“To choose to serve here means to put your heart here. It means to choose to see the good in people. This place teaches you how to believe in people.” These are the words of Lt. Timor, who works with soldiers from at risk backgrounds. Her and her fellow commanders are responsible for molding their recruits’ characters and guiding them into a fairer future.

The IDF (Zahal)’s Center for Promoting Special Populations (MAKAM) located in the “Havat HaShomer” base is intended to help and care for soldiers who are part of populations at risk. These populations include minorities, immigrants, uneducated youth, and youth with low socioeconomic or criminal backgrounds. “The soldiers who we work with usually have social difficulties or interpersonal difficulties. Many have both. This leads to violence, crime and indifference to the situation they are in,” said Lt. Yarden Timor, a company commander in “Havat HaShomer.” She added that “Ultimately, our goal is to give them the tools they need to integrate into society.”

“As a company commander, I always have to keep calm, see things in perspective, and make calm and rational decisions even when I’m completely overloaded,” said Lt. Idan Shamay. “Even things that already seem normal to us, things we have to deal with on a daily basis such as swearing, temper tantrums and violence, seem crazy to outsiders,” she stressed.

How the IDF (Zahal) Gives At Risk Youth a Second Chance

Lt. Yarden Timor (Left) and Lt. Idan Shamay

The company commanders in “Havat HaShomer” are in charge of management and planning the courses on base. “Planning doesn’t just mean where we will be at a certain time,” said Lt. Shamay. “We have to think what the soldiers will be like when we they arrive there, how we want to see them at the end, and what process we want them to undergo.”

“We have to be leaders,” added Lt. Timor. “There are no second chances. We can’t allow a soldier to have a commander that wasn’t good enough. We have to be committed to the task, and we have to make sure everyone below us is mission-oriented and committed to the task. We also have to learn how to balance the desire to believe in the soldiers within the requirements of the army.”

Female Only Commanders

The company commanders at “Havat HaShomer” are all female. “I think sometimes an encounter with a woman can refine aggression and ego,” said Lt. Shamay. “Sometimes an encounter with a man creates friction, violence, aggression, stress–it can be a ‘red line’ when a man tells you to do something. Even though we also have different struggles with the soldiers. For most of them, the women in their life are relatively powerless. They’re not used to girls telling them what to do.”

“But eventually they get used to it,” said Lt. Timor. “I’ve never heard of a soldier who finished his basic training and still didn’t want to listen to his commander. They change. The soldiers understand how much their commanders can help them.”

How the IDF (Zahal) Gives At Risk Youth a Second Chance

Lt. Idan Shamay

The Inner Reward

Even though their job is not easy, Lt. Shamay and Lt. Timor could not imagine themselves anywhere else. “This is where I belong,” said Lt. Shamay. “It’s hard to explain why. It’s so difficult to be here, it’s crazy. But there’s something about the process that is addictive. You learn to get satisfaction from small moments: like when a soldier changes something in his behavior; or when he returns home changed and his mother calls to thank you; or when he helps another soldier. There are so many small moments that give you hope.”

“I remember a soldier who was the most closed and rigid person I had ever met,” said Lt. Timor. “He wouldn’t cooperate at all, and he ended up going to the military prison for a short period. When he came back, I could see that he had truly changed. He came to talk to me and said that he was addicted to failing, and he asked me to help him quit. And that was when I knew that he now had the tools that he needed to succeed in life. He ended up finishing his basic training and becoming part of a Mechanical Engineering Unit, which is one of the best positions we have to offer.”