Many youths in America take for granted the options they have after completing high school. College, vocational schools and jobs are a few of the choices students may select.
In Israel, though, high school graduates don't have such choices. Israeli 18-year-olds must enter a mandatory draft for the Israeli Defense Force. Y-Press recently interviewed four Israeli soldiers who have been through the process.
Roy Youldous, 20, and Sagi Yitzhari, 20, are still serving, and Leeam Bouni , 22, and Nir Harpaz, 22, have completed their terms. All said that life in the military is more wide-ranging than Americans might think.
In Israel, 18-year-olds enter the military draft and serve for three years. Roy explained, "When they get to 16 and 17 years, you get what is called in Hebrew the first invitation to the army. And the first invitation, you have to go to some base, and there you have the interview and some tests, exams, and they check your body and check your health condition and your IQ."
Draftees are asked what jobs they would like to do in the army, and there is some basic training, which includes "running on the beach, or doing different things before they go into the army, and visiting different bases," Roy said. At 17, teens receive an invitation to join a specific unit.
In general, the draft is not something that is feared but rather something that young people look forward to. "Most of the youth really want to work hard before the draft to get better for the special units," Sagi explained.
Leeam agreed, "I was excited. It's something that you wait for."
Not all the Israelis must join the army, though. As Sagi explained, "Some people who have big problems, mental or physical problems, they don't have to do the army. If somebody's handicapped or somebody has, for example, had cancer or whatever, you can volunteer if you want to."
There is also the option of saying that your conscience does not allow you to fight.
"For women, it's much easier. For men, if you say it, they will have some problems. . . . Especially when they're out of the army, they will have some problems afterwards finding jobs," said Roy. Even if you are able to avoid service by claiming a conscientious objection, you still have to serve for one year; you just won't fight. As Roy put it, "Your conscience can't allow you to accept a weapon."
Nir was somewhat frustrated with conscientious objectors, though. He said, "In Israel, you probably know someone who died in one of the wars, and if you don't, you know someone who knows someone who died. . . . It's like your parents fought, your grandparents fought. I mean, come on, you can at least serve the army."
Nir had mixed feelings about the draft and about serving. "It's the most beautiful age -- 18, 19, 20, 21, (but) you have to be in the army. At first I was like, 'Oh, I'll do it because I have to do it. My dad and my mom served in the army, and I would really disappoint them and they would probably kill me," he said. "But after you do it, you really learn a lot, and it's not just how to shoot a gun. I don't think it's a waste of time. I mean, sure, I would like to do something else."
Roy explained that you do have some choice as to what you do in the army. "We try to combine what you want and what the army needs. . . . There are drivers in the army. Be a cook in the army, be whatever!"
While there are many ways to serve in the Israeli army, it is vital that everyone who can serve, does. Nir said, "It's not like here (in America). You have the army just in case and (for) helping other countries in the world. In Israel, it's the army that keeps Israel."
"It's not an attack army, you know. It's not called the Israeli attack force," Roy added.
These youths feel that the army is vital to the preservation of Israel. "Israel is the only country in the world that can't afford losing in a battle, and maybe in a war. Because of its size and the world we live in, we can't afford losing even one time because we're gonna get a second Holocaust, and there won't be any Jewish people," Sagi said.
The danger of the job is very real in Israel. Leeam said, "You can die every day. There is no insurance. Even in practice you can die." She added, "You don't think about the future. You live every day as if it's the last."
There are many things that testify to this reality. One of them is Yom Hazikaron , which is when Israel remembers its fallen soldiers. "The Memorial Day, for example, in Israel -- it's very, very big. No television or radio. Everybody singing, everybody doing the ceremony. It's not like here, where it's barbecue day. In Israel, it's very real. I mean, people got killed. It's not 200 years ago. It happened yesterday and the day before," Roy said.
Because of this reality, Israeli youths must live and act very differently than American young people. Nir said, "We do things that you wouldn't dream of doing. When we see a bag in the street, we call the police. In two minutes, they will be there and close the streets; everybody's checking it. When you go on trips, for example, there are two soldiers with guns in the front of the bus, everywhere you go."
This level of wariness causes youths to mature. "When they say that they compare people from Europe or from the United States to 19-year-olds there and 19-year-olds in Israel, it's kind of different. I mean, people have to grow up in Israel very fast," said Roy.
Even though Israelis must grow up faster, they begin college or careers much later than Americans do. Even when they get out of the army, many of them don't know what they are going to do. Nir said, "For you, while you're in college, your mind's getting opened, just thinking about things that maybe you want to do. In the army, it's the opposite -- (you) get so narrow-minded. I'm 22, and I still don't know," Leeam said. "I'm going to law school, but it's taken me two years to decide what I want."
When they finally do start careers, they will be prepared. As Roy said, "They say that the army . . . it's like a school for life."
ASSISTANT EDITORS: Jessica Kerman, 17; Gena Gorlin, 14.
REPORTER: Joey Gaines, 12.