|Rabbi Tzvi Klebanow, CEO of Nahal Haredi, is on the right|
I learned a lot over the Shabbos I just spent with the CEO of Amutat Netzach Yehuda, known colloquially as Nachal Chareidi, Rabbi Tzvi Klebanow. I also got to have, as a Shabbos seuda guest, one of the current chayalim in Netzach Yehuda, Nesanel Silverman, a bearded bochur from Brooklyn who joined Nachal Chareidi as a volunteer from America but has since made aliya. Here are a few of the things I learned about Nachal Chareidi:
- Nachal Chareidi was started in 1999 primarily through the initiative of a rebbe in yeshiva ketana, Rabbi Yitzchak Bar Chaim, who found that there was, at that time, no productive, satisfying life-path for the many bochurim who were not destined to learn full-time in kollel for decades.
- One of the most important forces in the IDF helping Rabbi Bar Chaim and others set up a kosher environment in the army for chareidi boys was and is retired General Yehuda Dubduvani, who described his mission in life, after helping found Nachal Chareidi, as working to "mend the tear in the Jewish nation."
- There are now about 1,400 boys in Nachal Chareidi, which is a three year program. The first two years involve training and combat and the third year is a program to allow boys to either prepare for their high school equivalency exam (bagrut) or study a profession.
- Nachal Chareidi is a real combat unit. They have primary responsibility for two major Arab population centers, Jenin and Tul Karem, and the surrounding towns.
- One of the battalion's major functions is that when the Shin Bet provides them with detailed intelligence, they go into Arab cities and towns to extract specific individuals in the middle of the night, with the unit making approximately 2-3 arrests per night. They avoid doing this on Shabbos whenever practical.
- The organization, Amutat Netzach Yehuda, provides approximately 14 rabbanim who constantly travel wherever members of the battalion are at any given time. They give shiurim, chizuk, and guidance on a constant basis. They also help the chayalim with any personal issues that come up, including working with families that may not appreciate their decision to join the IDF. The organization also provides other services, including housing for boys that can't return home for whatever reason, for Shabbos, and a keren chassanim, among other services.
- The Amuta also acts as a watchdog, ensuring that the army fulfills all of its promises in terms of religious accommodations. Some of these are mehadrin kashrus, separation from women in all aspects of the program (even though 95% of the IDF instructors are women), and times for davening every day. The organization puts the "haredi" in "Nahal Haredi."
- One cute story is how, about 1.5 years ago, the battalion was participating in a major maneuver lasting the entire night. The maneuver involved several other battalions as well (which are not chareidi). At about 4:30 in the morning, one of the commanders asked Nesanel, one of the Nachal Chareidi chayalim (who told us the story), what time sof zman krias Shma was. The commander wanted to know whether there would be time to do the next portion of the maneuver (which included mostly non-chareidi battalions) before sof zman krias Shma, or whether they should do it after davening!
- To understand more about how effectively the unit accommodates the chareidi chayalim religiously, see Akiva's post on the topic, which he wrote when his son was about 2.5 years into the 3 year program. It sounds like it's pretty good but not perfect. He wrote: "armies...excel at killing people and breaking things – that is, after all, their primary purpose. At everything else they do it just barely well enough not to be totally messed up and completely dysfunctional. Barely."
- Because I think this is something that people really want to know, I asked Rabbi Klebanow and Nesanel how many bochurim grow religiously, stay the same, or go down religiously; comparing how they came into the program and how they left three years later. Nesanel felt that 90% of the guys were stronger religiously when they left compared to when they came in, though many (just like outside the army) had ups and downs in the middle. Rabbi Klebanow felt that Nesanel's number was accurate among guys whose parents started off supportive of them, or became supportive at some point in the process.
I'm excited about this program because it's one way, among many relatively new efforts, to get away from the unnatural policy of offering all boys exactly one choice about how they live their lives: long-term, full-time kollel learning. And if they're meant to do something else, for whatever reason, such a policy breaks people and is not the ratzon Hashem. One of those efforts is the relatively new Lomda Institute in Yerushalayim for vocational training founded by Rivka and Yaakov Yerusalvsky (pictured on the right). Another is the Chareidi campus at the Ono Academy, also in Yerushalayim. There is also the Shahar program, allowing chareidim to learn a profession as part of the Israeli Air Force. And there are many others which are beginning to give people the options they need.
Hatzlacha raba to Rabbi Klebanow and the army's efforts at recruitment to the Nachal Chareidi program! May many more people join so that our people can avoid the inevitable conflict and toxic language that will inevitably result when the army attempts to draft people by force if the chareidi recruiting goals are not met! And may the program continue to benefit of the guys and may they grow in midos and ruchnius there, as this will ultimately strengthen them in Torah as well!
Update 5/14/14: The below video in English, featuring information on Nachal Chareidi and an interview with R. Kelbanow was just put online today. Enjoy!