Strengthen the Bet El Pre-Military Academy

Come support this unique and inspiring venture to provide Israel's youth with spiritual and emotional preparation for military service.


מכינת בית אל
מכינת בית אל
צילום: ישיבת בית אל

The pre-military academy in Bet El has assumed an unprecedented challenge: to provide spiritual and emotional preparation for military service, to graduates of religious high schools from Israel's "periphery" – as the areas far from Greater Tel Aviv and the large cities are called.

Every year, thousands of youths from the socio-geographic "periphery," who hail from religious and traditionalist homes, are enlisted into the IDF without satisfactory preparation. The unique Pre-Military Academy for these high school graduates was established 16 years ago, with the aim of preparing them and empowering them for military service and life in general.

click here to support this important venture and Israel's future soldiers

At present, 150 students are enrolled at the Academy. Through their learning experience, their personality is meaningfully enhanced, they are taught responsibility and social leadership, and they are motivated to serve as combat soldiers in the IDF and to contribute to society.

The learning program includes basic Gemara studies, Halacha (Jewish Law), Faith and Bible studies – along with workshops for military preparedness, physical training, navigation, and acquaintance with the Land of Israel through geographical studies and hiking.

It is amazing to see the transformation that takes place in the students. In the course of the year at the Academy, they turn into young men with a religious and social commitment, who devote thought to various value-related questions, partake in projects for volunteering in the community, and prepare themselves – mentally, emotionally, physically – for a meaningful military service.

At the end of the year, the graduates enlist into the IDF. Some of them elect to continue and build themselves up for an additional year, before enlistment.

Pleased to meet you: Rabbi Uri Sharabi

This is the third year in which the Bet El Pre-Military Academy Rabbi is headed by Uri Sharabi, 35, who is married and a father of five. Previously, he was a rabbi-teacher at the Academy for four years.

My belief:

We want to turn the boys who come to study with us into grown men in terms of their actions in later life, and also in terms of spirituality, Torah and preparation for the IDF. We know the three goals that we emphasize by the initials PPT: Preparation for the military, Perfection of personal qualities and Torah.

A special moment: Youths with criminal records, or who are diagnosed by the IDF as being of low motivation, low psychotechnic ability, etc., are known as "Makam youths". One such boy who fought to serve in combat but was rejected by the IDF, reached our Academy. In the end, he was accepted into the IDF, served in the vaunted Sayeret Matkal, and completed a very meaningful military service. He married and has created a family in Israel.

Moti's story:

Moti Kurtz was a first year cadet at the Academy when his teacher-rabbi, Rabbi Rosenthal, told him and his fellow students something that got them riled up. "My wife and I have been married for 20 years and we have never fought with each other," he said. The cadets shouted at him and said that this was not possible. He answered placidly: "You did not understand me. My wife and I have been married for 20 years and we have never fought. There is a difference between an argument and a fight. An argument is a rational discussion. A fight involves each side holing up in an entrenched position. I never holed up in an entrenched position vis-à-vis my wife, and we never fought." The students did not give in. "OK, fine," they said. "And yet – such things do not exist."

"Some of us come from broken homes. My parents are divorced, I have not seen my father in 16 years. I am hardly in contact with the rest of my biological family. A situation in which a married man tells me that he never fought with his wife was a bit like a crazy fantasy for me," Moti recalls. "In the end, Rabbi Rosenthal said, 'You are simply invited to come to my home and see for yourselves.' That is exactly what we did. We came at odd times. We called at crazy hours. Whenever we showed up, even if it was early Friday afternoon, at the peak of Sabbath preparations, we saw the calm and the mutual affection between the Rabbi and his wife, and the children's education. It took me a while to take this in. After some time I came to him and said, 'I want this for myself.' He replied – 'If this is what you want, you must be…' – and he pointed at the Holy Ark.

Moti Kurtz grew up in Bet Shemesh. He reached the Academy after high school, and did not really see himself as a religious person. "At the end of high school I started to ask myself if I want to continue to let life's stream take me where it will, or maybe do something different," he recounts. "Up to that point, you are taken from one stage to the next. From nursery school to kindergarten to elementary school, and then to high school. I decided that I do not want to be part of the stream that goes right into the military after high school, because I need time to decide what I want in life."

He was not necessarily in looking for a religious pre-military academy. "I looked into secular pre-military academies and mixed ones as well," he notes. "I ruled out all of the secular pre-military academies because there was no time to think there. Everyone was after the social experience, just like in high school. Around the time of the Shavuot holiday, when most pre-military academies had already ended registration, is when I began to look into the religious academies."

Moti fires out a long list of esteemed pre-military academies he checked out, but says that the two places that he clicked with the most were the academies at Bet El and Peduel. "Both had a variety of Israelis from all walks of life, and the feeling was that of family."

The story of his introduction to the Academy itself is also surprising. Yehuda Luzon, who is in charge of Yeshiva Weeks at the academy, was driving back to Bet El from Nehalim when he took a wrong turn and entered Petach Tikva. Suddenly he saw a large sign that said "Youth Village" and decided to check the place out. Twice he knocked on the door of a classroom but was refused entry. In the third class, the students were allowed to go out and meet him. Moti was a student at the Youth Village, and this was his class. "That is where I clicked with the idea of the Academy and the rest is history."

The familial feeling accompanied Moti from before he began studying at the Academy, until well after he completed his studies. After he enrolled, Rabbi Rosenthal, who was to be his teacher in the first year, used to call him to ask how he was doing and when he was going to pop over for a visit, and noted that his bed at the Academy was already ready for him. "Even 15 years after, some alumni are still in touch and come by to visit. Rabbi Avraham Zarbiv, the former Head of the Academy who is now a Judge and a Rabbinical Court in Haifa, marries over 30 alumni every year and attends nearly every life event held by a graduate," Moti notes admiringly.

Moti wound up serving in the Armored Corps but when he first arrived at the Academy, he wanted only one thing: to serve in the Naval Commando, or Shayetet. "I asked the rabbis of the Academy if they could place me in the Shayetet, if I studied at the Academy. They replied that they could give me the tools that would allow me to reach the Shayetet on my own. It's in my hands. There is a program in the Academy called The Makeover. They show you a picture of a high school youth living the secular life, and then they show him a few months later studying from a stender – a reading stand – at a yeshiva. For me, there was no makeover. I never stopped being who I was, I just improved. I came with the powers that G-d gave me and I decided to use them to a good end. That is the process that the Academy gave me."

Moti's connection to the Academy did not end with the military service. Today, he is part of the Academy team and works as a cook. "What the Academy tries to project – and succeeds, in a very high proportion of the cases – is that this is not an institution that gives you what you desire. Rather, it lets you into the family. The team that teaches you in high school or the university does not really care what happens to you, one minute after you complete your studies. The Academy has a Bet Midrash program for graduates. Alumni who studied with me in my class and whom I have not seen for three years come here."

"The mix of students at the Academy is mostly made up of guys who came from religious high schools, in the 'periphery,' for a year-long opportunity to prepare for life. Not necessarily for the military, for all aspects," adds Academy Head Rabbi Uri Sharabi. "They learn about living as a couple, about values, and more – all from a perspective that is based on Torah and faith. This is a religious pre-military academy, for all intents and purposes. There is the matter of preparing for the military service, navigation exercises, the gym, and Krav Maga, but these are the three spheres: Preparation for military service, physically and mentally; building of character – through social involvement, activities, development of team spirit and more; and spiritual advancement, with an emphasis on each person as an individual. Not everyone comes here with a high level of religiosity. Sometimes, after moving away from religion for several years, they undergo a certain process here. Sometimes they arrive with questions and receive answers in the course of educational and social development."

To illustrate the processes that cadets undergo at the Academy, Rabbi Sharabi tells the moving story of a cadet who used to 'sleep in' every Friday evening. 'In the morning, I asked him gently why he did not attend the Oneg Shabbat sessions at the homes of the teacher-rabbis, on Sabbath eves. He replied: 'I will tell you the truth. For several years now, I have not been observing the Sabbath. I have drifted away from religion. I wanted to attend the Academy and strengthen my religion, but it is difficult for me to go right back into observing Shabbat. I decided not to sleep at all on Thursdays and Fridays, so that I could be dead tired and fall asleep on Sabbath eve, as late as possible – and so it would become easier for me to observe Shabbat."

The alumnus' corner:

Elyakim Karuvi recently completed five years' military service, during which he received the President's Citation for Excellence and completed the Company Commanders' Course. He now studies at the Bat Ayin Yeshiva.

The Academy, he says, is where he changed course in life. "When I came to the Academy I was not religious, and the fact that I am now leaving the military after a meaningful stretch and going to study at a yeshiva is solely due to the academy," he states. "Serving G-d, connecting to myself and my abilities, to the Nation of Israel, to the sense of mission. I was not raised on this ethic. They changed my way of thinking about the path; where does life go? Down or up?"

A special moment Elyakim remembers from the Academy, and one that influenced him greatly, was in one of the survival workshops. "You just take a stretcher on your back and walk," he says. "At the end of the march, we were asked to go into a spring that was very cold. Some of the people in the group went into the water and some broke down and did not want to go in. We were stuck. Until I took command and announced that we would go back to the Academy. It was then that I felt my abilities as a commander and decided to implement them in my military service."

Fundraising project:

The Pre-Military Academy plans to open a program for graduates who completed the Academy, to strengthen the bond with alumni and accompany them along their life path. In addition, funds will be invested in stipends for students who come to the Academy in order to grow, but are unable to pay the fees. These students have a strong urge to study, and the goal is to help them realize this goal despite the economic hardship.

The biggest dream of all is the construction of the new campus. The current campus is housed in temporary caravans. Recently, the construction of a huge permanent campus has begun. This will allow the Academy to soar to new heights.

click here to support this important venture and Israel's future soldiers