The Israeli army 'Gap Yah'

By Paul Berger, August 12, 2010
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Jay Shultz (white trousers) being carried by recruits on a wilder-ness training course in the north of Israel

Jay Shultz (white trousers) being carried by recruits on a wilder-ness training course in the north of Israel

Gap year students usually spend their 12-month sabbatical between school and university helping the underprivileged or exploring the world. Most never consider another option - joining the IDF.

"The Israeli army has never recruited outside Israel," said Jay Shultz, co-founder of a new organisation, JoinTheIDF.com, which helps diaspora Jews join the Israeli army or the Israeli civil service for a fee of £1,800.

"Not since Begin and Ben-Gurion went around Europe and north America, to get young Jews to fight for the fledgling state, has anyone recruited for the Jewish army," claimed Mr Shultz.

The benefits of signing up, he said, were not limited to combat training and discipline. Recruits also forge a bond with Israel.

"Even if they decide not to stay in Israel afterwards," said Mr Shultz, "when they go back to campuses they will be warriors for Israel in terms of fighting for Israel's moral legitimacy."

US-born Mr Shultz, 33, moved to Tel Aviv from New York four years ago.

He launched JoinTheIDF.com because of what he perceives as a "waning Jewish identity" and "waning Jewish connection to Israel". The first group of 25 recruits recently completed a rigorous six-week training programme that included boot camp, ulpan, and lessons in Jewish history and Zionism. They were drafted into their army units a few weeks ago.

"Now they are the property of the Israeli army," said Mr Shultz.

Mr Shultz realises that joining the Israeli army carries more risks than the Peace Corps.

"If they die we will mourn them and our tears will be sincere," he said.

But he added: "Jews not connecting to the land of Israel at a young age poses a greater risk - assimilation."

    Last updated: 12:47pm, August 12 2010