Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Women in the army and other quirks

If you have never visited Israel can hardly imagine the magnitude of cultural variety, which is a true phenomenon in such a small country. Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardi Jews; Jews from Russia, Morocco, Yemen, India, Ethiopia and Australia; observant Jews and secular Jews; Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. A multitude of languages, dress codes, skin colors.

In my opinion, one of the biggest contradictions in Israeli society is that on the one hand, it's largely based on Jewish traditions - Jewish calendar, Jewish holidays, and of course everything about tradition that cannot exist without the structure of a Jewish family; on the other hand, many founders of Israel were zealous Marxists, who were against their own heritage and wanted a country for Jews that wouldn't actually be Jewish - simply based on ethnic and cultural reasons and as a refuge from antisemitism.

Which of course, as plain common sense will tell, can never work. If a Jew isn't Jewish, nothing ties him to Israel. There's of course historical and cultural significance, but it isn't enough. A Jew who doesn't believe this land was given to our father Abraham by God Almighty Himself, has no reason to stand firm. He has nothing to prevent him from assimilating, conforming, and melting away into other nations.

So, as religious Jews flowed to Israel and founded traditional communities and Torah schools, secularized Jews did their best to build a social model based on Marxism and communism - the kibbutz, with it's "everything for everyone" ideology. The kibbutz, where children didn't live with their parents, but instead were sent to a "children's house", where they slept and spent most of their free time, and only saw their parents on "visiting hours". Gender neutrality was hammered into children's heads, and many were traumatized from lack of seeing a traditional family unit as they were growing up. The kibbutz, as a social movement, has failed, just as the unnatural and forced social structure of communism failed after doing grave damage to Russia and every other country which was touched by it.

Nevertheless, Israeli society remains heavily institutionalized, and I'm convinced this is due to traces of Marxists who founded this country. For example, homeschooling is practically unheard of in Israel. Only not long ago, a small homeschooling community arose, formed mainly by parents who came from countries where homeschooling is common. They made the first pioneer steps, and now finally more parents are starting to see it as an acceptable option for their children. Still, it looks far, far, far more radical here than in certain areas of the US.

Also, staying at home with your children looks very socially unacceptable in Israel, and maternity leave is only 3 months. 3 months! The problem is exacerbated by the fact that in more traditional sectors of society, where women have many children and you'd think it would be more natural for them to stay home, a certain social trend developed in the past few decades - women supporting their husbands while they study Torah full-time. Throw in religious feminism, and you'll get a very glum picture of how family is pulled apart.

I must also mention the compulsory service of women in the army (2 full years), something unheard of in any civilized country. I won't buy into stories about how recruiting women is necessary for Israel's survival. It's typical communist brainwashing based on egalitarianism. Nations throughout history faced difficult situations, and whenever a bit of dignity still remained, women stayed behind. Fathers wouldn't send their young daughters away from home so they could be taught to crawl in the mud and use weapons, and have every bit of feminine gentleness extracted from them. It's true that women can be released from army quite easily for religious reasons - observant Jewish women generally don't serve, and neither do Muslims or Christian Arabs. But the default assumption is that an 18-year-old girl will go to the army, and I find this deeply wrong.

I don't think it's wise, prudent, or even beneficial in any way, for anyone, that an 18-year-old girl is taken away from her parents' home and into military training. Even if she is home every day, like at a normal job, the atmosphere usually doesn't support moral or religious values. I do have friends who served in the army and "escaped unscathed", but the risk is too high for a young girl, in my opinion.

Men have to carefully guard their purity standards in the army as well. From my husband's testimony, he often had to face temptation himself. Before going to the army, he studied in a yeshiva (men only, naturally) for 5 years, and before that he was in a school for boys only as well. Then he suddenly found himself locked in an office for the entire day, with young women dressed rather provocatively (many alter their uniform pants so that they sit lower, are tighter, and bring off their, hm, features). He told me there were a couple of girls who said hello by kissing on the cheek, and he was absolutely appalled when one of them did just that to him - simply approached and kissed him (at that time he wouldn't even think of touching a woman's little finger prior to being married to her). Overall, I think the excessive closeness between men and women in the army creates dangerous tension.

In the midst of it all, there are women who are simply trying to build a sweet, calm, peaceful, productive, traditional home life for their families. Women who are dedicated to their husbands and children, women who love to be feminine and gentle. I am blessed to know some of them, and can happily say there is still hope.


Anonymous said...

Women in the army is a controversial issue in Israel. I think it's good to encourage 'giving to your country', but agree that the army framework is problematic. BTW, your readers may not know that religious women have the option of serving a year or two in National Service instead, which means volunteering in a hospital or school or the like. One can even live at home during this time (although many girls are eager to taste a bit of independence and opt to serve in distant areas).

I think the examples you give about your husband's army life illustrate a clash of cultures more than anything. He would experience the same thing if he worked in any office environment with women around. Israelis tend to be very warm and hands-on, and kisses as casual greetings (one on each cheek) is often the norm, whether between woman to woman, woman to man, or even man to man.

For yeshiva boys who have been raised not to look at a woman that's not immediate family, that must be a shocker. But for the girl who kisses, it could just be her natural hello. You'd be surprised at how much ignorance there is about how to act around religious men.

Since we don't live in a vacuum, I think that kind of meeting is actually a good opportunity to learn about the other and draw one's own boundaries.

Anonymous said...

Your observations about stay at home mothers in Israel are correct. It's really not common.

The attitude towards them depends on location. In the developing, poorer cities, people look at a woman who stays home with pity. They usually think it's because she couldn't get a good job, she's uneducated, unsuccessful, etc. Believe me, I know, I lived there for more than a decade. These are usually very traditional societies, but because of the struggling economic scene there, women are expected to lend a hand working. Those who stay home are often living below the poverty line.

On the other hand, in an upscale Israeli city like Ra'anana, where anglo and French immigrants abound, staying at home is considered a luxury for the most successful families. It's still not common, but this time, it's something the other moms envy. The mothers who stay at home are usually university educated, very well-off, and have cleaning and babysitting help. You can see them drinking coffee at the cafes every morning. They're superinvolved in the schools, volunteering, etc. I know, I lived there several years too.

The good thing in Israel is that women are usually not expected to work full-time. There are more options for part-time work than in the States.

Just out of curiousity....if you have boys, Anna, how will you homeschool them? As an Orthodox Jew, I assume you want them to be steeped in Torah and Talmud from a young age. How can you provide that at home? Especially as traditional Jewish study emphasizes the chavruta, studying in a group, learning from one another.

Sarah R said...

Having never lived in Israel or even visited (but I want to visit!) I didn't know women were required to serve in the Army. I find that shocking.
However, regarding that kiss, I live in Florida where there are lots of Hispanics, and they are kissers! One of my husband's coworkers is of Puerto Rican descent, and they came over for dinner once. Right in front of my children, this man grabbed me by the shoulders, and kissed both my cheeks as a greeting. He was shocked when my little boy decided to smack him on the leg (my son was 6, it was all he could reach, haha!) and say, "You're not allowed to kiss my Mommy!" My little son was horrified that a man other than Daddy had even laid a hand on me.

D'Rae said...

Wow, 3 months off for Maternity leave! That is almost unheard of here in the states. Most companies will only give you 6 weeks off. Maybe 8 if it was a c-section.

Suzanne said...

I, too, had to laugh about the 3 months of maternity leave. Like the previous poster, I don't know anyone here in the States who was allowed more than 8 weeks and only that for a c-section. And if it's a small company, you may get less than 6 weeks. I have two friends who only got 3 weeks. It's terrible. (One has since quit her job to stay home, thankfully.)

Don't be discouraged about home education not being popular. When I first heard of home education, about 15 years ago, it was considered crazy here. Now it's very accepted. So things can change! By the time you are officially schooling your children, it may be very accepted.

Sheri said...

Anna, I am so excited that I finally am able to read a bit of your blog again... we are getting settled in our new home on a military base near Washington D.C... And from a US Military wife, I totally agree that I don't find any reason why a young woman should need to serve in the Armed forces. I know I'm in the minority on this one, but other than possibly a nurse at a military hospital, all I see is the military taking away any desire to be feminine, as well as causing marriages to fall apart and infidelity to run rampant. It's a huge problem here in the states too.

Be blessed my dear friend and keep sharing your heart!

Anna said...

Yeah, in the US maternity leave is almost nil. Women are given about 6 weeks, and then they have to pack the kid off to daycare, and start pumping breast milk, if they breast feed at all. I don't think there's really been a "feminist" movement at all. Women in the workplace are simply treated like men. I'm surprised more women don't find this degrading.

Julia said...

Very interesting post, Anna.

I'm curious about the compulsory military service. This is how I'm picturing it. Tell me if I'm wrong. First you would graduate high school around age 18. Then you spend 2 years in the military, and after that you can go to college if you choose. Is that how it works?

In the US you have to pay for your own college education. There are opportunities to earn scholarships, grants, and loans to help you out, but overall it's up to you. How does paying for college work in Israel?

andrea said...

I'm engaged to a man in the Navy. Some of the women he comes in contact with at his job always seem to have relationship problems and other issues. I agree that it is not a good place for a woman, unless you are doing a supportive role, such as nursing. There is nothing weak about being feminine, you do not have to do everything a man does to be strong!

Canadian said...

Did you have to do military service? I guess not, or you would have mentioned it.

Kissing can be a cultural thing rather than having any romantic or sexual meaning. Someone above mentioned Hispanics. It is also standard with French Canadians. (One kiss on each cheek.) My in laws do it. They don't mean anything by it other than friendliness. It makes me uncomfortable because it is not my cultural background, but I am not offended by it.

Anonymous said...

For the poster who asked: men and women in Israel serve in the army straight out of high school, women for 2 yrs, men for 2.5-3 yrs. All women undergo a few months of combat training but ultimately most serve as clerks or teachers in the military.
A woman who marries or becomes pregnant is automatically released from the army (unless she has an abortion, G-d forbid).
Serving in the army or doing National Service does give a few perks in terms of tuition grants for future studies. In general, though, Israel is a semi-socialist country and our universities are partially subsidized by the gov't (as is health care, btw; it's practically free for all).
Socialism is a very diluted form of Marxism, so some good things did come out of it (although I realize your readership won't agree)....

Anonymous said...

It usually is a big shock when people move to the South in America. It sure was for me! I was raised in CA although my family was southern and were touchy-feely within the family, I wasn't used to people I barely knew coming up and touching me or asking for some "sugar!" When I first started working down here, everyone would give me hugs, back rubs and pats, and the older ladies would give me kisses on the check. I've come to get used to it although at first I thought everyone was sexually-harassing me. I've also become more accepted down here because I was first viewed as cold because I wasn't touchy-feely.

When I was in Ghana, I came upon a French man who asked me if I could give him a kiss on the cheek since it was his birthday and his daughter wasn't there with him. I was like "sure" and I actually didn't feel disgusted or anything because I knew it wasn't anything sexual.

It's sad about forcing women to serve in the military in Israel but am glad it doesn't happen here (although I'm sure feminists would praise the day that women be forced to as being a great moment for women's rights). I don't agree with women being in the military although at one desperate moment I considered joining the AF as an officer. I know a woman who had joined and when she was going to be sent to Iraq, got pregnant so she wouldn't have to but they only waited until she gave birth and guess what? She now is going to Iraq and leaving behind a baby, a toddler, and another child (and her husband is also in the military). Women in the U.S. military are also not able to have custody of their children (neither are men but usually the kids' mothers are taking care of them anyways) and it is hard for the single mothers in the military (although I don't know why they would join it in the first place in this case but they do). Also treatment of women in the Navy (especially the Navy), the Marines, and the Army is awful in the first place. The AF is the 'nicest' towards women.

Bethany Hudson said...

As other posters mentioned, maternity leave in America is even shorter--about 6 weeks--than in Israel. However, thankfully, at this point we have an all volunteer army in the USA, and most of those volunteers are men. I agree with your assessment of women in the military, and I am very concerned that one of our presidential candidates for the upcoming election this fall is touting the idea of having 18-year-old girls register for the "draft", should one ever be reinstated, along with their male counterparts. I shudder to think that this would be required of my daughter!

Nea said...

Our maternity leave in Finland is 9 months, and women are not required to serve in the Army (but they can if they want to), but we do have some same problems. I think they have their roots in communism, too, eventhough Finland has never even been a communistic country it self. The influence of Russia has just been quite strong in the history.

In our society it's the norm, that women goes to work. Children are put to daycare (in here children start school at the age of 7). And homescooling... I guess there might be some families who do that, but I've never met one!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the history lesson! Its amazing to learn about this wonderful country. I too don't agree with women in the military, however, my husband is a cop in the military and they NEED women there to do certain jobs. When they have to respond to domestic disputes, they need a woman there especially if there was abuse involved. Responding to a rape call? They need a woman. Also, they need women to "frisk" women suspected of having a weapon. Just like we need women cops in the civillian world. Its not a job that I could do, but I do thank God that there are women out there that are called to do these jobs of service.

Mrs. Amy Brigham said...

Thank you for sharing this interesting post, Anna. I have always wondered what your feelings were on this subject.

I find mandatory military service for woman to be deplorable, but from my experiences with the US Army, I also do see a time and place for women to serve, though not mothers who are leaving small children behind.

Many people will say women ought to serve as nurses and while I do agree this can be an excellent place for women, I also feel it very important that women be in the field for cultural sensitivity reasons. I will not get into my feelings about the US being in Iraq as that is not appropriate or on topic, but with this being the reality, we do need to be sensitive to the modesty of Muslim women in Iraq and Afghanistan. While men approaching & speaking with stranger women in the United States may be the norm, from what I understand from Muslims I have known, this is not normal in the Middle East. The frankness between the sexes here in the United States often takes me aback, so I can only imagine how a religious woman in the Middle East might feel from this unfortunate attitude being imported to her nation. Female troops ought to be the ones providing medical care and speaking with women, just as female police officers are necessary for basic compassion and modesty for female victims of some of the most troubling crimes.

Kelly said...

Thanks for this post I knew very little of this, very educational.

Anonymous said...

I see some references above to maternity leave in the U.S. being 6weeks. Federal law actually mandates that employers with 50 employees or more provide 12 weeks leave upon the birth or adoption of a child. This law is not maternity leave. It is PARENTAL leave, available to both mothers and fathers. To provide leave to mothers and not fathers (except for leave required by the biological necessity of pregnancy and childbirth, which applies only to women) would be unlawful sex discrimination. Unfortunately, a lot of states (who have laws covering leave that must provided by smaller employers) and a lot of employers haven't caught onto this yet, so many employers and at least one state still talk about "maternity leave." The Family and Medical Leave Act was passed in large part to combat the assumption that it is always the woman who needs leave to care for young children and family members; it is deliberately gender neutral.

I agree that 12 weeks is awfully short. It is also unpaid, unless the employer opts otherwise. I don't know what the solution is. Do we want to force employers to provide longer leave? The U.S. is a captitalist country after all. On the other hand, I know a number of new parents who have managed to come back to work fairly comfortably after 3 months of leave. I also think the culture is shifting so that employers and co-workers are becoming more tolerant of workers' childcare needs.


Anonymous said...

Israel is a very pro-mother coutry compared to others, including the states (due both to culture and feminist efforts).

Our 3 month maternity leave is fully paid (I note an above poster said in the states it isn't). Plus a woman in most jobs has the option to extend it to one year (the extra 9 months is unpaid). BTW, legally the father can take the last month and a half as paternity leave instead of the mother, but most don't.

A female teacher who has children under the age of 14 gets 10% extra wages, to allow her to work less hours. A female teacher with a child under the age of one or two (don't remember) has the right to arrange her schedule with a 'nursing break' in the middle of the day to allow her to accomodate her baby. A female nurse with kids can legally start her morning shift one hour later in order to get her kids off to school (this does not affect her salary).

It is illegal to fire a pregnant woman, ever.

Women nurse babies freely everywhere; in the mall, at the cafe, at IKEA, anywhere there's a nice spot to sit. As long as a mother is discreet about it and uses a blanket, no one bats an eyelid. I understand in the States it's looked upon very negatively, and mothers feel compelled to nurse in restrooms.

Motherhood is revered and encouraged. IVF is free for married couples (I think up until 4 kids).

Even with mandatory female service, the army is pro-mother. The moment a woman gets a positive on her pregnancy test, she is released from duty forever. Likewise if she registers to get married. There are no situations like in the US (tragedies, if you ask me) where women are forced to serve in far off lands and abandon their kids.

The situation is far from perfect in Israel, but I just wanted to provide another perspective, and show that the overall atmosphere here is not anti-mother.

Terry said...

I always learn something new over here, Anna! I had no idea that young Israeli women are compelled to military service. I never would have thought it so.

a woman found said...

That's a very interesting post. Just shows me I know very little about life outside my own country. Sounds like you are living like a "pioneer" amongst your fellow countrymen (and women). I think though that these issues increasingly put God created womanhood on the cutting edge of living in any modern country. Whether it be the U.S. or the U.K. or Israel...wherever materialism reigns as the definition of wealth and success a woman who desires peace and love in her home, simple living and the building up of relationships and obeying God is really a woman that stands out from the masses!

Your post gives me much to pray about concerning Israel,


Anonymous said...

This was so informative, Anna....thank you. I like when you post here & there about life in Israel.


Anonymous said...

I believe I did receive 12 weeks maternity leave when I had my daughter, she's almost 12 now so please excuse the fact that I can't recall 100%:)

But I remember hearing of people who'd only received 3 weeks and couldn't believe it. I did go back to work right away in the end went back to school to finish my bachelors and it was so hard just doing that let alone working.

I'm surprise to hear this about Israel. It's funny how you can create a culture in your brain based on the fact of never actually being there. I assumed that homeschooling would be more common and accepted in Israel than here in the US.

MarkyMark said...


When you mentioned women in the army, I HAD to weigh in on this! I served in the US Navy before they allowed women on combat vessels (destroyers, cruisers, et al), but women WERE serving on auxiliary ships (tenders, ammo ships). I can offer the UNTOLD STORY on this...

I was a sonar operator, so I didn't serve on tenders or anything; my stint in the Navy was spent on two destroyers. That said, I spoke to guys who served on tenders, and I heard the stories that, shall we say didn't make the news.

Though I am opposed to women serving in the armed forces for many reasons (including moral & religious), the main reason I oppose this revolves around practical concerns. When you mix young men & women together, and their hormones are going hotter than steam in a boiler room @ full tilt, their focus will NOT be on the mission! If a young person is thinking about getting with someone of the opposite sex, their focus is off the MISSION. Since the military mission involves national security, the mission must be PARAMOUNT; everything else must take a back seat to the mission. The nature of the Army demands that.

Secondly, when you mix men & women together, unit morale is compromised. If you have men & women interacting in a typical manner, then you're going to have friction in the ranks. Remember what school was like with relationship drama? Well, this would be a lot worse in the military, because you cannot leave @ 5:00 PM; you and your mates work together, fight together, eat together, shower together, and sleep together. Do I really have to point out how your typical relationship drama can tear apart the unit? In the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines, unit cohesion is EVERYTHING-everything! Without it, the unit is toast.

Unfortunately, the Marxists who push for a coed military have NEVER SERVED, so they do not know the unique nature of the armed forces. The armed forces are NOT another social program; they are not a social engineering laboratory! The armed forces exist to protect one's nation; they exist to fight those who do not respect your nationhood, its territory, its people, or its resources-that's it!

When I spoke to guys serving on tenders (which were coed 25 years ago), they told HORROR STORIES of women getting pregnant to evade deployments; of love triangles that tore apart multiple units; I heard LOTS of things that the PC media wouldn't DARE to report!

I have no problem with women helping out behind the scenes; I have no problem with them taking support roles. When I was based at Pearl Harbor, the chief in charge of the electric motor repair shop went out of his way to recruit women. Why? Not to be PC or anything, but simply because women, with their smaller, softer, more delicate hands, were better at rebuilding the electric motors every ship has. In such a capacity, women are well out of harm's way, yet they're helping men take the fight to the bad guys.

I had more I wanted to say, but I'm running out of time to say it; that, and the words aren't coming. So, I'll close this out for now. I might come back & comment more on this issue; I might not. In any case, women shouldn't serve in the armed forces since their presence, since their presence: 1) distracts ALL CONCERNED from the mission; and 2) negatively impact unit morale & cohesion. When you put young people together in school, the drama there is bad enough; then, throw in the stresses & demands of military life on TOP of all that, and you have a recipe for disaster. Those are my thoughts.


Jeannine said...

Fortunately army service is not mandatory for women in Germany. Until a few years ago women were not allowed to serve in the armed forces (except as nurses). Then a young woman went to court for her right to serve and won...

Btw maternity leave here is up to a year and during that time the State pays the mother a certain amount relative to the income she had while working.

Thursday's Child said...

I agree with you on forcing women to serve in the military. I also don't agree with forcing men either. When it's left up to people to join up, men or women, you only have people there who want to be there (unless they joined for the wrong reasons and then that's their problem).

But it would always be to everyone's benefit to teach/expect a certain level of professionalism on everyone's part.

ruizbe82 said...

If a Jew isn't Jewish, nothing ties him to Israel... A Jew who doesn't believe this land was given to our father Abraham by God Almighty Himself, has no reason to stand firm. He has nothing to prevent him from assimilating, conforming, and melting away into other nations.

You know, there are some Christians who (although not Jewish) would be willing to stand up for Israel regardless of the consequences and not just because they could be cursed [Genesis 12:3], but also because they believe it's a prophesy come true, a God-given promise, the Jews are the rightful owners, and why should anyone stand in the way (as if anyone could!) of the Lord's plans? In fact, I know of a few who are moving to Israel for that very reason.

I'm sorry, was that sort-of off topic? I'll get back on track. I think it's a scary thing to think any government could force a woman to join the military like that! What has this world come to? And then we wonder why there are so many broken military relationships/people. I'm glad they let mothers out permanently, though. I wish *this* country wasn't so backward in that sense.

Mrs. McG said...

I served in the USMC for 20+ years. We received 6 weeks only for maternity leave (including c-sections). Women are not allowed (anymore) to get out because they get pregnant/have children.
Also, regardless of your culture, military discipline requires you to keep your hands (and lips) to yourself.

goatbasher said...

Brilliant! Abosolutely brilliant!

My husband and I are approaching our first anniversary and although we do not yet have children we have talked about education. We both went to poor public schools. I'm from Indianapolis public schools which has been rated one of the worst schools in the entire country.

However so many people I've met that have been homeschooled were cloistered, poorly socialized, and didn't know how to handle the world. They either became rebelious against God or so negative to people outside their belief systems that they often were poor examples as people of God.

Yet here you have this brilliant idea that never occured to me. this idea of community education the exchange of information between parents in a comunity. Children get positive socialization and well rounded education that is still able to focus on individual needs without developing a selfish world view.

My only worry is how to do it. We havevery few homeschoolers around here and those I have met actually don't have their facts straight about what they are teaching or teach children things I do not believe isin line with Gods do find people? Surely the internet is a good source but often time distance will become a practical issue.

I'd really love to hear more about putting this into practice.

AHighandNobleCalling said...

Thank you for sharing with us these interesting facts about living in Israel. I have read about Marxism before, but it is interesting to hear firsthand the effects of it. It is so wonderful to hear that even in a difficult cultural situation, you and your husband are willing to raise your family against the tide and rely on God's wisdom. God bless you!

Buffy said...

It seems that Israel is rather polarised between the orthodox Jews and the more militant Marxist inspired Jews.

In the UK women get 6 months maternity leave with the option to extend to one year's unpaid. Most women take 6 months because they say they cannot afford to come back to work. 6 weeks is shocking!