The August Cycle and the Fighting Men of the IDF
As they turn 18, Israeli boys and girls go through a very different path than most young people in other countries. At the age that boys and girls in America and Europe begin to think of college and careers, the Israeli youth reports to the BAKUM, the Reception and Sorting Base of the Israeli Defense Forces to start the process of their recruitment to the IDF.
Since the state's declaration of independence in 1948, army service in Israel is mandatory. This means that people at the age of 18 must serve in the army for a period of three years (for men) or two years (for women). Other than fulfilling the mission of protecting their country, the experience of serving in the army is one of the strongest factors behind the bounding of different groups in the Israeli society: it brings together people of different regions in the country, different social backgrounds, religious and secular people alike, and even Jews and non-Jews (members of certain non-Jewish minority groups in Israel as the Druze and the Circassians also serve in the IDF).
The are many roles fulfilled by the young recruits in the IDF – in recent years, the army's computer units gained a very lucrative reputation for grooming the workers of Israel's high-tech industry – but the most important roles are performed by the fighting units. The land, sea and air arms of the IDF stand at the forefront of the protection of Israel, which still faces many threats from both hostile countries and terrorist organizations. Though the majority of soldiers serving in fighting units are men, combat roles open gradually for women as well, from warriors at the Border Patrol unit to fighter pilots.
There are several cycles of recruitment to the IDF, the biggest taking place every summer in August – and that's the time most of the IDF's fighting units' soldiers are recruited. The separation between the young recruits and their families at the BAKUM base is often a tearful one; other than realizing that their children now face a though period of training and service, there is also the realization that the same children might not return. And yet, motivation for serving in the fighting units remains high, and almost every year the August recruitment cycle is reported to be larger than its predecessors. The 2014 August recruitment cycle took place while operation Protective Edge – Israel's military response to the shooting of rockets from Gaza – was at full force, and reports of fallen soldiers were filling the airwaves. None of this made the young recruits who arrived at the BAKUM any less confident about their will to serve in the fighting units.
Operation Protective Edge also brought the IDF's lone soldiers to the attention of the Israeli public and the world. Among the soldiers serving in the Israeli army are young Jewish people from other countries, who have chosen to leave their families and travel all the way to the Holy Land and enlist with the IDF. Though great support is provided by the unit and its members to such soldiers, being away from one's family is a difficult experience. When lone soldiers were killed in action during the operation, thousands of Israeli citizens who had no personal acquaintance with the fallen soldiers attended their funerals.
Service in the IDF, as evident by the ever-growing August recruitment cycle, is a reminder that Israel, for all its achievements as modern flourishing country, is still in struggle for the safety of all its citizens.
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