In Israel Defense Forces communications lingo, each female soldier is called a "skirt". But recently, when talking about skirts in the field, the code doesn't necessarily have the same old meaning: More and more religious women, some already married, are passing up on national service and choosing to enlist in the IDF.
The IDF has avoided taking official steps to promote the issue in order to prevent confrontations with rabbis in religious high schools. In a very hush hush manner, without creating any fuss or antagonism, these young women are enlisting in large numbers, becoming pioneers in units which never before included religious women: Air force, artillery and tank corps instructors, IDF command courses and more.
Last week, the IDF held a record breaking convention for enlisting religious women 1,000 religious women took part in the convention and requested to wear the IDF uniform in contrast with 400 women last year.
The IDF is calling the phenomenon a 'quiet revolution'. The growing number of long skirts seen in the IDF has caused another unique phenomenon – more women in the IDF with covered hair – as many religious women cover their hair once married.
Senior staff at General Headquarters explains that just as religious men have understood that the army is a place to make a difference and they fulfill their potential in combat units and command courses, women are now coming to the same realization.
Until now, most religious women who enlisted did so in teaching and education roles and units. Over the last two years the glass ceiling has shattered and paved the way for additional significant roles.
Today, six religious girls are training the newest tank regiment trainees, with additional instructors in the artillery corps. The IAF has the unique distinction of having one religious cadet who is in advanced stages of the course.
Other religious girls are serving as simulator instructors in the air force and lookouts in combat intelligence units. An impressive presence is noted in the intelligence corps, mainly in the elite Central Collection Unit of the Intelligence Corps also known as 8200 and the Military Intelligence Directorate research units. The women who reach these prestigious units usually choose to become career officers in the IDF.
Brigadier General Amir Rogovsky, head of the Israel Defense Forces' Human Resources Branch, says that the rise in the number of enlisting religious women has managed to put a stop to the draft dodging trend among women making a false religiousness declaration.
Today, out of the 43% of girls who do not enlist, 35% do so after declaring that they are religious. The number was set to rise to 37%, but the IDF was surprised to discover that it remained the same over the past two years. 50% of the women declaring religiousness are haredi, 30% are national religious and 20% study in secular schools.
The IDF estimates that most of the women who studied in secular high schools and declare themselves religious are imposters.
According to Rogovsky, the religious girls are highly motivated to make their IDF service meaningful, which is why they prefer to serve in the elite units, especially those that offer them conditions which allow them to maintain their religious lifestyle.
Upon joining in the IDF the women receive assistance from the Aluma Association which is led by Yifat Selah. "National religious women seek the best and most interesting posts", says Selah. "They want to reach their full potential and service in the IDF enables them to do so while serving together in groups and large units. Everyone benefits."
A special service course for religious women was launched last year through cooperation of the IDF with the Aluma Association. The course allows the women to serve together throughout their IDF service, like the special arrangement the IDF has for yeshiva students or the Hesder.
A special joint team from the IDF Rabbinate and the General Headquarters was established over the past year. The team will go between the various units and teach IDF officers how to handle these women – bringing their background and terms of service into consideration.
I Do Sir!
When second lieutenant Danit Moran got married two months ago, she could have just given up her officer stripes and gone home as many have done before her. "At first I had my doubts" she admits. "Then I calmed down and told myself that there are many married women serving in the IDF. I didn't know if I would succeed in dealing with what came along, but thank God, today I'm happy I did."
Second lieutenant Moran (20) grew up in Petah Tikva and was educated at "Ulpanit Yeshurun" a religious high school for girls. She enlisted in the IDF in 2008 and was assigned to the Juara base as a youth councilor.
"No one in my family had previously served in the IDF" she notes, "but I was curious about that thing called the army. My parents weren't very supportive of the idea, but from the moment I enlisted and to this day, they have been standing by my side. After ten months, and thanks to the wonderful example given by the officers on the base, I decided to take the officers training course."
Officer stripes weren't the only thing Moran got out of the course: While completing the tough training course she met Yiftach, an officer in the Education and Youth corps. After six months of courting, he proposed. Today, they are married and living in Ein Tzurim as they both continue to serve in the Education corps.
"I knew I wanted to be an officer from day one, leaving the IDF wasn't ever an option" Moran clarifies. "My husband never considered asking me to leave the IDF, even though we had many discussions over the issue.
"I have seen more surprising cases: women who are married and are just beginning their service in the IDF who choose to complete their service and not leave, though it is the accepted option. I'm a career officer, leaving is not an option; they can do so at any moment and yet they choose not to, I'm very proud of them".
Change in perspective
When Sergeant Liat Zinger enlisted, she realized that her choice puts her in many situations she wasn't used to encountering. "From a religious perspective, there are many problems", she says.
"The way people talk, the cursing, and the endless gossip. There is also the issue of being in constant contact with men, wearing pants during training. I had quite a few struggles with my conscience, but in the end I changed my perspective – wearing pants or defending my country – the country won. "When I do sports training I wear a skirt over my pants, and it looks like the strangest combination: A skirt, boots and my weapon.
"I have to stay weekends every two weeks, so I bring Shabbat candles from home and light them at the base. It's difficult, but it also leads to unique and beautiful situations with the secular environment – people are really touched by it.
"One time when I was praying on Friday night, a woman who was the most 'Tel Aviv' style woman there asked me to 'pray out loud'. Meeting me makes people open up. Lots of them tell me: 'you're an open minded religious woman', and I'm not. I'm the most usual religious woman there is".
Eti Abramov contributed to this report
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