Previously, new Israeli army cadets were taken only to sites of national historic importance, like Masada and the Western Wall. But the army saw the need to add secular sites because religious recruits lack exposure to and understanding of secular culture.
Participants will spend a Saturday in Tel Aviv, where they will tour areas in the southern part of the city inhabited primarily by migrant workers.By Anshel Pfeffer • Ha'aretz
To strengthen their understanding of Judaism and Zionism, Israel Defense Forces cadets have traditionally been given on-site educational seminars about the country's most symbolic sites - particularly in Jerusalem. Now the army is working to widen their perspective by having soldiers familiarize themselves with the epicenter of Israel's secular experience: Tel Aviv.
Participants in the IDF cadets course will spend a Saturday in Tel Aviv, where they will tour areas in the southern part of the city inhabited primarily by migrant workers and low-income families, along with parts of Jaffa.
"It's important that the cadets are exposed to what is happening in the country outside of their bubble," said Col. Yehuda Fuchs, the commander of the army's Bahad 1 officers school who came up with the idea. "The goal here is to provide an avenue to discover more things that unite people within Israeli society rather than things that divide. I want the secular [cadets] to visit Jerusalem and the religious to visit Tel Aviv and for the moshavniks to get to know the kibbutzim and for the kibbutzniks to get to know Ofakim."
Some 400 cadets in the Gefen Battalion, who yesterday completed the most recent land officers course, were the first to spend a Saturday in Tel Aviv. Of the entire graduating class, 23 cadets are women, including two soldiers from the mixed Karakal infantry unit.
Over the past decade, every graduating class of officers has conspicuously included a large number of religious cadets. This particular class was no different: 29 percent of the graduates wear skullcaps. Among the infantry officers, that number jumps to one-third.
The decision to add Tel Aviv to the curriculum grew out of the understanding that many would-be officers are not very familiar with secular culture. The cadets who spent Saturday in the city were taken to the Bina Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture, also known as the "secular yeshiva," in south Tel Aviv, where former minister Yair Tzaban - who in recent years has championed the cause of "Judaism as a culture" - delivered a lecture.
Fuchs explained that spending a Saturday in Tel Aviv will help the religious officers gain a better perspective about a group of people they will likely encounter in their future roles as division commanders.
The colonel added that initially the idea was not well-received by some of the religious cadets, but that he'd received positive feedback following the visit.
The army plans to continue the initiative with future cadet classes.