Havat Hashomer – A Personal Experience

We sat in the commander’s office and I asked Lt. Col Alaa Abu- Rukun why he had chosen to be the commander at this base, Havat Hashomer. “I had never heard of this base until one of my friends suggested that I consider it, I called the prior commander, spent the day with him and after 3 hours, and I knew this was for me.” What had he seen in such a short period of time that inspired him to  this commitment, to command a base with a  daunting task - take young men who are on the fringe of society, the socially disadvantaged, the drug and alcohol users, the criminals and in 10 short weeks, change their lives and integrate them not only into Israeli society but also back into the IDF. Alaa then related to us the following “for me, this is much more than commanding young soldiers. We at this base have a unique opportunity to integrate these young men back into society, we are the last opportunity for them, and if we don’t succeed, there are no options left for them.”  

With those words in mind, we then toured the base, situated in a beautiful spot in the lower Galilee 15 km from Tiberius. We witnessed young women between the ages of 18-21 who are the unit commanders and dedicate their army service to these young men. They are much more than commanders, however.  They act as social workers, psychologists, mentors, motivators, and are dedicated to their tasks of motivating these young men. The job is hard, psychologically demanding, but they never give up. Often, they are volunteered to track down the men who are AWOL, or visit their homes to help the families, many of whom also live on the fringes of Israeli society. The results are inspiring- 85% of the recruits are integrated back onto regular IDF units. For most of these young men, it is the first time that they have accomplished something meaningful in their young lives. They come into the program rejected by others; they graduate with self respect and self esteem. It is truly a remarkable accomplishment in such a short period of time. Alaa relates to us that it is the single most important mission that the IDF can do--create a meaningful life for these men.

The sign that welcomes a visitor to the base reads as follows: “In honor of the dignity of man.” This is the code of ethics that drives the commander and the young men and women at this base. They represent the best that our tradition mandates.

Yossi Klein Halevi writes about the dilemma of living as a Pesach Jew or a Purim Jew. As Pesach Jews, we are taught to look after the stranger, the downtrodden, remember that we were once slaves ourselves, so we need to be sensitive to the plight of “the other.” As the Purim Jew, we are reminded that in every generation there arises an Amalek, ready to strike us down--so be wary, watchful, and careful--stay strong and be savvy. The Havat Hashomer unit of the IDF best illustrates the balance between these two poles. This unit and its commanders say you don’t have to choose, you can be both - we will train you to be a soldier, you will be able to fight and defend as a Purim Jew. But just as importantly, even  more so perhaps, we care about you, we believe in you, the outcasts of Israeli society, we won't give up on you though others have. This unit says “we are also the Pesach Jews for our own society.” - Raymond Fink
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