We read your “Making Aliya” column (Click here for link) with interest and sadness as we made aliya several years ago and our eldest son never transitioned well to Israeli society. If you must know, he never really did well in the American yeshivos he attended before we made aliya. He is very charming, restless, and just is not cut out for a rigorous school day where he needs to sit still for so many hours.
He is eighteen now and we have a great relationship with him despite all his ups and downs. He is begging us to let him join Nachal Charedi, the Israeli unit dedicated to frum boys. As much as he does not feel comfortable in Israeli schools, he says that he would like to help protect his country. (He began talking about it during the Lebanon war last summer.)
We got very conflicting information about the program. We heard that some kids really turned around in the Nachal Charedi program. However, we are getting mixed messages from our friends. (We live in a charedi community and consider ourselves a charedi family.)
We know this is a controversial topic here in Eretz Yisroel, but we read your columns regularly and like the way you honestly address such topics. We would very much appreciate your thoughts and guidance.
Names withheld by request.
Rabbi Horowitz Responds
Dear “Names Withheld”:
In the previous column, we discussed the steps one ought to take when evaluating one’s child for an alternative setting – essentially attempting to answer the question, “Should our child continue in the mainstream school settings or should we look for something else?” This column will explore the next phase – how to go about selecting a setting once the decision has been made to pursue alternate opportunities.
The best advice that I could give parents looking for an alternative setting for their child – on any school/setting for that matter – would be to become an ‘educated consumer’ to quote the tag line from a popular ad for a clothing chain. For there is nothing more important for parents to do than to gather information firsthand about the program they are evaluating.
So, as you evaluate the pros and cons of the Nachal Charedi program, do your due diligence carefully. Speak to the head of the program, and make the time to pay a visit to their facility (see question #7). Ask to speak to young men who graduated from the program and request to meet with some of the officers. Before you meet with these people, prepare a list of questions that you would like answered. All of these steps will help you get a better feel for program and will give you valuable information as you prepare to guide your son.
It is important to note that you may and probably will get conflicting information as you speak to more people. Since the first column on this subject was posted, I spoke to and received emails from young men who went to the Nachal Charedi program who were extremely enthusiastic, several of whom felt that it gave them a new lease on life. I was also contacted by an individual who had a mixed review of the overall program. (Note: the positive comments far outnumbered the negative ones.) However, keep in mind that the very essence and nature of doing your due diligence is collecting lots of information, sorting it out, consulting with your Rav, and then deciding what to do.
In the previous column, I mentioned that I reached out to my friend David Hager who is very active in Nachal Charedi. He got me in touch with Rabbi Tzvi Klebanow who serves as the director of the ‘Amuta’, an official civilian organization that is the liaison between Nachal Charedi, the Israeli Defense Force and the Ministry of Defense.
I prepared a list of questions for Rabbi Klebanow about Nachal Charedi. Here are the questions – and his responses.
What is the historical background of the Nahal Haredi?
Nahal Haredi was created in 1999 by a group of rabbis in cooperation with the Israel Defense Forces and the Ministry of Defense, as a venue for young men who wish to serve the national interests of Eretz Yisrael while adhering to the highest religious standards. From a small unit of 30 soldiers, Nahal Haredi has become an IDF battalion of close to 1,000 troops, and now aims to reach the requisite threshold for designation as a fully operative infantry brigade. Nahal Haredi continues to develop and implement programming designed to provide military, educational, and economic opportunity to Israel's growing Haredi community (from their website)
What is the duration of Nachal Charedi service?
For Israeli citizens, Nachal Charedi service is for three years; the first two years in combat duty and the third year is devoted to transitioning the young men to society as productive citizen.
There are three options for the third year: a) a yeshiva setting b) vocational training c) an educational program designed to result in high school matriculation. The most popular of the three options is the educational program.
For non-citizens the length of service is 15 months. American and European boys generally constitute about 10% of the unit.
What does the typical Nachal Charedi soldier do after his term of service?
There are varied tracks for our graduates. Some get jobs, some go for more schooling, some go back to yeshiva.
What is the profile of someone who is likely to be successful in Nahal Haredi?
Someone who is outgoing, ambitious and someone who wants to grow in a ‘team setting’.
What is the profile of someone who is likely to be unsuccessful in Nahal Haredi?
We have found that the ones who have the most difficulty are those who like to keep to themselves and are reluctant to blend into the unit. The more that the soldier connects to the surrounding and to our Rabbonim, the better are his chances of success.
What is the percentage of charedim in the Nahal Charedi?
The makeup of the battalion is 70% charedim and 30% national religious (dati leumi). The charedim are from a very wide spectrum of Israeli charedi life.
What is the percentage of Nachal Charedi soldiers who drop out of the program?
Less than 10%.
What are some common misconceptions about Nahal Charedi?
1. That it is not a ‘serious’ Army unit – Nahal Haredi is a battalion that is part of the Kfir Brigade whose main activity is counter-terrorism. Soldiers are trained to prevent terrorist infiltration as well as capturing those terrorists that intelligence has located. Stakeouts, raids, surprise roadblocks, entering villages to capture wanted terrorists and more.
2. That it is a ‘group of dropouts’ – Many of the boys are great kids who have not yet succeeded in life. There are many reasons why people chose different paths than the full-time yeshiva setting that most charedi boys take. Many of the young men who come to Nahal Charedi are motivated youth who are interested in growing and discovering the strengths that they were not aware of until now.
How can parents see the environment in which their children are serving?
Interested parents (fathers only) may visit the Nahal Haredi Battalion. This can be arranged through the services of the Amuta (go to our website www.nahalharedi.org for more information). During the initial stages of Basic Training there is a “Parent’s Day” that parents have the opportunity to meet their sons and their officers. Parents that wish to send packages to their sons can do this through the Amuta as well.
Contact the Amuta for references of graduates of our program in your area. We will help you speak to parents of soldiers both that have finished the army and those that are still presently doing their service.
I understand that Nahal Haredi is a combat battalion – are there other positions for applicants who don’t want to serve as combat soldiers?
Every battalion has a logistics company (pluga) that provides support positions (communications, armaments, intelligence etc.). It is strongly recommended that if you know that you are not capable of a combat position that you make it very clear in your application that this is the case.
Does one need to be observant to enlist? Are there requirements for davening and learning?
There is a minimum requirement of observance in order to be accepted into the Nahal Haredi. One must be Shomer Shabbat, wear a kippah at all times, put on tefilin daily and be very careful not to use foul language. Rabbanim give shiurim (daily during the first 6 months of service) and wherever permissible during active duty. This is a combat battalion with dynamic timetables. There are avreichim that avail themselves to the soldiers to learn with them during their free time. The Rabbanim are there to offer spiritual stimulation and encourage the soldiers in their work.
Contact information for Nachal Charedi:
Rabbi Tzvi Klebanow
General email: email@example.com
General info line 972-2-653-6043.
To sign up for Rabbi Horowitz’s weekly emails, please click here.