In Israel, there is a mandatory draft into the army of males and females over the age of 18. There are exemptions, or more commonly, deferments, but one has to quality for these.
Before we moved here to Israel, I made some calls to clarify what would happen to my oldest two children with regards to the army: my oldest daughter would turn 17 soon after moving here, and the initial enlistment notices arrive at that age. My oldest son would turn 18 six weeks before arriving, and I wanted to be prepared in advance so we wouldn’t stumble into a situation that would force him into army service immediately after arriving. (My husband is exempt due to his age and family size.)
(Those of you reading who are already getting upset by the mention of an 18 year old who isn’t interested in immediately serving in the IDF, realize that my children were raised in the US with no expectation or even concept of serving in the army and this is a foreign idea to them.)
Here’s what I was told. Religious girls are given the choice of exemption or national service, but they need to bring proof from an Israeli rabbinate that they are in fact Orthodox. Regarding ds18, I was told that as a returning minor, he had an automatic deferment for a year before he would be called up.
When dd turned 17, she got her pre-draft notice, and traveled to Haifa to the rabbinate to get authorization of her religious status. Along with the notice was a note stating that the authorization needed to be mailed to the army. But there was no address given! She was given a date that she needed to show up for her pre-draft appointment, but dh called the office to postpone the appointment date to give the letter she sent time to arrive. He was called a little later by an army representative, wanting to know why she missed her appointment date, and dh explained that it had been postponed to allow time for her paperwork to get there.
I didn’t know anything about this until the next day. I got a call from someone who demanded, “Where is (name of dd)?” I consider this very rude telephone protocol, and told them she wasn’t home that moment and that I’d like to know who he was. He said they were calling from the army, and told me she missed her appointment with them. I explained that her appointment date had been changed, and she had mailed her religious authorization in the meantime. Suddenly he said to me, “Is your husband also an American? Does he speak like you, with an accent?” This same person had spoken to my husband just the day before, and knew that we had taken care of anything, but continued on to tell me that if we don’t get the paperwork to them, they’ll (fill in the blank with some stuff that was supposed to intimidate me but I didn’t understand all the army terms except for ‘medical physical’). Then he told me he’ll grant an extension until Mar. 1 (we already had an official extension and hadn’t missed the appointment but whatever). When I got off the phone, I learned that he had told dh the exact same thing the day before, including making his ‘generous’ offer of giving us until Mar. 1 to have the paperwork in. So much for efficiency – he didn’t even have the grace to be embarrassed to be threatening us for something we had taken care of already. Anyway, hopefully she’ll soon receive her exemption.
Now as for ds18, whose situation is much more complicated and frustrating. Based on what I was told by NBN (and I think also the Israeli embassy in DC), I thought we had a year until he’d get a draft notice. When we were getting Israeli passports for everyone else, ds17’s was delayed because due to his age, he had to get a temporary three month army deferment before he’d be allowed into the country. So between the 3 month deferment and the one year exemption, I thought we were set.
Very soon after getting here (maybe six weeks?), ds18 received his enlistment notice. This wasn’t what we were expecting, but were sure it would be quickly straightened out, since he is not only a returning minor, but a full-time yeshiva student (both of which would qualify him for a deferment). This proved to be very positive thinking on our part.
Since my dh took care of all of this, I’m sure I’ll mix up the technical terms and the order of things. So I’m going to fast forward from all that they’ve done to where we’re at today, except to say that what we were told about him getting an automatic deferment for a year was totally false. Dh and ds18 have spent numerous hours on the phone and in person for the last few months trying to get things straightened out. Really, you wouldn’t think this would be so complicated since thousands of yeshiva students have gotten deferments and it’s a common process. Maybe as Americans there’s something we don’t know about how to work the system. Ds18 finally got the necessary paperwork from the ‘committee for yeshivas’, went to a lawyer to take care of some other aspect, and traveled to Tiverya (Tiberias) from Jerusalem this morning for his appointment with the army to officially present proof of his being a yeshiva student to them. (This appointment was postponed twice, since he was having trouble getting this paperwork from them.)
He spent six hours there, and in short, was told that they refuse to consider him a yeshiva student since the law changed yesterday – yes, yesterday! – and if he can’t document having been a yeshiva student since when he’s 15, it doesn’t matter if he’s a yeshiva student now. As a homeschooler he’s had a yeshiva education at home for years, so you’d think there’s no problem, right? Wrong. The representatives at the army don’t understand the concept of homeschooling, and said that since ds wasn’t attending a yeshiva, he’s lost his right to be considered a yeshiva student for all of these years. (By the way, he attended a recognized yeshiva when he was 14 and when he was 17, so the only issue is the years he was homeschooled as a tenth and eleventh grader.)
Ironically, part of the problem is that his official records are from a recognized homeschooling oversight program – this would readily be recognized at colleges across the US – but despite having transcripts for a full Judaic program, they won’t consider him as a yeshiva student. He graduated over a year before we moved to Israel, and at that point I thought I had researched all the possible complications and taken care that there was official documentation of everything.
The potential complications of homeschooling that no one ever talks about!
So ds18 had to go through the entire pre-induction process, including his army physical. They’ve notified him that he’ll be inducted in one month, which means that now I’m working against the clock to find a way to document his religious studies that will be recognized by the Israeli army.
I have to say that ds is taking this entire situation very well. When I told him we were moving to Israel, he was very apprehensive about the army situation. I reassured him repeatedly by telling him as a yeshiva student, he’d be eligible for a deferment until he was ready to serve. And then I did more research and was told that he would automatically receive a one year deferment.
I feel kind of like I’m leaving him holding the bag for a situation he was worried about getting into before we ever got here, despite having done all the right things; dh and I kept reassuring him (before we got here and since then) that it was a routine situation that would easily be taken care of. When I told him today how sorry I was he was in this situation, he told me that he doesn’t blame me or hold me responsible in any way for it – he sees that it’s a beauracratic mess here.
So despite all our efforts, don’t have the situation with dd17 or ds18 resolved yet. I’ll keep you posted when this is straightened out!