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IAF Dreams of a Hareidi Unit

The Commander-in-Chief of the Israel Air Force dreams of the day when hareidi recruits will serve in all the professions of the IAF.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 8/27/2007, 2:13 PM

The Commander-in-Chief of the Israel Air Force is a man with a vision that some might call a fantasy. But General Eliezker Shkedi has transformed his vision into a project that he hopes will win recruits from the hareidi sector for the IAF.

Traditionally, when hareidi Jews serve in the armed forces, the recruits usually join the IDF ground forces, often in combat units.  Shkedi’s new initiative, expected to begin within the next few weeks, may become the entrée for hareidi religious Jews to wear silver wings on their uniforms – and hopefully, he told NRG in a report published Monday, their ranks will swell by the hundreds.

"The sky is the limit," declared Shkedi, who promised that eventually hareidi recruits will be accepted to all the different professions available in the IAF, including flight itself.  “I am open to everything,” he said.

Shkedi explained that he sees the project in a larger sense as a way of reuniting the hareidi and secular parts of Israeli society into the greater whole that comprises the Jewish State.

The head of the IAF revealed that he has worked for months to bring the project to fruition, reaching out to the hareidi community and establishing quiet contacts within its leadership. A special staff was also established to create and pilot the unique project.

Shkedi is upbeat about the initiative. “This will be a process of unity and embracing each other’s positive qualities,” he said, adding it will become a win-win scenario for everyone.  “This is a situation in which both sides will gain and learn to appreciate each other."

The endpoint is obviously the legacy that Shkedi will eventually leave in the IAF, which will include the new hareidi recruitment project, together with relocating much of its central operations to the Negev.

He also plans to expand the participation of women in the more coveted – and formerly exclusively male – IAF professions, shattering the glass ceiling that has in the past prevented women from becoming pilots, navigators, flight engineers and mechanics.

But first on the list is the hareidi recruitment project, with Shkedi promising to launch the initiative this year, and vowing to ensure its success. “I believe that we will create a positive dynamic,” he said.

At present the plan calls for a direct draft from the hareidi yeshivot to a “Nachal Hareidi Avir” (a hareidi IAF unit) where the new recruits will be trained in technological professions, including technical support work.

Skedi envisions a group of recruits that will include men who are older than the average soldier, who have more life experience and who will bring to the IAF a desire to participate in the new initiative while learning a profession that is much in demand. 

“I myself come from a hareidi religious background,” he commented. "The negative dynamic created by the disenchantment of the hareidi public with the state has brought about harsh results. We must do everything possible to demonstrate that we are one people. They are a part of us, and we are a part of them.”