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Israeli Army Greeting Influx of Soviet Jews with Open Arms

January 11, 1990
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While government and Jewish Agency officials agonize about how to pay for the absorption of the quarter-million Soviet Jewish immigrants expected to arrive in the next few years, the Israel Defense Force is gleefully preparing for the new infusion of manpower.

The IDF will make itself a part of the new immigrants’ experience almost as soon as they land, according to plans announced this week.

Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai, head of the IDF Central Command, has urged career officers to take a personal interest in new immigrant families. He has appointed a special absorption team to his command.

The IDF plans to assign young women soldiers on active duty, many of whom speak Russian, to help teach Hebrew at absorption centers, where immigrants are housed during their first months in Israel.

Gadna, the paramilitary youth training organization, will send volunteers to “foster” immigrant families.

The IDF’s chief education officer will organize tours of army camps for young emigres, to acquaint them with the surroundings before they are drafted into the rigors of basic training.

Each recruitment center will be staffed by a woman officer in charge of immigrants, who will help them through their processing. Special attention will be given to older draftees with families.

Military service is compulsory in Israel, but immigrants of draft age are usually given a two-year period of grace after their arrival before being pressed into uniform.


Immigrants up to age 24 must serve a full three-year stint in the IDF. Above that age, they are required to serve four months’ active duty, after which they become reservists.

Recruits over age 34 are required to pass a two-month basic training course and are then discharged.

Brig. Gen. Yossi Lipman, deputy chief of the IDF’s manpower division, said, “Our goal is that the immigrants’ military service will serve their own interests, as well as the army’s.”

He noted that the Soviets “come from a country where there is another army, and the notion ‘army’ may cause unpleasant associations.

“Here we explain to them that it is their army. It is important that the IDF becomes a source of pride for them,” Lipman said.

Absorption problems were discussed at a meeting Wednesday that included Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Vice Premier Shimon Peres and Simcha Dinitz, chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive.

Peres, who is finance minister, said that this year’s state budget will include about 1 billion shekels ($525 million) for immigrant absorption.

Plans call for the immediate construction of 6,000 housing units, and another 3,000 later, as needed.

Dinitz was to leave Thursday for the United States, where he plans to discuss the absorption situation with United Jewish Appeal leaders.

He is expected to ask them to double their contributions for absorption and to advance the transfer of other funds.

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