Not everyone is army material in general wherever one lives. Israel is no exception. For different reasons, perhaps of politics or health, some young Israelis cannot, or do not wish, to serve in the military. Through Sherut Leumi (National Service), these people can still contribute. Today, more than 200 such volunteers perform important duties at the Rambam hospital in Haifa– 30 of them are Muslim & Christian Arabs
Visitors to Rambam are politely assisted by a soft-spoken young man with an easy smile. They have no idea of the long path that led Nizar Elkoury, 18, to volunteer at this hospital information desk, giving directions in perfect Hebrew.
Nizar was born in Lebanon. His father was a member of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), a Christian, Israeli-backed militia that fought the Hezbollah. When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, it granted asylum to the militiamen and their families. Given full citizenship and financial help, close to 1,000 of these families settled in Israel.
The Elkoury family has lived in Haifa since Nazir was eight. He has gone to Israeli schools, and says he has always been accepted and had friends. Hebrew posed no problem for Nazir, who mastered the language in three months. For his adopted country, Nazir expresses only gratitude, “I felt I had to do something for Israel,” he says. “I wanted to give back for the great favor we received.”
Nazir is one of 30 Sherut Leumi (National Service) minority volunteers at Rambam. Sherut Leumi offers 18-21 year olds who cannot or do not wish to serve in the army, an alternative to military service. Volunteers engage in dozens of “helping” projects. Although largely young Jewish women from religious backgrounds, Sherut Leumi volunteers also include men, and minority members. According to Rambam’s Director of Sherut Leumi, Shlomit Katzir, all qualified and motivated volunteers are welcome.
Lubna Kadry, 18, from the Arab Galilean village Nahaf also volunteers at Rambam through Sherut Leumi. Working for the children’s safety organization B’Terem, Lubna teaches children hospitalized at Rambam and their parents about safety in the home. “We work to turn homes into safe havens,” says Lubna.
According to Lubna, a disproportionate number of children from the Arab sector are injured in local and household accidents. “Homes and villages are often not safe, and parents are frequently not aware enough about these matters,” says Lubna, who says she is pleased to be helping her people in this way.
As with most volunteers, Lubna and Nazir feel they receive more than they give. “This position gives me skills for real life,” comments Lubna, who plans to be a doctor. Likewise, Nazir, who wants to be a nurse, appreciates the opportunity to view the world of medicine up close. At any rate, adds Nazir, “I believe that all of us should be connected not only to ourselves, but to our community at large.”