent while the Jordanians systematically desecrated the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. 20. The UN was silent while the Jordanians enforced an apartheid-like a policy of preventing Jews from visiting the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. David Nolan”

  2. As an American missionary to African prisoners I am thrilled to read this entire article. It shows that those who seek Hashem with ALL their heart will prosper disproportionately. "Trust in Hashem with all your heart and do not rely on your own ideas; in all you undertake acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight." These men glorify their Hashem in all of Israel. Wow Kees Hoek

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