September 21, 2009

Blue Dawn: Army Service Launches Careers for Haredi Israelis

Service in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is an asset for finding employment in Israel. It provides practical training and connections useful in finding a rewarding career, and for many potential employers it is reflective of the applicant's discipline, teamwork abilities and decision-making skills. Job applicants without army credentials may be refused employment, making deferral or exemption from army service a disadvantage for career life in Israel. While many Haredi men recognize army service as a gateway to career opportunities, they are discouraged by the IDF's secular environment and rigid requirements.

JDC's Blue Dawn program was created to allow Haredi men to benefit from the vocational training and job skill acquisition that, in addition to IDF service itself, can put them ahead in finding high-level employment. Blue Dawn units adhere to religious stringencies consistent with the participants' civilian lives, even providing time for daily Torah study. Since many of the men are married and have children, they are placed on bases close to home and offered more flexible hours.

Blue Dawn started in the Israel Air Force, where participants trained in areas such as aircraft mechanics and electronics or helicopter engine repair and maintenance. The program has now been expanded to other IDF divisions including software testing and computer programming for intelligence units, mechanical and electrical repairs aboard navy ships, and work in the IDF's Planning and Logistics Division. Upon completing their service, participants may continue their career development with JDC's support if needed. Some choose to remain in the IDF as a career.

Client Profile: Yochai
Before joining Blue Dawn, Yochai, 21, was learning Torah full-time in yeshiva. He was also considering his future. He knew that he would have to earn a living and could not stay in full-time study. But his lack of work experience and university credentials did not offer many options for gainful employment.

Yochai knew that the army could provide training to lead to a profession but he would not enlist as its conditions did not match those of his Haredi lifestyle.

Yochai's parents are ba'aley teshuvah, people who became orthodox after being raised in secular or less observant homes. As they had served in the army, their experience enabled Yochai to identify with army service. But the family's devotion to Haredi values made the army a line he would not cross.

When Yochai learned about Blue Dawn, and the IDF's readiness to create the conditions he needed – such as glatt kosher meals, gender separation and time for Torah study and prayer – he had a change of heart. He says that the army's willingness to invest in these terms made his service a reality.

Today Yochai is part of a team that conducts the front line quality control and repairs of the IDF's surveillance aircraft. In a short time, the team has mastered how to take apart and reassemble complicated aircraft systems. During Operation Cast Lead, Yochai was one of a group of Haredi air force soldiers who, as their officer says, "did not shut their eyes to sleep," putting in the many hours needed to keep surveillance planes operational.

Yochai is grateful to JDC for enabling him to serve in the IDF and begin a life of gainful employment.

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