The first member of the Black Israelite community to enlist in the IDF, Uriahu Butler, 18, was inducted into the army Thursday morning.

"This is an historic day of great joy," Ben Ami Ben Israel, president and founder of the congregation, said last night at a party for Butler organized by the community and Dimona Municipality.

"From now on we will be an inseparable part of Israeli society. Until now, other people sent their kids to protect us, now it's time for us to pay our debt."

The 2,500-strong Black Israelite community came to Dimona in 1969 in Ben Israel's footsteps, after an interim period in Liberia. Since then, the Israelites have struggled for recognition as citizens. At the beginning of this year, the interior minister granted them residency, which does not carry mandatory military service.

"But for us enlistment is mandatory," said Butler's father, Avraham. By next March, some 70 boys and girls from the community are due to enlist. Their enlistment process was complicated by the community's strict vegan dietary traditions, which extend to wearing all-cotton clothes and a ban on leather shoes.

The community pledged to comply with IDF requirements, said Dimona Mayor Meir Cohen, who served as a liaison, and the IDF agreed to compromise. Israelite soldiers will be allowed to wear cloth shoes instead of army-issue boots; the congregation will forgo the stricture regarding cotton clothing.

Butler made a personal sacrifice yesterday when, for the first time since birth, his hair was cut. (Members of the community's priestly family never cut their hair).