Word of the Day / Jobnik: You're in the Army Now, and Not Doing Very Much

This derogatory term is used to describe noncombatant recruits who coast through their military service in an air-conditioned office.

Limor Edry

In English you might do a bang-up job or a hatchet job but, in the Israeli army, one who has a job (JOHB) is a jobnik (JOHB-neek) – a derogatory term for noncombatant recruits that implies they're comfortably coasting through their military service doing desk duty in air-conditioned offices while their peers in combat units sweat their way through three years of bullet dodging.

Depending on the job in question, that may in fact be the case. An Israeli immigrant from Virginia who served in the elite Golani infantry force blogged about how he didn't initially understand why the combat soldiers were so demeaning when referring to support troops, until he encountered jobnikim (plural) who fit the stereotype to a T. He describes being assigned to work in a logistics building with a jobnik officer one day:

"After finishing the five signs he put out for us, we sat and waited for him to tell us what else to do. The officer was busy chatting up some girl, drinking coffee, and dancing to some Israeli music coming from an office. After about another hour of work in the logistics building, sorting defective gear from the new stuff, I ended up drinking coffee and watching a terrible Jackie Chan movie for hours. Then we watched MTV Europe, which is ridiculously sexual by the way, for another couple hours. I probably had about five cups of coffee, and the other guys must have smoked half a pack of cigarettes."

Some jobnikim describe their military life in a similar vein. The author of the Hebrew blog Yomano shel Jobnik (Diary of a Jobnik) writes in a self-mocking tone about strolling into his base at 9 A.M. and knowing that it was going to be a bad day because the soda machine had not been stocked, after which someone from his office turned off the air conditioning and he couldn't decide where to eat out for lunch. He writes about his distress at being assigned a single shift of guard duty in a month and how he tries unsuccessfully to get out of it by getting a doctor's note.

Of course, not all soldiers who serve in non-combat roles do equally important jobs. For instance, while soldiers who serve in intelligence may not be on the front lines, their contribution is obviously necessary if the Israel Defense Forces is to operate at its full capacity. Still, some who insist on calling such soldiers jobnikim.

An article discussing whether it's better to be a jobnik or a combat soldier concludes – almost inevitably, given the prevalent derision the word jobnik connotes – that while being a jobnik clearly seems like the better deal ("the conditions are good, the danger is negligible and you could have a decent life on the outside"), being in a combat unit is an unparalleled one-time experience that cannot be topped.

To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at shoshanakordova@gmail.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.