But when he got to the recruiting station, he was stymied to find himself sitting with a Nachal Charedi rep, who didn’t stop pressuring him to join Nachal Charedi and forget about Golani.
This went on for a while and my son didn’t give in.
What neither of us knew at the time was that my son’s itty-bitty file with the police put him in a certain category with the IDF.
(And yes, I have a heter to discuss this, as stated at the beginning of Sharing What Burden Exactly? The Unspoken Elephant in the Room.)
How Any Kind of Police Record Affects Recruits from Charedi Families
Like carrying an illegal size of knife as you and your friend drive past unfriendly non-Jewish neighborhoods, being too noisy at night in a residential area, and so on.
Such a minor police file needn’t necessarily bother a secular recruit’s chances for a combat position (maybe yes, maybe no).
But because of the strictures of charedi society, the IDF considers even very minor offenses committed long before enlistment as serious signs of an insubordinate personality. They view it as relative to the fairly law-abiding community from which the recruit comes.
Furthermore, the secular extremists are well-aware that the charedi community doesn’t respect the laws of the Medinah if they contradict Torah Law.
So even if the young man is rebelling against the charedi community, the secularists feel the young man might be non-conformist in general, including against IDF protocols, and they prefer to have him ensconced within Nachal Charedi.
So if a young man from a charedi family has ANY kind of police record, the IDF wants him in Nachal Charedi.
(Ironically, this is also true even if the young man has committed serious offenses and comes from a disadvantaged background, the combination of which might actually make him more suitable for MAKAM. Yet to Nachal Charedi he must go!)
And yes, this makes Nachal Charedi a mixed bag of young men from one extreme to another, which is something else that is hardly ever mentioned.
Nachal Charedi consists of recruits who come from charedi families. Yet the recruit himself may no longer be charedi at all. It depends.
And just for knowing, I support Nachal Charedi for certain types of situations. For some, it can be an excellent option.
(This is in accordance with certain Gadolei Hador. For a very brief summation of their views, please see: Who Backed Charedi Enlistment? The title is a misnomer, BTW. None of the rabbanim mentioned back charedi enlistment; rather they support the framework of Nachal Charedi for certain types of bachurim from charedi families.)
Having said all that, there are no hard-‘n’-fast rules. Ultimately, the IDF recruiters make their own decision and there are exceptions everything stated above.
What seals the young man’s fate is the interview with the IDF evaluator of mental health, during which my son did not make a good impression. It’s still not clear to me if he came off as too right-wing or something else, or if she'd already decided the outcome in her head from the first.
But like I said, they don’t want charedi rebels or misfits in the regular IDF, just in Nachal Charedi.
(And lest you get the wrong impression: Nachal Charedi also compromises many boys of fine character. Most have no criminal background, and davka even a very good background. It really depends.)
So because he refused Nachal Charedi, my son was placed in MAKAM for basic training.
I’d never heard of MAKAM.
But we found out soon enough.
What is MAKAM?
If you look on the regular IDF site, the MAKAM section portrays itself as helping new olim and those from disadvantaged communities.
But really, it’s for young men with criminal backgrounds.
Drugs, assault, reckless driving that led to serious injury of innocent victims—it’s all in MAKAM!
The odd thing is that if a boy from a charedi family with a minor police record refuses to join Nachal Charedi, he’s placed in MAKAM with boys who grew up in Israel’s worst neighborhoods and have sat in prison.
All of the sudden, the precious son you tried so hard to protect from bad influences on the street of your charedi neighborhood is now sharing barracks with a non-Jewish Ukrainian named Igor who has a scorpion tattooed across his face and jaw, and has served time for violent offenses and earned extra money by street-boxing (i.e. boxing without gloves).
(I’m not making this up. Igor exists and was in MAKAM with my son.)
Anyway, something like a third of the boys were from dati or charedi backgrounds, including some of the tattooed ex-cons, although the Jewish ones tended to favor tattoos reflecting their Jewish heritage, like a Magen David. And they tattooed their arms, rather than their face.
In addition, the commanding officers were all girls.
Because the IDF discovered that serious delinquents didn’t respond so well to being ordered around, and would attack their commanding officer.
Yet these same delinquents were much less likely to attack female commanding officers, although they did charge at them in displays of intimidation.
Please note that I wrote “less likely” to attack female commanders, and not “completely unlikely.”
For example, in one MAKAM program, a MAKAMnik snapped and chased his female commander around the base with a loaded and cocked machine gun, screaming orders at her.
Fortunately, the psychotic episode ended with nobody getting hurt. But still.
What's the Real Goal Here?
Needless to say, combat units endure months of basic training. (But most IDF soldiers aren’t combat.)
So MAKAM is a pretty long program, comparatively speaking.
And the boys are given the impression that they are cared about and that this is their ticket out of the mess they’ve found themselves in until now.
The boys believe the completion of MAKAM allows them to segue into the regular IDF and ultimately make a smooth adjustment into society.
Except that, generally speaking, none of that is true.
The problem with MAKAM is that the boys spend 12 weeks under a magnifying glass.
One step out of line, and they ruin any chance to get into their unit preference. (Not surprisingly, many want to go into a combat unit, and not the 3 limited choices MAKAM ends up offering them.)
A step out of line can be arriving to a line-up 20 seconds late. (Just to be clear, they won't block his unit preference based on a one-time delay like that, but if it adds up...)
So in some ways, MAKAM is even more exacting & unforgiving than regular basic training.
Another problem is that despite the tremendous physical aggression possessed by some MAKAM recruits, a life of crime is actually not conducive to physical training.
So many of them struggled to complete the normal physical drills.
My son and a handful of others not only mastered the physical training, but thrived on it. But most of the MAKAMniks could not handle it.
Not surprisingly, discipline and following orders also proved difficult for many of them.
So though the IDF promotes MAKAM as helping the boys get used to discipline & orders, it doesn’t really succeed. And despite the IDF’s presentation of MAKAM (which you can find on various websites, including Hebrew Wikipedia), MAKAM is not really meant to give them a second chance or to rehabilitate them, nor is it particularly supportive.
It’s meant to weed out problematic recruits.
You might be (like my wonderful son) incredibly motivated and highly skilled.
But you’ve got problematic people around you who aren’t.
Or maybe they are, but they’re starting to deteriorate when subjected to such a long-lasting & unforgiving testing ground.
One recruit could not take the strain without chemical assistance, so he managed to smuggle chashish onto the base and spent bedtime smoking it out the window of my son’s barracks.
Others simply deserted.
Remember, this is a 12-week program. So after a month or 2 in this environment, it can start to have a depleting effect on even the most motivated soldier.
Again, you have people from very difficult backgrounds and neighborhoods.
You have people who don’t know how to deal with their emotions without drugs.
You have people who are used to anger, intimidation, and violence as a way of life.
You have people, particularly if they’ve been in prison, who have adapted all sorts of behavioral mechanisms to protect and even defend themselves—mechanisms that are helpful in bad neighborhoods and prison, but not so helpful in general society.
The truth is that they need an authentic Torah infusion, but instead they get idealistic young females who’ve been programmed a certain way (according to secular ideals and psychology) to deal with them. They’ve got pat methods and pat speech, but not Torah hashkafah.
And my son was really motivated. He’s super-smart and strong with great coordination and endurance, and tends to get along well with others.
He was also spiritually motivated, which he expressed by trying to round everyone up for minyan and helping them put on tefillin. (He spent several happy years in a Chabad yeshivah, so he’s really into tefillin—except that he accidentally put tefillin on a couple of the non-Jewish recruits, which happens in such situations.)
Sensitivity Training in MAKAM
(I know, I know; I giggled when I heard that too.)
So the girl-commanders sit with the MAKAMniks in a cozy circle (circle time!) and read to them from current events in order to bring out feelings of empathy.
For example, when the toeva disco shooting occurred, the girls read it out to the MAKAMniks to encourage them to empathize with all the toeva guys and what they suffer.
But (not surprisingly) the entire group immediately rose in uproar with bellows of: "THEY DESERVED IT!!!" and other even more colorful words.
This resulted in the girls shrieking back at them, "How dare you?! How can you be so heartless and insensitive?! These are real people!"
And so on.
This was so unbelievable stupid of these girls because if you know anything about prison culture, the guys feel like they absolutely must stand firm on their straight orientation. There can be absolutely no doubt about where they stand.
And teenage boys who'd served in prison feel an ever stronger need to assert their stance.
Therefore, with so many of the recruits coming from a prison culture at some point, of course they responded with anti-toeva vehemence.
Why one earth would anyone expect them to respond any differently?
Furthermore, the rest of the guys are compelled to follow along because that is the kind of environment they're in; no one wants aspersions cast on his orientation.
So even if a guy did feel bad about the shooting, he could never ever express it in such an atmosphere.
And anyway, rowdy bellowing is fun. That's why guys do it at football games.
Also, do I really need to explain that young girls shrieking at teenage boys is likely to encourage their behavior because these boys enjoy the action and also find shrieking girls highly entertaining?
Now, it's not the girls' fault that they are so dumb about this because these girls are extremely idealistic 20-year-olds who've undergone a specific training to deal with this group.
But it is stupid nonetheless.
Another time, the girls presented the story of a Muslim-Arab family that accidentally killed themselves by using a kerosene heater inside a fully sealed plastic tent (or something like that), and now the boys were supposed to feel heartbroken about that.
Yet many of these boys had been in fights with Arabs, knew terror survivors, had been affected by terror themselves, and so on.
Furthermore, they'd joined the IDF not to battle Buddhists but to protect their fellow Jews from terror perpetrated by the very people who'd accidentally killed themselves.
Finally, the girls self-righteously declared they were giving up on the sensitivity training because the recruits simply refused to go along with it.
The boys cheered.
What about the Torah's Military Guide?
How come these girl-commanders were not giving the boys examples of fellow Jews with whom to empathize?
Anyway, Jews already have everything we need to face battle with integrity.
For example, there is the Rambam and his handy-dandy book called Mishneh Torah.
Within, you can find a chapter conveniently called "Melachim u'Milchamot - Kings & Wars."
And it only gets better! Chazal is chock-full of all sorts of military advice. Whether it's military strategies or ethics, Chazal has got us covered.
The girls would have done a lot better reading from the Rambam than from the newspaper.
And the boys would've listened a lot more respectfully to the Rambam.
MAKAM Goes to the Kotel
This was not a pleasant experience.
As the boys stood there in army uniform, some of the more kanai visitors hissed at them, "Look at you! Coming here with female commanders! You should be ashamed of yourselves!"
Note: For those who aren't aware, every Gadol Hador has come out strongly against any kind of female enlistment to the IDF. They have excellent reasons for their opposition and it has to do with their heartfelt concern for these girls and for the Jewish people in general.
So these rebukers responded as if the boys had set up a pork barbecue in front of the Kotel or something like that. (Yes, even though the boys had no control over the situation; it was an IDF program.)
Just for knowing, I don't believe in talking to people like this. I think if something needs to be said, it should be done in a much more loving manner.
But I'm just explaining the attitude of the rebukers.
Anyway, the boys didn't answer them back (much to their credit), partly because they were indeed kind of ashamed to have petite 20-year-old female commanders (it's feels unmanly) and partly out of respect for the Kotel (they didn't want to brawl near the Shechinah).
Although I would helpfully advise any kanai reading this that if you do see a contingent of young male soldiers led by female commanders, it probably is MAKAM and you should be careful how you express yourself to them because while this particular group kept themselves in check, it's still comprised of unpredictable individuals who may not have the same respect and self-control.
Then, even though some of the female commanders, like my son's commander, consider themselves dati (shomer Shabbat & kashrut), they felt it would be a good idea to go over to the women's side and start singing loudly while dancing in front of the Kotel wearing army pants.
Yeah. Where the unfathomably Holy Shechinah hovers.
I'm going to digress for moment to point out the brainwashing going on here.
As stated, some of these girls are dati. And technically, they should know better than to behave so disrespectfully at The Holiest Place on Earth.
So why don't they?
Because of a particular ideology, these girls feel that their IDF service permits them to wear pants (even though there are long-skirt uniforms).
And furthermore, because their religious beliefs are enmeshed with certain political beliefs, they think that it's okay to appear at the Kotel like this because of their idea that the IDF uniform is holy in Hashem's Eyes, as is singing while dancing around like this.
And even though they know that many of the female worshipers there would find their behavior disturbing or even brazen and sacrilegious, they don't care because they are so confident in their ideology.
Hopefully, they will eventually use their tendencies for ideological dedication & their devil-may-care attitude to truly serve Hashem and for the good of Am Yisrael.
(Every character trait can be used in a positive manner. It all depends how you channel it.)
It's Like a Sleight-of-Hand Game: Now You See It, Now You Don't!
My heart sank when I heard that. I knew it meant that he wasn’t going to Golani. That kind of phraseology is a way of passing the buck to your superiors while giving false hope to your subordinate.
Ultimately, those who made it to the end discovered they had 3 options:
- Becoming a truck driver
- Passing out weapons
And that’s it! And those had been their only options all along. Ha! Gotcha!
Now, for those one or two trainee soldiers who maintained perfect behavior from Day 1, they got to go into the armored corps.
One of them (let’s call him Avi) was originally from a charedi family with whom he hadn’t lived for around 2 years. He actually worked and rented his own apartment and led a fairly responsible and independent life. Yes, he’d been busted once for growing marijuana on his property.
But he wasn’t suited for Nachal Charedi because he’d been out of the charedi world for a while. So why would he want to be there? Yet because he was originally from a charedi family, the IDF couldn’t put him in the regular basic training.
So to MAKAM he went, even though there wasn’t anything really wrong with him, and he would’ve done just fine in the regular army.
He merited joining the armored corps.
And that’s not considered a desirable unit. Here's why...
It's Like When You Think You'll Get a Really Exciting Present for Your Birthday, and Then You Just Get a Pair of Socks and the Socks Don't Even Fit Right
I didn’t get this at first because I thought driving around in a large, noisy metal thing while exploding mortars out the gun turret sounds like something boys like to do.
In fact, when I was dati-leumi, one of our crowd had been a tankist and he’d quite enjoyed it.
But as it was explained to me, part of tank combat training is spending a lot of time cooped up with other guys in a tank. It also becomes your shared bathroom and dining room.
(And for some reason, allowing girls to do this in the army is considered a celebrated leap of progress for women's rights.)
Many boys who find sitting in a classroom to be a form of torture look forward to their army service.
They much prefer running for miles with a rifle and a heavy pack, crawling through mud, sleep deprivation, and other serious challenges to, say, sitting passively in a classroom with their legs cramped under a desk.
When you tell these same boys, “Welcome to the army! Now you get to be crammed in a tank!”—their response is:
And who can blame them?
Some even spend time in IDF prison for resisting service in the armored corps. It's like they go on strike until you put them with the paratroopers or Golani.
So Avi gave his all to being perfect in MAKAM for 12 weeks, and his reward for all his efforts under difficult demoralizing conditions is...life in a tank.
So those who managed to stick it out to the end were left feeling disillusioned, betrayed, and rejected.
We'll Allow You to Succeed when It Fits Our PR Needs
I guess she just wanted to show them what she REALLY looked like, i.e. with makeup and hair styled, etc. I’m not sure why this is so important, but apparently it is.
(Do male commanders also send photos of themselves in revealing clothes to their recruits?)
Then my son was perusing the IDF newspaper and saw one of his MAKAM mates—Stefan—in Golani!
Mystified, my son read on to see how on earth that happened.
After all, this boy did not perform very well in shooting or physical training and all the rest.
In fact, his performance lay between average and poor, depending.
My son soon discovered it was a PR article for the IDF to show the great success of their MAKAM program with “special populations.” The IDF wanted to show how the immigrant children of intermarriage can also make it due to the wonderful support and opportunities of the IDF.
“Stefan” is the son of an assimilated Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother from the Ukraine.
Bamachaneh needed a MAKAMnik of his background to place in Golani in order to produce an article that shows the effectiveness of the program. (This is called shooting the arrow first, and then drawing the target around the arrow. Look—a perfect bull’s eye every time!)
My son knew him well because on the way to the shooting range, Stefan suddenly felt the need for a heart-to-heart discussion of his religious identity—or lack thereof.
“I don’t know whether I’m Jewish or not,” he suddenly admitted. “I keep getting told different things.”
“Is your mother Jewish?” asked his comrades.
“No,” said Stefan. “Just my father.”
“Did you undergo a conversion?”
“I can’t remember,” he said. “I attended some kind of course for conversion, but I can’t remember if I actually converted or not.”
(This is so totally in contrary to the halachot of conversion, I don’t even know where to start. So I won’t.)
Then the boys said, “Well, we're sorry to have to break it to you, my brother, but you’re not Jewish at all. But don’t worry, we still like accept you as one of us.”
And though disappointed, Stefan the Ukrainian found great comfort in hearing the truth with such warmth and sensitivity.
Then a formerly-dati-soldier-who-was-now-completely-secular happened upon them at that moment.
“Why, Stefan,” he said. “I think you’ll find that’s not true. Conversion and maternal lineage don’t matter. The fact that you are now an IDF soldier grants you equal status in Medinat Yisrael. In fact, according to our Zionist ideology—”
At that point, all the other boys started shouting at him, “Shut up, you stupid heretic! What are you talking about? That’s totally against Jewish Law! Get lost!”
I find it gratifying that these boys, some of whom had tattoos and served time, were still knowledgeable of and committed to basic halacha enough that they even called a misguided pontificator a “kofer (heretic)”—which he was, unfortunately.
Anyway, it was a bit demoralizing to read that a less qualified boy got a coveted position simply because he fit the profile the IDF needed at that moment for their own PR.
The Illusion of a Second Chance
My son wondered why him and not the others? How was he different and more meritorious?
Except he wasn't.
Once again, the article focused on how MAKAM helped this boy from a disadvantaged background succeed in the IDF and in life.
And once again, my son realized that they needed this kind of story, so they simply plucked out a boy who best fit the picture they wanted to present.
It didn't matter how hard my son and the others pushed themselves. It didn't matter how well they dealt with all the psychological and physical challenges of prolonged basic training.
And being in MAKAM, they were still stigmatized with whatever mistakes they'd made when they were 15, 16, or 17. Willing to push themselves for a second chance, there was none.
So ultimately, for many of them, the promised opportunity out of disadvantage and mistakes never materialized.
And that’s the story with that.
Some Practical Help You Can Give
If you know a young man from a charedi family who’s been in trouble with the police and wants to join the IDF, you should do everything you can to encourage him to join Nachal Charedi, partly because it’s just plain a better program spiritually and militarily speaking, and partly because there’s almost no chance they’ll allow him to join the regular army.
(This is what my son does now. He talks troubled youth out of going for the regular army and to just enlist in Nachal Charedi instead. It really does work out much better. And again, most boys in Nachal Charedi do NOT have criminal backgrounds. They're pretty good boys!)
Otherwise, the troubled youth will likely get stuck in MAKAM and then be forced to be a truck driver, a weapons clerk, or a fireman (which sounds exciting, but because the jet mechanics and the pilots do their job so well, baruch Hashem, the firemen usually have nothing to do, except drills 3 times a week—although they’ve also been used to help put out balloon fires along the Gazan border, may Hashem protect everyone from all harm).
So there you go.