The very clean-cut dati-leumi crowd I hung out with in my new adult years emphasized that prison time was easily avoidable and only screw-ups got sentenced.
In contrast, it seems like the rest of Israeli society opines that “everyone goes to prison at some point.”
The truth is, I met people who got 3 days for not shaving (if they didn’t have a beard permit) and longer if they didn’t return to their base on time. Forging doctor’s notes, resisting a particular role (like if you want to be a foot soldier and they try to put you in a tank), avoiding the draft (“We don’t have enough soldiers watching Friends! Thou shalt share the burden!”), and so on.
And that’s for the minimum security part of Keleh 6. Drugs, hard crime, and such things earn soldiers long sentences in other parts of Keleh 6.
My Son Goes to Prison - But No Worries! They Get Popsicles!
So he went on strike, which meant that he didn’t show up to base.
The IDF remained unimpressed.
Finally, knowing that he was going to be sent to prison anyway, he decided to turn himself in.
So he bid us farewell and made his way up North where he was received by a prison official, an old kibbutznik wearing a bandana. He greeted my son cheerfully, praised him for turning himself in, encouraged him: “I’m sure you’ll be a good soldier from now on,” then sentenced him to 12 days. (Or maybe he was carrying out someone else’s sentence? Well, something like that.)
This part of the prison, which serves draft dodgers, note forgers, and so on, features tents.
The prison cell is a tent that holds many young men.
My husband and I weren’t sure what Keleh 6 was like, but a family member reassured us that it’s pretty tame because it’s not like a state prison and treatment is pretty decent—“They even get popsicles,” he reassured us.
Popsicles in prison? Why, we have nothing to worry about, then!
The Dedication of Mishmeres Hakodesh
An organization dedicated to freeing yeshivah bochurs imprisoned for draft evasion (“We face a severe shortage of personnel who can sit in an office all day watching pirated movies on their cell phones! Charedim must contribute their share of their burden!”) called us and nonchalantly informed us that our son was in Keleh 6 and did we need them to do anything about it?
Initially, we were puzzled until they explained that although he’d attended a non-mainstream yeshivah (with secular studies and everything), it was a yeshivah nonetheless and as a former yeshivah student, his name appeared on their list when he was imprisoned.
It was very nice of them, and we explained that no, he wanted to be there and they said, fine, but if we need anything, we should feel free to call them back.
Very pleasant and polite for such religious zealots, I'm sure you agree. ;-)
As far as the treatment of the yeshivah bochurs in Keleh 6, my son said he didn't witness them being treated any worse by the wardens (the wardens, especially the female ones, don't behave in a particularly refined manner). The other soldiers mostly ignored them.
Unfortunately, due to media incitement, a yeshivah bachur evading the draft can be despised by fellow inmates more than an inmate who has actually committed a crime. But my son did not personally see active bullying.
Mishmeres Hakodesh also call the public phone repeatedly every day to ask whoever answers if there is a yeshivah bachur there for draft evasion. (They’re always concerned they missed one that didn’t appear on their list.) In return, the imprisoned soldier who answers treats the caller to a string of vulgar curses before slamming down the phone.
Sometimes, the soldier tries to accommodate the caller, but usually not.
But these guys put up with the treatment and keep calling anyway to see if anyone needs their help.
Actually, someone did try to take them up on their offer to help, but he couldn’t hide his Muslim religion for long, so that fell through.
Prison Shrews Share the Burden Too
And this may sound shocking to people with their head in the sand, but young rowdy guys of this age do not take orders from young women seriously.
So the girls resort to shrieking and verbal abuse, and telling them things like, “Look at what a screw-up you are, ending up in Keleh 6 like this, you stupid pathetic zero.”
Not surprisingly, the boys find this entertaining, rather than intimidating.
Also, the wardens play all sorts of minor mindgames to assert their authority over the inmates. He gave an example of the treatment by a 19-year-old girl-warden, but after his initial surprise, he found it amusing.
I kind of wonder if these girls are able to turn off all the shrieky negativity & controlling mindgames when not dealing with mildly delinquent young soldiers, and how that affects their relationships back home and then after their service is over, if they can go back to normal.
But I figure, hey, they’re sharing the burden.
Yeshivah bachurim are just sitting around all day learning Gemara, while these girls are supporting the Zionist enterprise with loud & seething verbal assaults. How could Medinat Yisrael possibly function without them? So I’m just gonna keep my nose out of it. After all, who am I to judge? I don’t share the burden either. (For example, I’ve never seen an episode of Friends. That’s right—not even ONE.)
A Yiddishe Krechtz?
For example, you are not allowed to speak at all in the dining hall. The Chafetz Chaim would approve, actually, because he was against talking while eating because it’s potentially dangerous.
Anyway, during one meal in which only the sound of chewing could be heard, another sound appeared: the sound of choked-back sobs.
Soon, the choked-back sobs turned into the gasped crying as one imprisoned soldier had a breakdown over his hard-boiled eggs & rice.
Because this isn’t The Lords of Discipline, the other soldiers just felt embarrassed & sorry for him. One of the male wardens came over, sat down next to the broken soldier, and tried to comfort him by telling him that it wasn’t so bad here and that he had a really short sentence and that he’d be out soon, and then everything would be all better.
He didn’t suffer any bullying later either. People just felt bad for him.
Day Jobs for Clannish People
Then there was a Bedouin soldier there for forging doctor’s notes so he could stay home longer.
Another was there for something else and he eagerly explained to my son his parnasa, which consisted of stealing gasoline from gas stations up and down the country. He usually had a cousin/clan member working at those stations, and that was his connection to the gasoline.
My son isn’t easily shockable, but it floored him to hear someone his age talking about a gas-theft racket as if it’s a regular job. The Bedouin really didn’t seem to realize he was doing anything wrong.
They’re very loyal to their clans and that supersedes national loyalty or basic law—including the 7 Noachide Laws, apparently, which forbid stealing.
"Toto, I've a Feeling We're Not in Lakewood Anymore..." Meets "Big Brother is Watching."
That’s the place where dangerous or suicidal inmates are housed. It’s solitary confinement, more or less, with a toilet in the cell and everything nailed down, and little barred window way up near the ceiling.
Anyway, the regular inmates need to sit in that room because these people apparently need constant supervision, despite the fact that they are on camera all the time anyway.
In preparation, my son and the other temp-guards were taken to an orientation of what their duties were (“Don’t fall asleep”) and told a scary story of an inmate-guard who dozed off and the guy he was supposed to be guarding crept over and started strangling him, however—the orientation officer gestured to the video screens—these cells are being watched, so the staff noticed the strangulation-in-progress and were able to send forces to stop it in time.
And the message?: “Don’t fall asleep on guard duty. But if you do, we’ve got you covered.”
So the first night, it was really boring. The inmate just slept the whole time.
But the second night, my son was immediately approached by an anxious yeshivah bochur who didn’t understand what he was doing there. Seeing my son in a kippah and tzitzit, he poured out his heart.
What happened was this:
The boy was the child of American charedim who’d made aliyah. A couple of years before he turned 18, the family returned to Lakewood. But, being the idealistic young Yid he is, the boy wanted to go back to Eretz Yisrael & learn in yeshivah.
But he didn’t realize his name was entered into officialdom as a draft dodger, so they caught him at the airport, to his complete bewilderment.
But he needed to have a really good excuse why he could not enlist and stuff himself with American candy bars while watching American sitcom most of the day.
So a psychiatrist, in an effort help him out, decided to write down that he was suicidal (which he was not at all).
And instead of being placed in the regular section with the tents, he was placed in the locked-down section, where the guards have, what my son described as, “soulless eyes” and yell anything they have to say.
So my son reassured him that things weren’t as bad as they seemed, explained what was going on, and reassured him again that there were people working on his behalf to get him out and that he’d be out soon.
And he was.
The Most Effective Way to Get Jewish Boys to Learn & Daven with Cheshek
The prison shul is nicely designed and air-conditioned (which the tents are not).
There’s davening 3 times a day, plus wonderful shiurim. So whenever there is davening or a shiur, everyone goes to the shul (including the Muslim and Druze inmates).
My son enthused about the shiurim.
He also met a couple of rabbis from his high school yeshivah, who keep tabs on their former talmidim and make it a point to go visit them if they end up in Keleh 6.
Having been very fond of my son, they were thrilled to see him again and he got lots of hugs and kisses. He was also proud of them for delivering such enthralling shiurim.
Really, the best part of Keleh 6 is the plentiful davening & shiurim. It's very geshmak.
So I had this really good idea that maybe the IDF should make a night-sweep of the parks & other hang-outs frequented by at-risk youth and take them to Keleh 6 for six months where they could imbue a constant flow of davening and inspiring shiurim - tefillot & shiurim they would attend BY CHOICE!
Just think of what a life-changing influence that could be.
Anyway, his 12 days ended pretty quickly and he came up energized by the whole experience. You’d think he’d been playing Color War at Camp Simcha or something.
And he came home even more convinced than before that soldiers who aren’t willing to go to jail when faced with an order to expel Jews—those soldiers are spineless wimps.
“It’s not that bad,” he insisted. “I could’ve easily made it through 30 days there. It’s not that big deal.”
And there you go. The Keleh 6 Mesivta.
I also oppose the incitement by media and politicians, who rile up severely negative emotions & ideas that people wouldn't otherwise experience without the incitement.
I also feel that rather than chasing down yeshivah bochurim and recently graduated girls, the Israeli government should concentrate on real criminals (like the gasoline-racket guy in prison with my son). In fact, Bedouins live as their own state within a state, committing whatever crimes they want, including murder, with no repercussions (although there are, of course, decent & helpful Bedouin). Yet the government & mainstream media pillories charedim for living as a culture within a culture, even though charedim are not smuggling drugs or weapons, nor do they murder their members (like innocent young girls) due to primitive concepts of "honor." For some reason, learning Gemara in yeshivah is considered so much worse than all that by certain elements of Israeli society.
Most Jews in Eretz Yisrael are good. Those who aren't yet religious have tremendous potential to become sterling Jews. Yet much good is held back by those with warped priorities.
For more stand-alone posts in this series (for which I still haven't figured out a title), please see:
- Sharing What Burden Exactly? The Unspoken Elephant in the Room
- The Aspect of Israeli Mentality You Need to Know in Order to Understand the Issues
- What's Happening to the Zionist Dream?
- Have You Ever Wanted to Know What Basic Training is Like for Serious Delinquents & Teenage Ex-Cons? Here's Your Chance!