• Marc Cohen

How I Joined Machal

*Ring Ring….. Ring Ring…. Voicemail.*

Sounds like someone trying to reach the Machal office! Machal stands for Mitnadvei Chutz La’Eretz, volunteers from outside of Israel. Machal is a program that allows foreigners who are not Israeli citizens to draft into the IDF for 18 months. During the 18 months, Machal soldiers are treated like a regular soldier. Everything is the same, except for the shorter service. Machal soldiers also get all the benefits of a Chayal Boded, without being a citizen. There are many reasons to enlist in Machal, mainly it because of the shorter service. One can also make Aliyah during/after army service and live the dream. The process may be annoying, but it is totally worth it. The most important tip I can give is - don’t stress over it! Machal bureaucrats take their time, even if it’s last minute, but they always get the job done.

Enlisting in the IDF through Machal is great, but it can also be very frustrating. Everyone has different experiences, and often your experience with them will change. My friends who had drafted before me through Machal warned me to be ready to call everyday, 10 times a day, because Machal had ignored their calls. I was preparing myself for a war with the army without having even started. The first thing Machal required me to do is to email them and check my eligibility. It was a few questions, nothing to sweat over, asking why I was interested, if I or anyone in my family have Israeli citizenship, and how much time have I spent in Israel (Tip: always say under 18 months if you don’t have Israeli citizenship; if you have Israeli citizenship, look on their website).

Once Machal emailed me back stating I was eligible, the real work began. They scheduled an appointment for me to come into the office in Tel Aviv to fill out some paperwork and for an interview. I needed my passport, original birth certificate, Machal’s medical form (found on their website), my immunization record from my doctor, and a letter from my rabbi in America certifying my Jewish roots. From there, they instructed me what to do.

The first step was to call the Jewish Agency and have them validate the authenticity of the letter from my rabbi, along with a referral letter from Machal. It’s some bureaucratic thing they have to do and made me wait longer, because that’s their job. I scanned my letter and emailed it to the Jewish Agency. Machal provided me with the relevant information for contacting them. This took about a week and then I had to go there in person and pick up the approved letter, scan it and email it to Machal. From there Machal emailed me another letter and I was off to the Misrad Hapnim to get my army visa! How exciting! (Tip: Make sure you get there early, otherwise you will wait a while!) Once I got my visa and sent it to Machal, it took about three weeks to get my tzav rishon.

Throughout this process, Machal may or may not answer your calls. They may or may not respond to emails (they are better at responding to emails). Everyone has different luck. My friends were ignored, but I was answered almost every time on the first ring for the first half of the process. Unfortunately for me, I had a flight home three weeks from the day I got my visa, and that’s where the calling came in. I constantly had to call Machal to push them to get my visa earlier. Call a ton and bother them and they’ll do what you need them to do. It’s a very foreign concept for Americans but if you want to have a smooth draft, you need to bother them!

Getting my tzav rishon was really exciting- except when I realized I needed to be there early in the morning. This is the day I realized that 18-year old girls run the army. The good news is that they are told to push Machalniks ahead and let them skip the lines. The bad news is that if they got some sort of text message they read it, overreacted, and made me wait, because apparently that text is more important than their job! At one point they ran out of the room to talk to their friends, and I was left sitting there all confused. But I shouldn’t have been. They came back and eventually did their job. And was on my way. A good word of advice for a tzav rishon is to not get sick like I did. Even if you do, it won’t stop you from getting into the army. It’s really hard not to get into the army, so don’t sweat it. When I got the email from Machal with the tzav rishon information, it told me to speak to a guy named Tzach before I left. Do this. I didn’t. I had to go back again, which stinks.

That last point really sums up everything. I missed two interviews, and needed to go back. I called everyday for a month and maybe got through once. They can be really difficult to reach. I was waiting for these interviews for a month, and the draft day was approaching, and finally I reached them. All they said was we’ll call you when we know. I was getting a bit anxious, the draft was in two weeks! Finally I took care of it, and it was only a 10 minute interview. Like I said earlier, they do things last minute but they get it done. My draft is in under 10 days and still many of my friends need more meetings. It’s important to know that and not let it bother you when it almost inevitably happens.

Enlisting through Machal is a great thing to do and I highly recommend it! The process can be long or short, easy or difficult; everyone has a different experience. But joining the IDF is important. As I sit here waiting to draft soon, all that hassle was worth it to finally reach my goal. I still have no clue where I have to report to or anything, but they’ll tell me soon. They really don’t give you much notice for anything. I know there is an orientation a couple days before the draft where I’m hoping I’ll receive more information. Don’t worry and don’t stress, enlisting through Machal is just a step into the bureaucratic wonderland that we call Israel!

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