Granny Bashing & Sherut Leumi Safety

Israeli Sherut Leumi girls volunteer at Chazon Yeshayahu Soup Kitchen 

When I was in a posh English Public School (Rugby School – where the game was invented by renegade soccer player William Webb Ellis in 1823), we had a choice of enlisting in Army Corp (a sort of militarised scouts) and "granny bashing".

"Granny bashing" was the boys slang name for the school's Social Services Voluntary Service.

Boys with more testosterone, biceps and body hair would eagerly gravitate to the Corp, march around in heavy boots, and go on night exercises and macho drills in the surrounding English countryside. 

Wimps like me headed straight for granny bashing. 

I don't recollect actually bashing any grannies, but I did paint their walls & dig their gardens, work with handicapped kids, taught in underprivileged schools - and got to meet people close up who certainly couldn't afford our school fees – or even afford our school lunches.

There is a comparable choice here in Israel.

Everyone knows what the IDF is, so there's no need to explain that one.

As an alternative, Sherut Leumi (National Civil Service) is particularly popular with National Religious (dati leumi) girls, who serve for one or two years, from the age of 18.

These Sherut Leumi girls typically do voluntary work in schools, hospitals, charitable and cultural organizations.

A couple of readers referred me to an article on Yeshiva News about the risks and dangers facing girls who volunteer in Israel's Sherut Leumi.

In particular, the article highlights the dangers of sherut leumi girls forming romantic relationships with Arab co-workers. This is apparently a significant risk in locations such as hospitals, where Arab workers make up a significant proportion of the staff.

The article throws in a reference to Yad LeAchim and their campaign to save Jewish girls from Bedouin Arab villages in the Negev. (I think this is solely for effect - as there is no suggestion that any Sherut Leumi girls have ended up in Bedouin villages).

So, I have been asked whether I think that Sherut Leumi is a safe option for dati girls?

Both my elder daughters did Sherut Leumi; my eldest, Shira, in a special education school, and Avital in Machon Hamikdash (The Temple Institute) in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Neither had work colleagues who are Arab – however both are aware of the issue. Indeed my 14 year old is also aware of this concern and risk for Sherut Leumi girls (11th Graders in her school have had lectures and discussions on this specific topic).

The issue and risks are openly discussed in their circles, and indeed each Sherut Leumi volunteer undergoes an induction course, which includes a frank and open presentation about risks of sexual harassment & abuse of various descriptions.

According to the system, there ought not to be any Sherut Leumi girl who has not been pre-warned and prepared, to some degree, for the many challenges facing them in their volunteer placements, including that of Arab co-workers becoming 'romantic' with them.

The biggest risk is that dati girls tend to be more cloistered, less street-wise, than their chiloni (secular)  equivalents. "Yossi", the charming young man who works alongside them, could be Yusef  - and she may become enamoured of Yossi unwittingly. I understand such events have happened.

The three NPO's which manage the Sherut Leumi service can and should always improve their level of vigilance over the girls, and leave as little to the imagination in preparing them to face the real world of the Israeli workplace.

Overall, Intermarriage is an issue which has always been considered a Chutz La'Aretz (Diaspora) issue for Israelis – and only a fringe phenomenon in Israel.

Whereas cases of Jewish Israelis marrying Arabs are distressing and dramatic, far more common is Israeli Jews marrying non-Jewish Israeli Russians, or children of halachikly non-Jewish American women.

There are reportedly 350,000 non-Jewish Russians who are resident (and citizens) in Israel. That's one-in-twenty Israelis.

And 43% of American "Jews" (as self defined) are not halachikly Jewish. (I don't know what proportion of US immigrants/Olim are not Jewish).

These fellow Israelis serve in the army, attend university, and even go to Yeshivot… and it could be only at the Rabbinate Marriage Registration that the non-Jewish identity is revealed (and potentially, not even then).

So, my conclusion is that "safe" is a relative term.

There are increasing risks of intermarriage throughout Israeli society.

The best approach is awareness and education – such as the Sherut Leumi induction course.

And perhaps at the national level, citizens' non-Jewishness (and a wider awareness of the consequences and significance of that) can be flagged up well before the marriage ceremony.

This wasn't really a problem for me, at posh Rugby School – where I rarely met another Jewish student!

The only significant concentration of Jewish pupils at Rugby, was alongside me in wimpy granny bashing….


  1. About those arab hospital workers: there is a cover-up regarding raped patients. MANY victims.

  2. I have known many Bnot Sherut, and none ran off with Arabs. Most didn't even work with Arabs, except for occasional contact. I have a friend who works at recovering Jewish girls when they want to escape marriage to or living with an Arab, and the family in Aza or elsewhere won't let them go (especially if they have children). From what I understand, the vast majority of these girls are not from religious homes.

  3. You are quite right that the real issue is the need to have frank discussions about sexual harassment and abuse.

    I sometimes think the tendency to focus on "Arab" causes us to miss the real issues at hand. For example, Arutz Sheva reported that a girl who had run off and married an Arab at age 15 was found. The entire focus of the article was "Arab", but the truth is, the situation should have been very concerning even if no conversion or intermarriage was involved. 15 is below the age of consent and if the so-called partner is old enough the entire interaction is potentially abusive. Even if the so-called partner was a Jew and the officiant was a Rabbi, this would have been a problem.

    -- And 43% of American "Jews" (as self defined) are not halachikly Jewish. (I don't know what proportion of US immigrants/Olim are not Jewish).--

    Do you have a source for the 43% and what definition of "Jew" it goes by? One of the things that I find personally problematic is that these days there is a distinction between Halachicly Jewish (halachic conversion or descent from a long line of Jewish women) and the ability to prove to the rabbinut the same.

  4. Hi Beth

    The 43% number is derived from here:

    There were about 4 million adherents of Judaism in the U.S. as of 2001, approximately 1.4% of the US population.[44] The community self-identifying as Jewish by birth, irrespective of halakhic (unbroken maternal line of Jewish descent or formal Jewish conversion) status, numbers about 7 million, or 2.5% of the US population.

    Therefore 3 million out of 7 million Jews (43%) who identify themselves as Jewish, are not halachicly Jewish.

    1. But those aren't the type of people making aliyah, with some exceptions of course.


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