Supporting the Defenders of Israel
Over the last two months, 120 young Israeli women in OTS’s pioneering Hadas Torah/IDF Program began their military service, with 16 more scheduled to enlist in the coming weeks, amidst one of the most complicated periods in modern history. With dramatic increases in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Israel, the country has faced lockdown, isolation of tens of thousands of families, and constantly-changing restrictions. Hadas participants, all young Israeli women who spent the last year devoted to intensive Torah study at one of Midreshet Lindenbaum’s three campuses prior to entering the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), have remained flexible and committed to their service. At the same time, Hadas staff has shown tremendous dedication to supporting and guiding them in every way possible.
The challenges for new soldiers today are immense. Hadas soldiers serve primarily in intelligence gathering and combat-support roles, on bases throughout the country, on the borders with Syria and Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Gaza, and everywhere in between.
“It’s not simple to enter the army now, in the midst of corona,” acknowledges Estee Golan, a new recruit who just began a training course in the IDF Intelligence Corps. According to Golan, “there is so much uncertainty ,and the army is working very hard to keep people healthy and safe. I’m in a large unit, on a base with lots of people, and getting to know the other soldiers is an important part of our integration. Today, this is more complicated, as we have all been divided into smaller groups to reduce the risk of infection. With the continued rise of COVID cases in Israel, we are aware that the rules may change at any time, which is a difficult reality when the army itself is still so unfamiliar.”
Already anxious about beginning a new, unfamiliar chapter, many in isolation were unable to start their service on time, and instead met up with their units days after the appointed date. As Israel struggles to contain the spread of the virus, many soldiers must remain on base for weeks at a time, limiting breaks for Shabbat and holidays with their family.
Crucial Support for Religious Soldiers
Recognizing how crucial it is for his students to receive continued support, especially during these difficult times, Hadas Director Rabbi Ohad Teharlev has been doing everything possible to provide access to continued Torah learning alongside opportunities for these young women to share frustrations, express concerns, ask questions and receive emotional support and religious guidance. For the past two decades, he has been crisscrossing the country weekly in order to visit the growing number of bases on which the Hadas soldiers serve. Nowadays, he visits only the bases that continue to allow civilian visitors, while coordinating online classes and discussions for soldiers on bases that restrict visits due to COVID-19.
“The support we get from Hadas is so important,” stresses Golan. “First, the year in the beit midrash opened the door to a lifetime of Torah study, and I am so grateful to be able to continue my learning while I am in the army. It has also made such a difference to enter the army together with other religious young women, and to have opportunities to express our questions and our concerns to our teachers.”
According to Tamar Rosen, who began her army service in the IDF Education Corps in August, “Adjustment to army life is intensive. We are working from morning until night and our time is not our own. In addition, for the first time ever, we must adjust to life outside of a religious framework. My time at Midreshet Lindenbaum gave me the opportunity to discover what is really important to me, and to consider the religious principles I want to hold close. My rabbis and teachers helped me understand the army’s obligations in terms of religious issues, which is really important as I navigate this new world. Going in as part of a group of religious young women and having access to my Hadas teachers is a tremendous sense of support as I transition into this new stage of life.”