by Maayana Miskin
Since opening a program for conversion into Judaism, the IDF has become a center of Jewish learning, with thousands of soldiers who are not Jewish according to Jewish law taking part in courses on Judaism and roughly 800 per year choosing to undergo conversion.
In total, 17,000 non-Jewish soldiers have learned about Judaism in the army’s Nativ program, and almost 5,000 of them have converted to Judaism. Most Nativ participants have a Jewish parent or grandparent, but are not Jewish according to halacha (Jewish law), which states that Jewish status is passed through the mother.
Two-thirds of the soldiers who convert through Nativ are women, meaning that their children will be considered halachically Jewish.
The data on immigrant soldiers and conversions was revealed Wednesday in a meeting of the Immigration and Absorption Committee. MKs discussed the role immigrant soldiers play in the army, and ways in which the IDF can ease the immigrant absorption experience.
One out of five IDF soldiers was not born in Israel, according to IDF data. In 2010, 40,000 soldiers were immigrants. Sixty-five percent of immigrant soldiers were born in the former Soviet Union, and 12.5% were born in Ethiopia.
Lieutenant-Colonel Carmit Naftali discussed the Amir program for soldiers from Ethiopia, which has roughly 700 participants each year. For the first seven weeks of their service, soldiers in the Amir program are trained separately and prepared for service in elite positions. During the last three months of service, the program helps soldiers prepare for higher education or professional training.
Of the immigrant soldiers, 2,100 were “lone soldiers,” who do not have parents living in Israel. Advisor Tzvi Oud said he believes there are actually 3,000 lone soldiers, more than are listed as such in IDF databases.
The IDF could benefit more from the lone soldiers by making sure that immigrants are put in positions that reflect their talents, Oud said. Currently, he said, soldiers who arrive in Israel after undergoing academic training elsewhere may be assigned to a position in which their previous training is not put to use.
Sam Kadosh, who works with French-speaking Israeli students, suggested that the army work more closely with the leaders of immigrant organizations. By doing so, he said, the IDF could reach out to young men who are considering aliyah (immigration) but are unsure about whether or not to serve in the military.