The “Soldier Flight” of 125 Americans joining the IDF, August 2013. Photo by Shahar Azran
From ICEJ (International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem)
A new program called Aish Machal has been established to allow non-Israeli citizens to enlist in the IDF, echoing the arrival of several hundred Jewish and Christian volunteers who came to help defend the newborn State of Israel during its War of Independence in 1948. “With the creation of JoinTheIDF.com we have the first-ever pro-active recruitment effort for the IDF,” said Jay M. Shultz, executive chairman of Aish Machal, adding that young people who enlist in the program will have the opportunity to serve in Sherut Leumi (national service) programs, not just IDF combat units, an experience which he says will prepare them for life much more than if they went straight into college. “Serving Israel should not just be seen as a responsibility; it should be seen as a noble honor,” he concluded. “Since I was a little kid, I was fascinated by the Israeli soldiers,” said Yakov Kroll, a 20-year-old American volunteer from Los Angeles. “I never thought twice about it, I always knew I would do this. And, honestly, I could not be happier right now.”
Guard of Honour of current Mahal volunteers at the Mahal Memorial on Yom Hazikaron 2011, together with Mahal 1947-49 volunteers Migdal Teperson, Smoky Simon, Joe Woolf and Ruth Stern.
Mahal IDF Volunteers
Guide & Assistant
Mahal-IDF-Volunteers.org is the leading guide for all would-be overseas enlistees (non-Israelis and Israelis) prior to joining the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). It is not an official website of the State of Israel but a voluntary initiative aiming to assist you – from retrieving reliable information to pre-checking your qualification and being your one-stop-assistant until your enlistment. All services are free and donations are not accepted.
This website got the “Jewish Agency Top Site 2005” award.
This website’s usage statistics for 2011 is more than 500,000 visits and 13,000,000 hits, Google ranks on Aug 30, 2011:
IDF Mahal and the other IDF programs listed on this website are the administrative gates for the simplified enlistment of non-Israelis and overseas Israelis. Their actual IDF service is shoulder to shoulder with regular Israeli soldiers, even if the minimum service time is usually shorter than the regular IDF paths. Otherwise there are no major differences.
The programs aim to contribute to Israel’s defense and to provide experienced and enthusiastic young leaders for Jewish communities. The following programs enable young Jews from all over the world to volunteer for the IDF.
IDF programs for non-Israelis:
The Mahal program is for men younger than 24 and women younger than 21. Eligible are non-Israeli Jews, descendants of a Jewish grandparent of the aforementioned. The program consists of 18 months of IDF service.
The Mahal Nahal Haredi program is for non-Israeli religious (haredi) Jewish men younger than 24. The program consists of 18 months of service in a separate IDF Nahal Haredi Infantry combat unit.
The Mahal Hesder program is for non-Israeli religious (dati) Jewish men younger than 24. The program consists of 6 1/2 months of studies in a Yeshivat Hesder (IDF Rabbinical College) followed by at least 14 months of IDF service, in total 20 1/2 months.
Long Mahal program for non-Israelis with a close link to Israel, service time as Israelis – depending on personal factorsIDF programs for overseas Israelis and their children:
Thousands of young people from more than 40 countries have already joined the IDF through its exciting programs for overseas volunteers.
Mahal-IDF-Volunteers.org continues lobbying for improved IDF rules aiming to increase the numbers of eligible overseas volunteers. The rules improved considerably and continue moving in the right direction.
Dear Friend of Israel,
We know your heart is with us in Israel and we greatly appreciate your offer to volunteer for the Israel Defense Forces. Your expression of solidarity with the Jewish people and Israel means so much, especially at this time. Among the thousands of Machal volunteers who came to defend the new born State of Israel in 1947-9 there were many non-Jews. They made a tremendous and meaningful contribution during Israel’s War of Independence, for which Israelis are very grateful and for which they will always be remembered.
Since then however, the policy has been to restrict service in the armed forces to citizens of Israel, Jews as well as Christians, Moslems, Druze and others, and to non-Israeli Jews and their non-Jewish children and grandchildren, so as to avoid placing at risk persons who do not have this connection to Israel. In addition, the maximum enlistment date limit is the 24th birthday for men, 21st for women and 36th for physicians. Unfortunately no exception can be made.
You have the opportunity, however, to take your place defending Israel on the ‘public relations front’. Today, wars and battles are often won or lost on TV screens, in the minds and hearts of good people. Therefore, public relations is no less important than planes and tanks. You could, for example, volunteer to be a PR Ambassador of Middle-East-Info.org and explain to others what it means for Israel to be the sole democracy in a region comprising 23 dictatorships (including 5 out of the world’s 7 state sponsors of terrorism and about half of the world’s major terror groups). Of the 19 most repressive regimes in the world, 7 are in Arab states and Iran. Arab regimes and Iran are also a breeding ground for advocating Jihad (Holy War) against all non-Muslims (Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Animists and Jews included) and openly seek world domination and the ultimate destruction of freedom. The scourge of international terrorism and suicide bombings has reached far beyond the United States, Europe and Israel. The combination of these factors makes it more important than ever to be acquainted with the reality of the Middle East.
Finally, it should be stressed that these same Arab and Iranian dictators oppress their own citizens, threaten Israel and support global terrorism. The three hundred and sixty million oppressed people living in Arab states and Iran have a right to the same freedom and prosperity enjoyed by Europeans, Americans and Israelis.
We encourage you to fill out and submit the PR Ambassador Questionnaire of Middle-East-Info.org and start supporting democratic Israel and the struggle against tyranny.
On Mahal-IDF-Volunteers.org’s website there are links to other popular volunteer programs in Israel.
Thanks again for your kind offer to serve in the IDF. Again, we greatly appreciate your desire to aid Israel by serving in the IDF and hope we could help you to find other meaningful ways to channel your enthusiasm and good will.
Shalom from Jerusalem,
Mahal-IDF-Volunteers.org – Guide & Assistant
By Catrina Stewart, The Independent
June 19, 2010
It used to be the kibbutz and its images of fruit picking and communal living that attracted streams of Jewish volunteers to Israel. Now many are looking for a different kind of service, one involving pre-dawn starts, a dose of boot camp and the very real possibility of some frontline action.
A new organisation is actively recruiting scores of non-Israeli Jews, many of them American, to serve in the Israeli army as it faces threats on multiple fronts in a region largely hostile towards it.
“We feel that Israel is fighting for its life,” said Jay Schultz, the executive director of Aish Malach, a new Israeli body set up to help foreigners enlist. For many, he said, “this is the right thing at the right time”.
While their peers may be easing into university life or setting off on their world travels, Israel’s foreign hopefuls are more likely to be wriggling through muddy streams or jumping over walls.
A rigorous six-week boot camp weeds out those not completely committed to a year of military service. Aish Malach is putting its first intake of 20 youngsters through their paces this month before placing them in selected units. Once in, the recruits could be deployed to frontline combat units guarding Israel’s volatile borders or to the occupied West Bank, where Israeli troops are often violently pitted against Palestinian civilians.
“They [the army] will send them where they need them. If they say ‘Go to Rwanda’, you go to Rwanda. If they say, ‘Go to the border of Lebanon, you go to the border of Lebanon’,” said Mr Schultz.
At present, a little over half of all Israelis are conscripted into the army for a mandatory three years straight after school, while some non-Jews from the local Bedouin and Druze communities serve as well.
Not all relish it, though, and many are able to obtain exemptions on religious or medical grounds, while others simply refuse to serve for conscientious reasons.
Meanwhile, many Jews living abroad are anxious to serve, often motivated by solidarity with a country that is increasingly isolated for its draconian policies in the Palestinian territories.
For years, many failed to navigate the bureaucracy and left disheartened. Some did complete the paperwork while others skipped the process entirely by making aliya – the formal process of taking Israeli citizenship.
Steve Rieber, a 24-year-old from Los Angeles, described how he tried to sign up. “I had been looking around, office to office, to sign up for the army,” Mr Rieber said in comments quoted by the Jerusalem Post. “They sent me here and they sent me there, and it got so ridiculous. I eventually ran into a buddy of mine who was joining [Aish Machal] and he told me to join.” In part, Aish Machal, which also offers foreigners the opportunity to do community service, sees itself as reaching out to “lost” Jews, those who have become distanced from their Jewish roots and assimilated into other societies. “We know that when you get a Jew to fight for the Jewish People, you connect him to his People for life,” reads a section on the organisation’s website.
Mr Schultz dismissed the potential pitfalls of an American teenager swearing allegiance to Israel on the one hand and the United States on the other.
“The United States and Israel are friendly allies,” Mr Schultz said. “I don’t think there are any more problems with loyalty than if somebody volunteering in Mississippi goes to Ghana with the Peace Corps.”
Notes and links
Why do so many Diaspora Jews want to join the IDF?, Anshel Pfeffer, April 2010. Includes:
“Over 3,000 lone immigrant soldiers are currently serving in the IDF. About half of them came from the former Soviet Union and are planning to live here in the long run, the army being a necessary part of their integration.
“But a growing number are from the West, young Jewish challenge-seekers, over 500 soldiers from the United States and hundreds more from other Jewish communities around the globe. This number may still seem relatively small but has been growing exponentially over the last few years. Officers in the IDF’s Personnel Directorate are already talking openly of tapping into the global Jewish potential as a possible solution for the shortfall in enlistment due to lower birthrates and the growing proportion in the population of Israeli Arabs and ultra-Orthodox, who do not serve in the army.
“Is the IDF becoming the Diaspora’s foreign legion? Has toting an M-16 and patrolling the back roads of the West Bank become more popular for Jewish teenagers than taking a year off before college to go and pick oranges on a kibbutz?”