Some think of the IDF as Israel's biggest melting pot. Here's a look at the soldiers tasked with assisting immigrant soldiers as they integrate into Israeli society
Every year, hundreds of immigrants arrive in Israel in order to serve the IDF and the country. Some grew up in Hebrew-speaking households or studied Hebrew in schools or in youth movements.
But there are other soldiers who enlist in the army without speaking the language, making their integration into Israeli society more challenging. That is where integration specialists – noncommissioned officers (NCOs) within the IDF focusing on supporting these soldiers – come into play.
"Our job is to help integrate new immigrants into the army and lead them to better citizenship," explained Cpl. Michal Rotem, an integration specialist at the IAF Technical School.
"We do it through teaching Hebrew as well as integration support at the base. In addition to the challenge in communication, there are many commanders who are not familiar with the cultural background of the soldiers, and hence various traditions seem illogical to them," she added. "That's where the integration specialist comes in. My job is to explain to the commander, help him or her to understand the circumstances, and offer possible solutions."
However, the primary task of the integration specialists is teaching Hebrew. Every so often – it varies from unit to unit – these NCOs hold a Hebrew course for several new immigrants. For three weeks at a time, the immigrant soldiers learn Hebrew on a level that suits their needs, before moving on to the next level. Additionally, the specialists tutor soldiers privately.
"More than once, I had a soldier who rose from (Hebrew language) level B to C, when the highest level was E. It is satisfying to know that I played a role in their ability to integrate into the army, and into civilian life after that," Cpl. Rotem said. "When most of them arrive with the goal of living in Israel after their service, it is the job of each of one of us to make them feel like they belong. And I do that through Hebrew – the most basic thing there is."
The integration specialists try to speak with their soldiers exclusively in Hebrew. When there is a vocabulary gap, they try to explain a new term by using a synonym in Hebrew or a picture. "It takes time – everyone at his or her own pace. Therefore, it is important to invest in them over time and it is important to be patient. And it is not a matter of age or rank. I've had NCOs in my courses, and soldiers with bachelor's degrees and master's degrees. They know that they need Hebrew, so they don't care how old I am or what my rank is," added Cpl. Rotem.