Israeli Computer Heads Prepare to - Finally - Don IDF Fatigues

A group of university friends gather just before Yom Kippur to mark their upcoming enlistment with beer, meat, and a semi-lit fire.

Ron Ben-Tovim
Ron Ben-Tovim
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Computer science degree? Check. Now it's time for the army.
Computer science degree? Check. Now it's time for the army.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen
Ron Ben-Tovim
Ron Ben-Tovim

Location: Ramat Gan National Park

Time: 8 P.M.

In the neighborhood: A narrow street on the southern tip of Ramat Gan, a city situated just east of Tel Aviv. A brisk wind runs through the leafy trees, a sure sign that autumn has finally settled in following a scorching summer. Florescent light flows out of the arched windows of an old synagogue into the darkened street, the eve before Yom Kippur.

Venue: A large urban park, an artificial lake at its center, is illuminated only by some streetlights and a few colorfully lit water fountains. Along the rails surrounding the lake, small groups of religious men and women perform tashlikh, in which the sins of the last year are ceremoniously cast into the water prior to Yom Kippur.

Simcha: The computer science gang’s army enlistment bash

Number of guests: 25

A brief history of time: Meeting during their computer science studies at Bar-Ilan University, six young men - Aviad, Alon, Naor, Nimrod, Orel, and Ariel - face the music as they finally prepare to join the army.

While most Israeli males face three years of mandatory service in the Israel Defense Forces, some postpone their military service to complete their undergraduate degree (a program known as academic atuda). Once completed, however, those chosen for atuda are often obligated to serve longer as military officers (a minimum of five to six years). Aviad, 22, raised in nearby Givat Shmuel: “It’s mostly of the desire to serve in an interesting and significant role; there aren’t many people who join the army with a degree.”

Looks like someone got the grill to work.
Women attend the tashlikh ceremony to cast off sins before Yom Kippur.
Some friends of the soon-to-be soldiers join the fun.
4 of 4 |
Looks like someone got the grill to work.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen
1 of 4 |
Women attend the tashlikh ceremony to cast off sins before Yom Kippur.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen
2 of 4 |
Some friends of the soon-to-be soldiers join the fun.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen
Army simcha

For these young men, this means serving as rear officers in the IDF’s more technological corps, such as intelligence and computing, the veterans of which often go on to join Israel’s sizable high-tech community. Aviad: “Ultimately, people envy those who join atuda, since they leave the army not really knowing what they want while I’ll already have a profession.”

Rites: A bright streetlight, decorated with a drooping Israeli flag, spotlights the couple dozen future soldiers and their university friends as they amass on a patchy lawn near the water’s edge. Smoke wafts up from a small mangal, or portable barbecue, in the background, as a few young men, some donning yarmulkes, work to get the grill going.

Near a large picnic table laden with uncooked meat, hummus, and more uncooked meat, a small group gathers with bottles of beer to discuss their impending future, as the six guests of honor prepare to join the army in a couple of weeks.

Alon, 22, from Petah Tikva, on whether or not the latest war between Israel and Hamas-ruled Gaza, dubbed Operation Protective Edge by the IDF, changed anything in how he viewed his service: “At first it did, because it made you feel like you want to be on the ground, but then you realize our service is meaningful as well.”

Naor, 22, from the northern communal settlement of Moreshet: “It’s moments like Protective Edge that make me feel as though combat soldiers do contribute more than we would.”

Standing to the side, Nili, 23, a school friend of the bunch who, like most her age, is already done with her military service, pokes fun at the serious talk while gesturing at the still-unlit barbecue stand: “All of the people here have a degree in computer science, and yet no one knows how to light a mangal.”

Finally, however, the coals are somewhat lit, leaving the day’s soldiers of honor a few seconds for a group photo. Nimrod, 21, a long—haired metalhead and proud member of the metal band Menorah, smirks thoughtfully as the groups huddles in front of the camera: “There are a lot of years of military service in this picture.”

After the picture is taken and everyone storms their pitas, one future enlistee gives another reason for choosing the academic route: “It was either that or combat service, and I didn’t want that. Not from an ideological standpoint, I just didn’t want to do that.”

Music: None.

Food: Pitas, salads, hotdogs and hamburgers (eventually).

Drink: Beer, soft drinks, and mineral water.

Word in the ear: Ariel, 21, about some of the ramifications of a late enlistment: “You’re neither here nor there from a social standpoint. Your friends from home have all gone to the army, and your friends at the university are all older, some with kids. It’s tough.”

In my spiritual doggy bag: That added life experience doesn’t necessarily make the prospect of joining the army any easier, perhaps only harder.

Random quote: Frustrated with his inability to light up the coals, one friend calls out in despair: “Isn’t anyone here Moroccan?”

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