How the government can really help IDF soldiers

A raise for soldiers is great, but by itself, our soldiers’ standard of living won’t be changing any time soon.

Benjamin Figdor,

OpEds Benjamin Figdor
Benjamin Figdor

The past year has seen a significant raise by the IDF in soldiers’ salaries. In recent years, soldiers have been crying out for a raise in income, which stood at a measly seven hundred shekels per month. Budgetary changes were made in 2014 increasing the monthly wage by 23%, in January of last year that salary was increased by a further 25% so that combat, combat support and non-combat soldiers stood to earn 1,077, 783 and 540 shekels respectively.  These numbers increased on January 1st by a whopping 70%. This is great for soldiers and should improve financial situations for many soldiers, reducing or even annihilating debts. Or will it?

Many soldiers, especially those in combat positions, tend to use a significant amount of their salaries on their weekends off-base putting money towards alcohol, cigarettes, nightclubs and other activities. This is totally understandable as these activities provide a cathartic effect, allowing soldiers to release tension and stress from their week or weeks on base.

The problem really lies with how much of their salaries that they use. Maybe a raise in salary isn’t going to change the status quo. Maybe a raise in salary just leads to bigger spending on leisure instead of resolving debts or saving up for the future.

Let’s be honest. Most of the soldiers in the IDF are teenagers or in their early twenties. For many, this is the first time that they are earning money (minimal as it is) and are unaware of what it means to have their own income. I myself, am a former soldier and have made some of the same mistakes as soldiers often do. In my conversations with my brothers-in-arms, we spoke candidly about our weekends, what we did and with whom. Friday and Saturday nights were our time for leisure.

The day before getting paid our meagre salary, we’d speak with anticipation, looking forward to resolving our debts and raising our bank balance back to zero. Yes, you read that correctly, back to zero. Our casual conversations never discussed saving; they referred to “getting out of a minus” bank balance, reducing the allowed in Israel. Which is a significant difference.

After my release, I began to volunteer at the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levine, where I’ve come across soldiers who tell me that they’re in a poor financial situation and would appreciate guidance or a seminar to educate them in managing their finances. By their own admission they would tell me how much of their monthly stipend was spent on alcohol and their fun weekends. They acknowledged that they did not know how to manage their finances better.

So what I propose is a seminar or even an hour long session run by the IDF’s Education Branch, Cheil Hachinuch, to educate soldiers on managing their finances. An interactive session suited to a younger audience which should take place during basic training. Let's put the argument about where the Jewish Heritage department should be on hold and answer soldiers' basic needs.

Where does for the money come from to finance such an endeavor? Let’s put any further upcoming raise in salary on hold and instead invest resources on an undertaking such as this.

What makes the younger generation here in Israel so different than that overseas? Our young adults are more mature and have an opportunity to develop due to their experiences in the army. This is what sets them apart. They are young adults and it is only appropriate that we afford them the opportunity and responsibility to be independent. An initiative such as this educates this younger generation not just in the short term but should also produce a long term consequence where the poverty rate in this country is reduced by educating the younger generation about financial reasoning as they head out into the real world and begin to lead by example.