National Service: ask what you can do

By Limor Shiponi

Conference on World Affairs 2012 panel, with Carrie Hessler-RadeletScott OlsenJay M. Parker and myself.

In a way, coming from Israel and speaking about national service seemed a little too easy. Almost everybody knows that Israel is unique in that military service is compulsory for both males and females. Those who cannot serve in the military for various reasons have the option for civilian service, which might become compulsory too.

Men serve for three years, women for almost two and most men continue serving in reserves until their early 50’s. That means national service is strongly rooted in Israeli existentialism. As I continued pondering while others in the panel were talking, I realized national service starts earlier – in ninth grade – when every student needs to give 60 hours of volunteer work to their local community. They have many possibilities and more are created continuously.

Some high-school graduates decide to do even more – giving an extra year of national service before going into military service. Some soliers choose to serve in a position they will not be able to continue in their civilian life – wanting to demonstrate total devotion to the idea of national service, no personal benefits attached.

I think national service builds resilience and a strong bond between people, especially in time of need or when a catastrophie strikes. As I said in Boulder – Israelis are not that kind to each other when everything is what you’d consider ‘ok’ but when the calling arrives we switch into ‘national service’ mode in no time. For such a small country with everything happening in this part of the world – it’s necessary.

I was sad to hear from Scott how young Americans who go to the military are observed by their own people. I can’t repeat what he said because I can’t remember the exact wording but it was not a flattering description. Peace Corps sounds great but it also sounds as if you need to be able to afford it – which not everybody can. There were also some very good questions from the audience. The one I was impressed by was posed by a young man who wanted to know how you can make young people serve before rushing to find a lucrative job.

How do you make people want to serve? either by living in a country that has a clear purpose or by giving young people many possibilities to choose from. Possibilities that can enthse them and make them feel their service is needed and appreciated.

Today is 3 Iyar, Hebrew year 5772. It is rememberance day in memory of 22,993 men and women fallen soldiers of the IDF and victims of terrorism. The most shuddering day of the year, a week after the Holocaust memorial day and a single day before Independance day celebrations. This is how we live here, this is how we see the people doing national service in the IDF, whether Jewish, Muslim, Druze or Christian and I bet most of you didn’t know this very last fact.

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