Lonely Man of Cake

June 4, 2007

Hesder Army News IV

Filed under: Army,Israel,Religion,Security — lonelymanofcake @ 10:00 am

Amir Peretz, in perhaps one of his final significant meetings as Defense Minister before either Ami Ayalon or Ehud Barak take over the Labor Party, has officially placed a moratorium on General Elazar Stern’s plans (previously discussed here) to prevent Hesder students from joining Golani and the Paratroops in the upcoming August draft.

It appears–assuming that the chain of command places the Defense Minister over the Chief of Staff–that the ultimate arrangements for the August draft will be to the satisfaction of the Hesder students.


May 16, 2007

Hesder Army News III

Filed under: Army,Israel,Judaism,Religion,Security — lonelymanofcake @ 11:46 am

IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has responded to the petition sent to him by Hesder students angered by a policy change which would prevent them from serving in the Golani brigade or Paratroops in homogeneous Hesder platoons.

It appears that the petition did the Hesderniks more harm than good.  Under the previous proposal, the students would at least have the option to serve in Golani and Paratroops, albeit in mixed platoons.  Ashkenazi took this one step further and decreed that this latter option would be unavailable as well and that Hesder students would under no circumstances be allowed to serve in Golani and Paratroops, not even in mixed platoons. According to Ashkenazi, the decision emanates from the popularity of the two latter brigades, the recent exponential growth of Hesder programs, and the army’s logistical need to fill the ranks of less popular units.


May 3, 2007

Hesder Army News II

Filed under: Army,Israel,Judaism,Orthodoxy — lonelymanofcake @ 1:52 pm

The story that I brought to you on Friday regarding the new limitations on Hesder army service has (finally) been picked up by Ynet.

Reader/Cousin Yaacov hit the nail on the head with his important clarifications, but there is apparently more to the story. Under a program spearheaded by General Elazar Stern, the army has been trying for some two years already to “integrate” Hesder students into “regular” platoons. Until then, Hesderniks, or in the army parlance, Beinishim, served in homogeneous platoons, composed only of other Hesderniks.

To eliminate any ambiguity, Hesderniks can still serve in Golani and the Paratroops, but by doing so, they relinquish their “right” to serve in a homogeneous Hesder platoon, and must serve in an integrated platoon. The reason for the singling out of Golani and Paratroops given by a senior army official in the Ynet article: as it is, motivation to serve in these two brigades is high, and there would be no problem filling the platoons. In other words, even Hesderniks want to serve in Golani and Paratroops so badly, that they would have no problem serving in an integrated platoon. Many Hesderniks think otherwise and have sent a petition with hundreds of signatures to Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.

The army’s motivation for ending a 30 year tradition of homogeneous Hesder platoons does seem a bit dubious. The commonly invoked rationalization that the army needs to be a melting pot and integrated experience holds true, from personal experience, even when Hesderniks have their own platoon.

A few years ago, I had occasion to sit down with General Stern and ask him a few questions about his planned changes to the Hesder system. Stern, though religious, did not go to Hesder and went through his army service as one of the few (if only) religious soldiers in his company. I think that this important biographical piece of information sheds light on where Stern is coming from. I asked him, from a logistical perspective, what happens when you scatter all of the religious soldiers among the three platoons that are in each company. Each platoon has a different time schedule. What happens if the religious soldiers from one platoon go the synagogue and start praying, and only 20 minutes later, the religious soldiers from another platoon are given time to pray? With a homogeneous platoon of Hesderniks, everyone prays together! Stern answered without flinching: They should pray outside of the synagogue.

I’m all for integration.  But there was nothing wrong with the status quo that warranted such drastic changes.

April 27, 2007

Hesder Army News

Filed under: Army,Israel,Religion,Security — lonelymanofcake @ 1:42 pm

UPDATE: Please see reader/cousin Yaacov’s important clarifications in the comments.

A Hesder Yeshiva sandwiches a shortened army service between two two-year periods of study. Until now, hesder students who qualified for combat service served in any of the infantry brigades of the IDF (e.g., Golani, Nahal, Givati, Kfir), with the final placement determined by some sort of rough rotation. Those who elected for a greater challenge were given the opportunity to try out for the Paratroops. And a handful of students (though I never met one in person) completed the so-called Hesder-Sayeret program, which combines extended service in one of the IDF’s elite reconnaissance with yeshiva study.

That’s all about to change. An e-mail was apparently sent out to students with an August 2007 draft date informing them that Golani will no longer be included in the infantry rotation, that they will be unable to serve in the Paratroops, and that the Hesder-Sayeret program has been terminated.

More information to follow.

But here’s an unrelated, and heartwarming, army story brought to you by NRG (Maariv):

Pictured above are 20 year-old twins Shuey and Aharon Osbourne, who serve together in Nahal Haredi (Netzah Yehuda, if you will). It appears that they are from London and decided to serve after beginning their university studies in business management. Kol haKavod, and stay safe!

March 5, 2007

Lebanon War Baby Boom

Filed under: Army,Israel — lonelymanofcake @ 8:26 pm

Israel’s wars have generally been followed by a significant increase in pregnancies, and the Second Lebanon War was apparently no exception. A researcher at Sheba Hospital pointed to a 35% increase in pregnancies since the war ended.

As noted in the article, the mothers all hope that in eighteen years, there will be no need for their children to serve in the army.

UPDATE:  The English-language press has picked up on the story, which was broadcast last night on Israel’s Channel 10.

March 1, 2007

Mutiny in Golani

Filed under: Army,Israel — lonelymanofcake @ 3:33 pm

Veteran soldiers of the storied Golani Infantry Brigade have staged a mutiny in protestation of the revocation of some of their “perks” as senior soldiers. (As far as I’m aware, this is an English language exclusive, so read up!)

Here’s some background:
Golani is one of five infantry brigades in the Israeli Defense Forces. At one point in time, the brigade was thought to have had a more “elite” status than the others. Although this has not been the case for some 30 years, Americans (for some reason) continue to perpetuate the status of the “legendary” brigade. Lately, Golani has been known for attracting soldiers who are, how shall I say this delicately, a little more rough around the edges. The brigade is renowned for it’s innovative methods of disciplining soldiers and still, reportedly, hazes soldiers with methods which were outlawed a number of years ago. For example, a friend of mine who served in Golani did not understand a word which his commander was saying; the word was כסדה (kasda) and it means “helmet” (not sure what the etymology is). As a punishment, he was forced to wear his helmet all day; in the mess hall, in the classroom, in the bathroom, etc.

After being in the army for about one year, combat soldiers move to “senior units” which are populated by soldiers in their second and third years of service. There are internal divisions within the senior units based on the date of discharge. The most senior of the soldiers do little, if any, guard duty; they certainly do not wash any dishes. They also get first crack at “choice” missions. The brunt of guard and kitchen duty falls on the “junior” soldiers. This is the case in every brigade. The situation for junior soldiers in Golani’s senior units is probably far worse.

A new battalion commander took over Golani’s 51st Battalion and decided to eradicate the perks of the senior soldiers. In response, tens of senior soldiers went AWOL from the base at which they were training.

My two cents: An army is not a democracy. In this respect, the “familial” nature of the IDF turns into a liability. Soldiers think that they have the discretion to decide whether or not they will carry out given tasks or whether they will obey certain orders. Thankfully, the IDF meted out appropriate punishments for soldiers who refused to obey orders during the disengagement. Otherwise, if every soldier does as he pleases, we would have a complete erosion of the chain-of-command and a mortal blow to the strength of the IDF.

UPDATE: Ynet reports that the mutiny involved approximately 100 soldiers and was caused by far more serious problems than senior soldiers not being allowed to sing in the mess hall.  The case has apparently been partly resolved by Golani’s brigade commander who has sympathized with many of the soldier’s complaints.

February 24, 2007

IDF Air-Taxi Service

Filed under: Army,Conservation,Israel,Politics,Security,Transportation — lonelymanofcake @ 10:29 pm

Israel’s Channel 2 has an excellent expose`/TV news-magazine program called ‘Fact‘ (עובדה/Uvda). This week featured a particularly unsettling segment on the frivolous use of Israeli Air Force helicopters by IDF generals and senior government officials for personal trips (including spouses) and distances easily traversed by car. IDF rules allow for the use of helicopters for officers from the rank of (Major)[1] General (swords and one falafel for those keeping track) and above for flights which would take longer than 20 minutes. But the coordinators who receive the orders for these flights and the pilots who carry them out felt that they needed to expose to the public the fact that their services are continuously exploited at the expense of Israel’s taxpayers and national security.

The video is in Hebrew only (some portions have Hebrew subtitles) and as with (too) many Israeli websites, can be viewed only in Internet Explorer.


[1]I put “Major” in parentheses because this specific rank in Hebrew is called Aluf (אלוף = General), whereas one rank higher, the rank possessed only by the Chief of Staff is called Rav Aluf (רב אלוף = Major General). I’m not sure why the IDF’s English translation of these ranks is not faithful to the Hebrew.

February 11, 2007

Religious IDF Officers

Filed under: Army,Israel — lonelymanofcake @ 8:27 am

Here is a fascinating, albeit concise, list of the ten most highly regarded religious officers in the IDF. Ma’ariv has run a series of articles in the past few days (like this one) on religious soldiers in the IDF. This is either apologetics or what looks like a sincere attempt to “check-up” on the religious sector in the IDF after what many expected would be a “breach of trust” between the religious community and the IDF in the aftermath of the Gaza disengagement.

(Pictured: Lt. Col. Mordechai Kahane, commander of Egoz and Golani recon units.)

February 9, 2007

Riots at Temple Mount

Filed under: Archaeology,Army,Israel,Religion,Temple Mount — lonelymanofcake @ 11:25 am

As expected, the afternoon prayers at Al-Aqsa were followed by rock throwing, which invited the response of the Israeli Police and the evacuation of the Western Wall.

The justification of the violent response nothwithstanding, I just wish the rioters knew that they were being lied to.

February 8, 2007

Army as Family

Filed under: Army,Israel — lonelymanofcake @ 10:44 am

The upper echelons of the military here like to emphasize that the IDF is a family-oriented army, what with weekly (or biweekly, or even daily) leave, families visiting their sons on the base over the weekend, and the notorious mothers who somehow attain the phone number of their son’s company commander and bug him with their perceived grievances.  (We had a mother who called our company commander to complain that on Fridays when we were given leave for the weekend, we weren’t given breakfast.  While not being fed is in contravention of IDF regulations, no soldier ever made a stink about it.  Until one Friday when we were ordered to approach a table set with food and eat something before boarding the buses out to Be’er Sheva.)

Amos Harel reports for Haaretz today that six (!) “settler families” have lived in an IDF camp in Hebron for over a decade.  Harel notes that it is a “company sized camp” and that while the settlers enter and exit the camp through the same gates as the soldiers, they are nonetheless physically separated from the soldiers in their dwellings by a “fence of corrugated metal.”

While Dror Etkes of Peace Now contends that this situation is indicative of the “growing distortion in the relations between the IDF and settlers,” so long as this arrangement has not been declared illegal, I am happy to see a situation where settlers and soldiers are able to coexist in Hebron in such close quarters.

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