Springboard is an amazing program, one of my favorites in Israel. The idea is to take a seven-year investment in soldiers from at-risk families. Two years before the army, the three years of military service, and two years after. It’s geared towards Ethiopian-Israelis … but not just them.
We’re investing in these soldiers because we want them to arrive prepared and ready for army service. We want them to have a meaningful service in the army itself, serving in good positions that reflect their potential. And we want them to re-enter civilian life successfully.
The problem is often that army service is going to be the first time that they leave their “bubble” and their comfort zone. For many of the at-risk kids, their parents don’t have experience with army service so they can’t provide any support.
I sat with Eliora & Li, two soldiers who work with Springboard as part of their army service on a recent visit. And we discussed three fascinating things:
(1) The importance of the family in Ethiopian-Israeli society. Often the child becomes the dominant personality in the family. If you're needed at home, you're likely to go, even if you're a soldier and should remain at your post. So we need to sensitize the army to what’s happening in a soldier’s home. Sometimes a commanding officer may not have figured this out.
(2) Your parents didn’t serve in the army. So they can't help you and they don’t understand what you're going through. There's a lot of fear, misunderstanding, lack of clarity. Ethiopian-Israeli kids lack the networks which can help their peers solve problems.
(3) The standardized tests discriminate against Ethiopian Israelis, as do the interviews. Israeli society needs to change ... and Ethiopian-Israeli society needs a stronger sense of cultural pride and identity.
It’s going to take a lot of mentoring, guidance and support. But this is worth doing.