It’s not yet 10 AM and I have already calmed a mother who lost contact with her son who’s traveling in Argentina, helped an Israeli who lost his passport abroad, advised a different citizen about traveling to Dubai, spoke with a consul about giving a visa to a Baha’i, and edited a letter to the Japanese embassy. I sit back and rest for a moment, and wonder again what the qualifications for this job were. I think again that they might not go beyond the interviews I passed, but before I can ponder that, the phone rings again. This time it’s about the upcoming consular dialogue with Ukraine. I explain the outline of the dialogue to the best of my abilities, and set up a preparatory meeting with the Euro-Asia department. Before I can blink, the phone rings again. The everyday roller coaster of doing Sherut Leumi in the Consular Bureau in the Foreign Ministry is once more set in motion.
According to Bishvil (an organization dedicated to supporting lone bnot sherut) there are over 85 lone bnot sherut from North America this year. However, most bodedot choose to work in hospitals or schools instead of offices. Bishvil helps create a sense of community among the bodedot by running events and shabbatons, and helping us navigate Israeli bureaucracy. Additionally, the location of many of the lone bnot sherut, in Kiryat Moshe and Maaleh Adumim, enables those of us living in these areas to get together and support each other through difficult and fun times. While we may be away from our families, we are not alone by any means. We are our own community of like minded people who are excited to share our passion for Israel and its people.
In Bamidbar 27, there is a story about 5 women who approach Moshe, saying 'למה יגרע שם אבינו בתוך משפחתו'. This is the famous take of בנות צלפחד who had no brothers, and wanted their father’s family to retain a part in Eretz Yisrael. Similarly, bnot sherut bodedot have said למה יגרע. Why should we, despite not wanting the framework of the IDF, miss out in contributing to the story of the Jewish people returning to their homeland? This is an opportunity to serve our country, which most religious Zionist Israeli girls do take at our age. Why should we miss out in being part of this bigger picture?
When it came to finding my own niche, I specifically wanted to contribute to Israel’s international relations, and work for a government office. After many interviews, bureaucracy, and a grueling security check I arrived at my desk in the Consular Bureau. My uncle often says that Israel is run by 19 year olds, and I often feel that this is true about the Foreign Ministry. The bnot sherut in the MFA do all the behind the scenes work to make sure everything moves smoothly. After we’ve been in the position for a while the people in our department involve us in more projects. In many bnot sherut positions (and in Israel in general) once your bosses see that you are capable they trust you with more work. It is incredible to be part of the government, and to understand the ‘behind the scenes’ about how Israeli diplomacy works.
A legitimate concern for many girls considering sherut, particularly for girls unsure if they will make Aliya right after sherut, is delaying their schooling and career. As a result, some girls may choose to take summer school before/after sherut, or choose a sherut which is in a field related to their degree. I chose a different route: I am taking university classes at the Open University this year, in addition to my sherut. The Open University is recognized as one of Israel’s universities, and is unique in a couple of ways. Firstly, although traditional classes are offered, there is no attendance taken and many students (such as myself) choose to learn the material on their own, with the books and online material provided, submit assignments online every 2 weeks, and go to a testing center (located all over Israel) to take the final. Secondly, it is possible to register for a class without doing the פסיכומטרי or SAT, even without a תעודת בגרות. Thirdly, since the Open University is recognized as a university, the other universities in Israel are committed to accept Open University students as transfer students, assuming their grades are high enough. Being in school while working full time can be difficult and slightly stressful, however it keeps me productive and prepares me for full time college next year.
The decision to spend a year doing sherut, directly after a year in seminary, should not be taken lightly. It involves leaving a supportive and familiar environment, which protects you religiously, provides a social life, and aids in all of your needs. The sherut leumi system is not in place to support American 19 year olds on their own in Israel. You are religiously untethered, without a social framework, and totally unsupervised. One of the ways to alleviate these potential challenges is to maintain a connection with your seminary, and the people who you found helpful there. When choosing a place do to sherut, it is important to keep these ideas in mind.
Doing sherut leumi as a bodeda is not always easy. It’s hard to work full time in a foreign culture, without the relief of seeing my family during the weekends. Bnot Sherut Bodedot are not recognized by the government, and the work isn’t always the most fulfilling. However, in order for things to run properly it is also necessary to do tedious undesirable labor. This country is run by 19 year olds. And I am proud to be one of them.
(חזק ואמץ אל תערץ ואל תחת כי עמך ה' אלקיך בכל אשר תלך" (יהושע א, ט"
Yael Eisenberg is from Passaic, New Jersey. After a year of studying in Nishmat she is currently doing sherut leumi in the Foreign Ministry - Department of Consular Affairs.