The dark side of Israeli National Service(aka Sherut Leumi)
By Shanna Fuld, Founder & Head Anchor @ Israel Daily News Podcast
My most recent special report on the Israel Daily News Podcast is on a topic that seems completely harmless, but when you take a further look, you’ll learn that what goes on inside this world is actually despicable.
I’m diving into the dark side of Sherut Leumi — or in English — National Service. In 1953, five years after Israel was created, this volunteer program was officiated — allowing people in who wanted to serve Israel, but didn’t want to operate on the front lines in combat. In 1971 a wave of women began to sign up — many of whom were Orthodox. Today there are programs in place to bring foreigners who want to support Israel through both army service AND volunteer service. But those are separate programs and my investigation has found the financial packages distributed to these groups are completely and utterly unequal.
You may have heard of Lone Soldiers, they’re individuals who come to serve Israel without any family nearby to support them. That means no where to really call home — or get a free meal and place to relax. While there are a few non-profits that offer these (mostly) young women food and an extra hand managing life in a new country, the offering they get from the government and their respective supervisors is — well … let’s just cut to the numbers.
- Lone Soldiers get a monthly grant of 540 shekels to use as they choose. National Service members get 0.
- Lone soldiers get 3,000 shekels in salary while Lone National Service members get 860. That’s $882 versus $253.
- Lone soldiers get a 1500 shekel one-time financial assistance package. National Service members get 100. That’s less than 30 bucks!
I spoke with Ari Wruble, a Senior Advisor at the Michael Levin Base, which supports people who come as Lone Soldiers and Lone Service Members.
He said the top issue is recognition and appreciation for the national service girls. He says their housing is in terrible condition.
“They need to feel that their houses are homes. Not just 12 girls sitting in an apartment, using beds as couches, with doors unlocked. They can’t just be given a key and told to walk in and enjoy…There’s a lot of issues,” Wruble said.
We heard the disturbing testimonies to back this up, from girls who said their living conditions included nothing of what they were promised. No pots, pans, working ovens, or air conditioners. One said there was a crack in the wall above her bed that kept her cold at night.
“There was no air conditioning and some of the heat was torturous. There were girls who would sleep on the floor purely because it was too hot to sleep in their own beds. During winter it was freezing because there was no heating or air conditioning. The apartment frequently flooded up to our ankles. We tried and tried to get things fixed and it would take a long time. We wouldn’t get a response. And we would never stay in for Shabbos because…Who would want to? I think one of the hardest factors this year for Lone Banot Sherut (lone national service girls) was our experience with Corona. Because during Corona, both soldiers and Banot Sherut were forbidden to leave the country and then Banut Sherut especially were told that if you would leave then it would be counted as if you hadn’t worked anything and the days that you left will not be counted for. The difference was, though, that the soldiers were on base and were taken care of by their various host families. Whereas the Banot Sherut were left entirely in the dust,” Tehilla Katz, from South Africa.
Thursday, the day this audio report in the podcast was released, Wruble and his team met with the National Civil Service Authority to discuss better conditions and suggest a forum where issues could be discussed among organizations that are supposed to look after the girls. That idea was met warmly. I reached out to that government office asking how they respond to these standards of living issues among the other inequalities. They called back the following day and said due to the government not finalizing a national budget, programs across the country are at a standstill. When the budget is ready to pass, these items will be ready for review:
- Each girl to get an extra 540 shekel per month — to use as she likes.
- A forum will open to welcome everyone who deals with lone civil servants.
A quote from Yael Lanzkron, Chief of Staff to Dir. General at the National Civil Service Authority:
“All the issues concern us and we put in a lot of work to make it better. I personally admire any girl who comes on Aliyah and I think it’s something we need to be very grateful for and do everything we can to make it easier for them. That’s why we are helping every girl get here safe and sound. Any girl who feels she is not being treated right can always write to us, we have someone in charge of this. She can approach us, and we will check every letter that comes in.”
I’ll be following up on this report.