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American Oleh Seeks IDF Reform For Ollim Chadashim
by Yoni Schwartzman
HAKIRYA DISTRICT, TEL-AVIV: “Before coming to Israel I completed a bachelors in business management and after that I did a masters in social work and a masters in diplomacy” recalls oleh chadash(a new immigrant to Israel) Daniel Solomon, 26, from Mumbai, India. “I wanted to join the Israeli Army since I was 18, after a terrorist attack in Mumbai, but I couldn’t until I finished my studies 8 years later.” When Daniel finally made his dreams into a reality, he was enlisted to be a simple truck driver despite his tutelage in diplomacy. “The only thing that I was lacking was my Hebrew… this stopped me from being able to be in diplomacy, and this was my dream. You can’t question the army, but they should at least make proper use of the talent that people have; that is where they’re lacking.”
According to the Israeli Defense Forces, there are approximately 3,000 lone soldiers serving in the army per year. Many of these intrepid men and women are arriving with degrees just as Daniel did. Sergeant Ilan Regenbaum, 27, born in South Africa and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, said that when he first drafted at age 26 he also wanted to utilize his degrees in finance and business but found it very difficult to do so. “Some jobs are classified, or are in Hebrew, and there’s no way of hearing about these openings unless you know the right people” says Regenbaum. There are “many people who complain about problems in the army” and they feel “there’s no way to fix it.” Ilan set out to change that.
Luck brought Ilan to the Airforce’s Innovation Unit, or Mador Chadshanut, after 6 months of trying to find his way in the IDF. With the aid of another oleh chadash, he started a startup company within the army “without any budget; just by being chutzpadik and making it happen.” Using accelerators, which is when many projects are proposed and tackled just as in an ordinary startup, Ilan is paving the way so that “any soldier will have the tools and the channels to solve a problem” that the army throws their way. Until now, the IDF didn’t focus on draftee’s degrees because there weren’t many soldiers drafting with such credentials. “Any oleh coming with a degree has to get lucky to get a job, there is nowhere in their system to say you have a degree because only a handful of olehs have this issue.” One of Regenbaum’s current projects is to “work with departments in the IDF to basically create a draft process for olim starting from their ktav rishon(first interview).” Regenbaum and his team plan to implement new reforms for the IDF’s interviewing process this March to combat the issue. When asked about the difficulties he faced, Ilan replied “I was 26 years old, and my age helped break down certain barriers despite my accent.” This helped many high-ranking officials in the Air Force see Ilan as he sees himself: “a bleary eyed oleh who doesn’t feel like he’s stuck in the organization… who wants to make sure that every soldier has a voice.”
After intensive training in Hebrew, Daniel Solomon still couldn’t draft into the units he was meant for. Months after he enlisted, Daniel found his way to Ilan: an officer in the air force just “showed up to my office and said ‘Hey, here’s your new soldier, he has 2 Masters degrees.’”
“It was fortunate that Ilan was working on a project to help olehs with degrees in the army” said Solomon, “and I was the first guy to have the opportunity to meet him. He helped me get an interview in Air Defense, basically iron dome technology, and I got into the unit.” Today, Daniel uses his “skills to communicate with other armies” by presenting Israel’s advanced defense technology to the world. “Without Ilan, I don’t know where I’d be; I’d have some bad job not helping me or the army.” Ilan and his organization are changing the dogmatic beauracracy of the IDF that many once thought inflexible. He believes that nothing should stand in the way of people who want to make change happen in Israel. “This little startup nation shouldn’t be possible: the opportunities here are immense for people to make such a strong difference in the country. It doesn’t matter if you’re an oleh or not: you can have amazing effects on the nation if you will it.”