Sunday, January 27, 2013

My Time with the IDF: Jobnik Life (Part 2)

 (This is Part 2 of a multi part piece. Read Part 1 here.)

One of the most striking things about working with the IDF is the different role the military plays in Israeli life when compared to the place our Armed Forces exert in the US. In the US, we have a volunteer, professional military force that takes only those who are fighting fit and willing to give years of their lives to the cause. In Israel, there is near universal conscription. Everyone is expected to join when they are young for at least 15 months (other than the Haredi, but more on that in a later post…). There are certain branches and brigades within the IDF that require a much longer commitment, and are intense in their development of personnel and thus produce some of the best soldiers in the world. Different units have developed their own subcultures, with some having their history in the very origins of the State of Israel (The Golani come to mind on both of these fronts). The IDF you saw in Lebanon and Gaza is made up of some of the best the Israeli military has to offer.

But not everyone is made to be a soldier. In fact, few of us are. If you are going to have a military like they do in Israel, where nearly every individual is expected to serve, you will need to have positions for those that have little interest in this form of social contribution. You may play an important role in logistics or some other desk related gig, but these jobs often attract those that simply want to get their national service out of the way and move on to the rest of their lives.  In Israel, they refer to them as Jobniks. While not a fair, “Jobnik” is almost always used in a derogatory manner.  Miriam Libicki wrote a great comic about her life as a Jobnik that I happened to at the Portland Jewish Museum this previous winter. 

 (Learning IDF Units and Structure)

Many at my military base would accurately be described as Jobniks. They were doing repetitive tasks that likely lost its flare a few weeks into the gig. When my group of Sar-El volunteers arrived, we leapt at our tasks with vigor and enthusiasm. Here we were! In Israel! Supporting the IDF and helping defend Israel! Yet even by the end of the third week, many of us started to recognize that it would be difficult to maintain that interest beyond our short stay with the military, and that for some of these individuals, they would be doing this same work for another year and a half. 

Every morning, we would attend a flag raising at our camp. You wore your uniform, stood at attention, and saluted the Israeli flag. Officers were count and inspect each individual, getting them to look and act like a soldier should. I was turned away from the US military years ago for health reasons, but I can guarantee that I could outperform some of the young gentlemen present for roll call each morning. If you build a military that requires service from all its citizens, you need to have a place for those are do not fit the stereotypical “soldiers build.”

(Morning Inspections and Flag Raising)

Add to that the fact that most of those in the Israeli military are recent high school graduates, well, you have a recipe for some very juvenile and apathetic behavior. I know that when I was 18 years old, I had little interest in sitting at a desk working on the same set of radios day-in, day-out. I think I was more interested in girls. Many of our compatriots in the IDF at our base seemed much more infatuated with other soldiers around them than they were with their designated job. But I can’t blame them. They did not have a calling to join the military, and the state required them to attend, and that means you are going to get a certain portion of your military structure that is simply not interested in their job. 

The military plays a different role in Israel than it does in the US. It is a socializing mechanism for a very diverse society, and a nation built on very socialist roots. Everyone serves, everyone gives, and everyone suffers. Whether you are rich or poor, you will have to wear the uniform and serve your country in some capacity. I find that to be a commendable role, and wish we had something similar here in the US.

Continued in Part 3...