In an interview with the Jewish Press, Lieutenant Yael Nuchushtan, head of the Bat Hayil section of the Israel Defense Forces addressed how the Israel Defense Forces works to absorb religious Jewish women into the Israeli army and how their efforts have led to more religious Jewish women serving in the IDF than ever before.
According to Lieutenant Yael Nuchushtan, head of the Bat Hayil section of the Israel Defense Forces, her section of the IDF is the “address for religious girls joining the IDF.” They help address all of the issues faced by religious women who select to serve in the IDF. “The Bat Hayil section works with the understanding that religious girls need this aid because there is usually lack of information regarding where they can go in the army, how they can meet their needs, etc. They help them make up for the gap.”
Aside from the lack of information, religious Jewish females often experience a culture shock upon joining the IDF not experienced by secular Israelis. “They studied at all girls schools. The IDF was the first time they interacted with guys,” Lieutenant Nuchushtan stated. “In terms of language, encountering for the first time unclean language from other soldiers is also unusual for them. All of the mentality and culture is different than that of the other soldiers.”
For this reason, it is absolutely critical that religious Jewish girls have a support network throughout their IDF service and the Bat Hayil section provides that for them. They make sure that their religious beliefs are respected and that they can preserve their religious life-style as much as possible throughout their service, including permitting them to rest on Shabbat unless it is a life or death situation.
Additionally, the Bat Hayil section helps them with placements in the army. “If the job that they were originally placed in” isn’t suitable for them, “they help them transfer.” They also assist them with the placement process and help to point religious Jewish female soldiers in the right direction in regards to her military career. “They walk them through each stage and help them with what they need,” Lieutenant Nuchushtan stated.
The Bat Hayil section of the IDF also helps provide religious female high school students with all of the information that they would need prior to joining the IDF. Last week, Jerusalem Online News reported that the IDF held an event for 1150 religious high school girls who sought to learn more about joining the IDF. These events are designed to help not only increase the number of religious Jewish women serving in the IDF, but also to give the young ladies the tools they need to hold good positions in the IDF as well. Lieutenant Nuchushtan emphasized that this was their big annual event, although they also hold smaller events for religious girls seeking to serve in the IDF throughout the year.
Lieutenant Nuchushtan believes that her work is critical to help religious Jewish women successfully serve in the Israel Defense Forces. “The military realized that one of the things that stopped religious girls from serving in the army was lack of information. There was misinformation about what their service would be like,” she stressed. “The IDF saw an importance in getting through this barrier.”
Their work has been met with much success. In 2010, only 900 Jewish religious women served in the IDF. In 2011, some 1,200 Jewish religious women were reported to serve in the IDF. By last year, that number rose to 1500. “These numbers show that more and more religious girls are serving, which is indicative of the work that we do,” Lieutenant Nuchushtan stated. Most of the work that religious girls select to do in the IDF consists of the intelligence corp., air force, or in education, all very important positions where they have a real chance to make a difference.
About the Author: Rachel Avraham is a news editor and political analyst for Jerusalem Online News, the English language internet edition of Israel's Channel 2 News. She completed her masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Ben-Gurion University. The subject of her MA thesis was: "Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media."
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