Imagine that you’re an Israeli teenager. You get called up to your first army draft. The doctor tells you that because of a medical condition you have, you’re not required to serve in the IDF. In place of those two-to-three tough years of service, you can do whatever you want – travel, university, work. Or, you could volunteer anyway. What would your answer be? Last week dozens of young Israelis who finished the IDF’s volunteer course answered with a resounding yes.
Nesher Ehrman was born in the United States and grew up in Bet Shemesh. Because of a chronic medical condition, Nesher was not required to serve in the IDF. “I decided to volunteer because I thought it was important, despite the army telling me that I didn’t have any obligation to serve,” he says. Last week, Nesher and dozens of his peers completed a special course for volunteers in the IDF.
Convincing the army to take him despite his exemption was a long and involved process. “The IDF doctor asked me if I have a chronic medical condition and I said yes,” Nesher says. “They sent me to a different doctor, I told him about my condition, and he said that it was an open and shut case – you don’t need to do the army. I told him I wanted to do it anyway, and they told me they would see what they could do.”
That was the beginning of a year and a half of numerous doctor’s visits, medical tests and interviews. “It crossed my mind several times [not to do the army]. I was studying in Yeshiva in Yeruham, which is a long way down south,” says Nesher. “I used to get telephone calls in the evening, telling me I needed to be in Tel Aviv at 7 a.m. the next morning to show up for a five minute interview. It was difficult, but I never thought about giving up seriously.”
In the end, it was all worth it. In a few days, Nesher will be joining Yahalom, the elite combat engineering unit of the IDF Engineering Corps.
“I’m over the moon,” says Bracha Ehrman, Nesher’s proud mother. “I’m very grateful that we’ve reached this point, that Nesher can find the right place for him to use his talents and capabilities. I’m grateful that the army is able and willing to work with him, within what he needs. It’s a very special day.”
One hundred percent motivation
“The group of people I’m with are all volunteers,” Nesher says. “It’s the first time I’ve been in a program where all the people have some kind of medical disability. It was really nice because everyone here has motivation. You only get accepted to volunteer after a lot of tests. Everyone worked very hard to get here.”
“I’ve been a commander for a lot of courses, but this was a different experience,” says Lt. Noam Tor, one of the course’s commanders. “Everyone who is present here chose to be here, with the knife between their teeth so to speak, far more than many other soldiers I’ve met before. They’re thirsty for knowledge and want to participate in a meaningful way as much as possible. It really feels like a great honor [to be their commander].
The motivation of these soldiers to serve shouldn’t be taken for granted. “Today we read in the newspapers that the number of people enlisting in the army is falling, and that there are a lot of people who are choosing not to enlist,” says Lt. Col. Yoni Gil, who is responsible for all courses and basic training at the IDF’s Bahad 11 base in Tzrifin. “Here we’re talking about a population who legitimately did not have to enlist because of medical or other disabilities, but they chose to enlist, and not to be civilians for the next few years, but to be soldiers just like every other soldier. They are going to fill important roles [in the IDF], and it is important for them to have a meaningful service.”
After they swore loyalty to the IDF, the soldiers graduating from the course brought many family members and friends to tears when they sung the national anthem Hatikva in Israeli Sign Language. “They decided during their free time to teach each other how to sing Hatikva in sign language,” Lt. Col. Gil says. “The soldiers who are hearing impaired taught the others. They made a decision from a place of identification [with their friends] to all sing Hatikva in sign language together. It was very beautiful and unique.”
We wish all graduates a successful and meaningful service in the IDF.