I’m not supposed to be here right now.

Right now, I’m supposed to be at Bakum, undergoing chiyul, swapping my threads for an entire new wardrobe in olive, getting shots, getting screamed at by the first of many mefakdim, and other such rites of passage, or, ahem, shifshuf, that I was perversely looking forward to.

But instead I’m here in that Jerusalem cave my slumlords have optimistically termed an “apartment”, with a bit of a head cold, freezing extremities, and a bad attitude. Why?

Well, let this be a cautionary tale. I know most of you boys and girls back there in the shackles of exile can’t walk five feet in Israel without expressing your desire to fuck an active member of the IDF, but be aware that, occasionally, the IDF may fuck you.

Take me, for example. I’m clever. I’m more or less in good shape. I have very straight teeth. I have, if I may be permitted to use one of those many Hebrew words lifted from our Slavic oppressors, a lot of motivatzia, and I am somewhat taken with this idea of a Jewish state. After all, I didn’t move here only for hummus, contrary to popular perception. If I do say so myself, I am an excellent candidate for IDF service. Which is why I, along with several dozen other young Jews from around the world, volunteered for this season’s draft in the IDF’s venerable Machal program.

This was a mistake.

From the very beginning, Machal has been unhelpful, unforthcoming with vital information, and entirely unwilling and/or unable to help its volunteers in any concrete way to establish themselves in Israel. That itself wasn’t an issue for me, since I was fairly well-established myself, so I didn’t begin to realize the depth of Machal’s inefficiencies until we got our call to report to Jerusalem’s Lishkat Giyus for medical, psychometric and Hebrew examinations – at 9:30 the night before. A whopping 10 and a half hours before our appointment time. People had to come to Jerusalem from places as far afield as Netanya and Eilat with no more warning than that. And not only that, but the entire process at the Lishkat Giyus was begun only a week before our theoretical draft date, which changed every couple of days. This is how I got screwed initially.

I breezed through the first parts of the process at the Lishkah, which was initially the most pleasant encounter with Israeli bureaucracy I’ve ever had, mostly because it contained a very favorable ratio of cute chayalot. And afforded an opportunity to snicker at a procession of nervously-peyot-twisting Charedi teenagers engaging in what may well have been their first extended conversation with a female non-family member in order to dodge army service. I got to take a somewhat amusingly worded English test to gauge mental health (“Have you ever felt in a gay mood for periods of several days or more?” and “Do you ever feel different from other people?”) and, as a Hebrew test, chat with a soldier and attempt to explain my appreciation for the oeuvre of Yehoram Gaon. Israelis, by the way, have no respect for their own popular culture.

Then it all went south at the medical. And I’m not talking about when the sullen-yet-abrasive Russian female doctor gave me boys a squeeze (although that was not a highlight). It turned out that I had a fast pulse. Whatever. They made me go back the next day. Still fast. And the next. Still fast. And the day after that. Still fast. At this point, I decided that it would probably behoove me to see a doctor to check out if there was a medical cause of the tachycardia (okay, full disclosure, Harry actually made me do it because I fear doctors), since the army certainly didn’t seem to care much, and since I have no insurance I had to pay for an EKG. I got one, and the very nice Arab doctor informed me that my heart is problem-free. Hooray. So I took the results of that 500-shekel EKG to the IDF, who informed me that I would be required to meet with their own, ON-SITE cardiologist, whose existence I was not informed of. He turned out to be a Wisconsin boy who concurred that there was nothing wrong with me. Finally, I thought, I would get my profile in time for the draft. But no. Now they wanted to check my eyes. So they did. And then insisted I go to an outside optometrist to get a further check. So I did (and the outside optometrist did it for free because I’m getting drafted – Optical Doron, people! Give them your love!) and was determined to be healthy about the eyes. So I went back to the IDF. And they decided that they needed to give me another eye exam from their (say it with me now) ON-SITE optometrist. Only they wouldn’t do it that day. And the draft was the next day. So because of the IDF’s inefficiency and feet-dragging, I was forced to miss the draft.

Which brings me to the story of some of my co-volunteers.

As the Jerusalem Post reported this morning, a large percentage of the Machal draftees were deferred because of “insufficient Hebrew skills.” When did they find about this deferral from the head of Machal? Just like they found out about their appointments at the Lishkat Giyus – late the night before. Now, I know several of these people personally, and some of them speak excellent Hebrew. There is more going on here than meets the eye. But unfortunately for them, Machal has apparently refused to exert any pressure on the army to draft them when it said it would.

The army, for its part, has denied that people were deferred for any reason other than poor Hebrew (bullshit) and further denies that the draft date has constantly been changed and revised and not a single volunteer knew exactly when he would be called up (horseshit). Meanwhile, a couple dozen volunteers who were supposed to be in the care of the IDF today are now in Israel unable to work, with no means of support and, in many cases, with no place to live, because of Machal and the IDF’s irresponsible treatment. The IDF has told them they’ll be called up in late December (without a definite date, of course) and forced to go to a two month army ulpan before getting drafted in March.

This is flagrant abuse. Machal volunteers are among Israel’s most committed soldiers – they would not have left behind their lives in America in order to serve in combat if they were not. Machal volunteers arguably deserve special treatment – but that’s not what we ask for. We ask only to be afforded the same rights as every Israeli soldier should be afforded – fair treatment at the hands of the army before being drafted, full knowledge of when we can expect to be drafted, and prompt information about things that may impede our service. We received none of these things. Instead, we attended meetings where the Machal head fleeced us, and by extension our parents, for donations (are our lives are not enough?), were consistently kept in the dark about the terms and details of our draft, and were left to establish lives in Israel on our own with minimal aid from Machal, only to receive, on the eve of our service, a nice big gob of spit in the eye.

Needless to say, if anyone considering Machal is reading this, I recommend one of two things: forget it, or make aliyah and serve in the army as an Israeli, not a volunteer.

And what about me? Because of the army’s utter inefficiency and refusal to step an inch out of their way to help my case (I would never have even gotten past the daily pulse checks if I hadn’t taken matters into my own hands and went to another clinic), they’re now insisting that I too need to report for duty in December and be forced into an army ulpan that I have no need or desire to attend. I was fully prepared to be drafted – my couch is covered in army supplies, olive and white shirts with my name written on them (like a twisted version of summer camp), boot insoles, boot polishing brush, a kisui diskit meshuftar that a friend gave me as a pre-service gift (thanks Ayelet!), and all kinds of odds and ends, that now I don’t know when I’ll even use. The Machal head called me and invited me to quit the draft, but I’m not interested in doing that – although apparently a large number of Machalniks already have due to the treatment they’ve received. Excellent hasbarah! I’ve called in some of my protektzia and have received a potential offer to serve on a missile boat in the Navy, and perhaps other offers, so we’ll see if I can figure something out and get into the army one way or another.

But as I said, not all of the now-jilted volunteers have the means to live here for another month or more as the army jerks them around (I know of people who are literally down to the money they have left in their wallets, and our visas don’t allow us to work), nor do they have any connections. So if you have the means and care about Israel’s army and about the wellbeing of Jews who came from all over the world to serve in it, please consider doing something to help these guys so that they can continue to live here and finally fulfill their dream of army service. Both Machal and the Jerusalem Post can probably get you into contact with them (I also might be able to in the case of a couple). And if you have any kind of sway at all in the army, make some noise. This is no way to treat committed Zionists who came here in order to risk their lives for the security of the country.

All we want to do is serve the country we love. Is that so much to ask?

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33 Comments

  • I think you can volunteer to the IDF without taking citizenship and without going to Machal.

    That is an incredible story and quite disturbing on many levels.

    You might do well to have your good friend, ck, circulate this post among serious military people, you know, like the ones with their names in the paper. Also consider going to the newspapers with this as well as to the relevant ministers (Defense and Absorption).

    In any case, I’m sorry to hear about this and hope you’ll get another chance if you want it.

  • I am very surprised to hear of this problema. When I served, they put me together w/ some non Machal guys. Maybe that is the problem. Machal may be like New Jersey the nations armpit.

    Just join the regular Tzahal.

    It’s not easy, don’t give up.

  • Really an astounding story. Your Hebrew is astounding, actually, although I can’t speak for your heart rate. If only I had any protektsia whatsoever…

    Since you really want to be there, serving, keep at it, no matter how much Israeli bureaucracy you encounter. And keep on writing all this stuff down, for pete’s sake.

  • Michael, sorry to hear about what happened.

    Somehow from your story and the article you linked to I got the impression that a decision was made (for whatever reason) to just cut down the number of people getting in with the Mahal program. At least that’s how it seemed to me.

    It was interesting to see that IDF also has those strange questions in their Voight-Kampff-for-humans test. We had things like “Have you ever been a goalkeeper? If you were a painter, would you paint flowers? Do you hate your mother?” etc. in our psycho-test.

  • “Do you hate your mother”
    – yeah, right, the nation that produced both Woody Allen and Neil Simon is REALLY gonna ask that one – like they’d have time to read the replies…

    Sounds like Machal is like Hesder was at its inception – an often-kicked-around stepchild in the army bureaucracy. Sorry to hear this story.

  • Michael, and everyone else – get over it. Not saying that this is cool, not saying that this is the way it should be. But, this is the way it is. It has nothing to do with Machal, and it has nothing to do with your blogginess. This is the army, and that’s how it works. Find a good book, or a library, and read. You get to put up with this for the next year and two months, oh, and for the next thirty years or so of reserve duty.

    Welcome to Tzahal!

  • “This is the army, and that’s how it works.”

    Uh, no. When I volunteered via the IDF (not Machal), I had a specific date that I knew well in advance. This is not the norm.

  • Michael,

    As disappointing as this is, maybe you should consider other ways to serve the Zionist Entity and the Jewish people. Like finishing school or something crazy like that, and getting your interdisciplinary doctorate. You can always go to the army later if you still want.

  • (And if I were you, which I kinda was back in 1999, I’d just join up regular. You’ll have a shortened service anyway, no? Mahal has been downhill since Harry’s day, and Aharon’s day, because…well, because Israelis can’t seem to understand why Americans would want to come serve in the IDF–so they don’t do much to fix it)

  • Ariel – since I arrived in Israel when I was 19, it seems that, according to the army’s regulations, I’d be required to do a full three years of service. I wouldn’t have minded doing that when I was 18, but the simple fact of the matter is that I don’t feel like I’m in a position right now at 21 to give up three years. Maybe it’s selfish, but I kind of want to do my service and get on with the rest of my life.

    DK – me attempting to get my doctorate would be a much surer path to destruction than serving in combat in the IDF. Believe me.

    Finnish – I think you’re right. The IDF has been tightening the age constraints on Machal for awhile as well. It may be that they’re simply just trying to phase it out.

  • Michael, I don’t think it’s going to be 3 years. It should be easy to check.

    Still, this is a very big commitment and you should make it in a way that isn’t influenced by what just happened with Machal.

  • Middle, the army doesn’t determine your service time from when you enlist, it generally does from the date of your arrival in the country, even as a non-citizen. Thus, let’s say for example, if an 18-year-old Birthright participant decided to stay in Israel and made only occasional short trips back home, but didn’t get citizenship until he was 21 or 22, he would be treated as if he had made aliyah at 18. And since Machal is technically the only way for non-Israelis to serve in the IDF, it makes everything a little complicated.

  • Hey Michael, keep an eye out for my sister, Eli, she is also Machal, and she’s also taking her fair share of tzahal’s standard operating procedure.

  • On the plus side, the more time you have before the army means the more great articles like this one we can potentially get out of you. What? Did I just say that out loud? 🙂

  • Hate to tell you Michael, but whoever said, “this is the army” is dead-on. “Rosh katan” is the best way to explain everything that goes on there, and it is just beyond comprehension. Many an aneurism has been caused by those of us trying to apply logic and reason to the way the army acts.

    What does work, however, is constant and fervent complaining and arguing. I don’t know if this will help you (as you’re not a citizen), but if you REEEEALY want to get yourself into this (you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into, really, but kol ha kavod), go to the Lishkat Giyus and don’t leave unless they put you in jail. That should do it.

  • Ah yes, sounds very familiar. I went into the army as an oleh chadash. My draft date was pushed back three times. I ended up joining a full year after I was initially supposed to go in.

    Sadly, that’s what bureaucracy is all about, especially in the army.

    Once I did go in, I found my service, which I complete tomorrow, to be an excellent experience. So, if you really want to serve, keep pushing. It’ll be worth it in the end.

  • Dear everyone, i too am in mahal and like michael, my draft date has been delayed for another month+. you know what im sick of hearing, this is the army,thats how it works, too bad. part of being an adult is taking responsibilities for your actions. it is absolutely unacceptable for the army to say too bad.

    michael – excellent writing

  • Hey Meier – unacceptable as it is, the army is *not* an ‘adult.’ Most of the people standing in your way are not adults. They just wanna go home at the end of the day, and couldn’t care less about much else. The girls in the lishkat giyus are more concerned about getting enough glitter to complete their diorama of them and their “BFF” circa 2001 (when they were like *thirteen,* mind you) and finding pictures of Corey Haim with his shirt off to put up (or whoever it is the girls are into these days).

    I know you’re ‘sick of hearing it.’ But the army has never, does not, and will not ever respond to anything other than TANTRUMS. Yes, that’s right, tantrums. While others are telling you ‘too bad,’ I’m saying if it matters so much to you, *kick* and *scream.* Call several times a day. Yell. Demand to speak to a superior. Yell. Call again. Yell. etc.

    Plus, a *month?* Come on, man, that’s not bad at all. And the ulpan will be an asset to you if that’s what they want you to do. If money is the issue, you can also throw that at them and demand they send you to an ARMY ulpan then. But, YOU DO NOT WANT THIS. Yes, you’ll live for free there, but Mikveh Alon (where they’d send you) is the worst place in the world, ever. So get by on the little you have until your draft; you’re far better off than in an army ulpan. Hey, if you or anyone else here needs any advice re: army, shoot me an e-mail and we can talk: pknegten2008_at_kellogg.northwestern.edu (just replace the _at_ with @)

  • Michael,

    I’m pretty much in the same situation as you…minus the Mahal thing. I’m going to Michve Alon in December for the Hebrew course too…

    Send me an email at: baum.andrew@gmail.com

    I’m sure we can swap tsavah horror stories.

  • I’m in a some what similar predicamint only its a little diffrent. I’m married with a kid and volunteered to the IDF’s Netzach Yehudah brigade as a combat soldier. its been 2 monthes since my profile and I have yet to hear back from them in regards to a yes or no this despite my daily phone calls. I’m married with a kid I need say a few weeks notice so i can get myself my wife and my daughter ready for my going in. Tommorow I up the antee by showing up at lishkat Giyus in person to push my case and if need be scream(I was a US Army MP it was a requierment of the job)anyone with advice can e-mail me at daneilhamelech84@aol.com
    Dan

  • I too went in Machal and they suck. This whole country is riddled with incompetence and lies and Machal is a perfect picture. Down with machal.

  • Unfortunately, a lot of this is really just how Israeli/IDF bureaucracy works. To future machalniks – If you keep on top of everything with lots of time to spare you should be fine. I had problems getting my final enlistment notice which worked out with persistence, and I know of people who were labeled with “unsufficient Hebrew” but with persistence were eventually let in the draft. Maybe it’s better now a few years later.

  • I think that you have to act like the fanatic you claim to be if you want good treatment. I whined too much and didn’t understand. It was my mistake. I hear a lot shame from my family hear about it. Remember, if you want to do something crazy, do it like you are crazy.

  • I think that you have to act like the fanatic you claim to be if you want good treatment. I whined too much and didn’t understand. It was my mistake. I hear a lot shame from my family here about it. Remember that if you want to do something crazy, do it like you are crazy and maybe nobody will notice your opinion.

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