Before entering the army, 13 believers underwent a powerful and transformative experience through Hetzim [Arrows in Hebrew], a pre-military preparatory program for young people before they are drafted into the Israel Defense Forces.
Just as an arrow is sharpened before it is released to reach its target, the Hetzim program, run by Netivah, aims to sharpen participants and prepare them for challenges they may face in the military.
Military service, while physically, mentally and spiritually demanding, also provides opportunities for Messianic soldiers to share their faith, demonstrate brotherhood and shine God’s light, which may happen less frequently in civilian life. Arrows aims to equip Messianic youth with the necessary tools for the survival of their faith during army service and also helps them excel in areas of morality, leadership, responsibility, knowledge and love of the land.
The second class of Hetzim graduated in a ceremony held at the Biblical Garden in Yad Hashmona after the Feast of Tabernacles. KNI has reported about the program here, but the following is a firsthand account from two trainees, Hadas and Amelia, about their experiences in Hetzim.
KNI: Tell me a bit about your daily routine in Hetzim.
Amelia: We often did our physical workout as early as 6 a.m. Afterwards we had an hour of personal time, which included prayer, reading the Bible and worship. We prepared all morning and evening meals ourselves. On a typical day, we focused on a variety of topics such as being a Messianic soldier, legacy, discipleship, etc. There were lessons that we prepared and taught ourselves, for example the entire subject of apologetics. We received leading questions, and, after independent research, we presented the subject to the group. Subjects we taught on included, for example: Is God moral? Is there an absolute truth? etc. We also conducted an evangelism workshop in which we were given the task of adapting to the lifestyle of certain populations such as people who live in Tel Aviv, religious Jews, etc.
Hadas: Each one of us had to prepare at least two lectures on a variety of topics —important figures from the past, Israel’s wars and more. I personally gave a lecture on Martin Luther and Nelson Mandela, accompanied by a presentation. Once every two or three days, we discussed subjects that were very relevant to the army and to life, such as the death penalty, possession of weapons, and more. Regarding theological content, I learned the most from the apologetics lessons that we had to prepare ourselves. I struggled with my beliefs and with questions that I didn’t have answers for, such as “Where was God during the Holocaust?” The opportunity to delve into these unresolved questions gave me a lot of confidence in my faith and tools to deal with questions non-believers may ask me in the future.
KNI: What sort of volunteering activities did you do during the course?
Amelia: We volunteered in many places. One was a community center in Petach Tikva, where people donate clothes, toys and other things for families in need. We organized the items and also participated in activities for children and youth. We also helped prepare the center that hosted the national youth conference “Walking on Water.” Then, we volunteered with the Arab population in Shefar’am, watering vineyards and olive trees, planting plants and nurturing the environment.
Hadas: The most powerful experience for me was volunteering at Red Carpet, a shelter in southern Tel Aviv for women who work in prostitution, most of whom are also drug addicts. We merely helped with sorting materials and sang for the women who were there, but my exposure to these women whose lives were so different from mine was dramatic. I was accustomed to my comfortable and blessed life and had little awareness of others’ needs. This was the first time I had encountered such difficult scenes of people who inject themselves with drugs. This experience made me first of all grateful for what God has given me in life, but also made me consider where and who God would want me to serve later on in my life.
Another objective of Hetzim is to expose us to different populations and opinions in our country. Visiting the settlements and meeting with a believer who lives there was also a milestone for me in learning to understand people who are different than me.
KNI: What was your most memorable experience from the program?
Amelia: We celebrated Yom Kippur [the Day of Atonement] together. We fasted and prayed all day long. It was my first time fasting, and I managed to fast until the end of it. This whole day was meaningful. We prepared a special room that we could use during the day to pray and we prayed about various topics together at night. It was very special for me to devote the entire day to prayer.
Hadas: Without a doubt, the most memorable experience for me was the survival workshop! We were divided into three groups, equipped with maps, walkie-talkies and backpacks that weighed 7 to 8 kg. each holding food, water and everything needed for survival in the “wild” for two days. In the evening, we read the entire letter to the Philippians and sang hymns. Through the night, each member took turns guarding our campsite for an hour and a half.
KNI: How would you sum up your experience in the “Hetzim” program?
Amelia: My relationship with God was greatly strengthened. Reading the Bible every day was not something I have done before, and now it has become a blessed habit. I am more excited to know, explore, delve deeper into the Word of God and look for answers to questions.
Hadas: First of all, the subject of being a Messianic soldier gave me so many practical tools. I also learned how to make decisions, how to maintain a stable relationship with God. We delved into the subject of our identity as Jews, as believers and as individual people each whom God has given unique gifts. I learned a lot about myself, what qualities I need to work on and what I’m good at. This program doesn’t only prepare you for the army, but also for life.
KNI: What would you tell someone debating whether to do this program before enlisting in the IDF?
Amelia: There’s nothing to debate! This summer I was supposed to travel abroad with my congregation’s worship team in order to perform. Obviously, I really wanted to travel and even hesitated, but when I look back, I know I made the right choice. This program is mandatory for every believer who is about to join the IDF. Not to mention the fact that I have made friends for life, and we will keep in touch and encourage each other when we enlist. I know that there is someone who will support, help and pray for me.
Hadas: It was worth every minute. I did not believe that it was possible to go through so many experiences at different levels in only two months. The exposure and experience of the things you are about to face in the army provides a good boost to the recruitment process — guard duty, living in a room with 10 girls, taking care of food and logistics and getting along with people even when conditions are tough. I feel that I have undergone a process of personal development and self-awareness. However, the greatest value for me is that today I have the knowledge and the tools to defend my faith, to preserve holiness and to stand firm in the things I believe in.
Amelia and Hadas’ enthusiasm is convincing: believers should participate in Hetzim before enlisting in the IDF. Having the tools, preparation and guidance can help young soldiers avoid the regrets that many believing soldiers have experienced during their army service, whether lost opportunities to share the gospel or defend their faith.
Netivah and Hetzim coordinator, Matan Ohana, had the vision to turn these regrets into advantages and opportunities for young believers joining the army.
“To see 13 young people, Messianic Jews, before their army service, at the end of a hard and challenging intensive preparatory program … with a sense of mission that they are going to do the military service for God and God alone, simply moved me and filled my heart with thanks to God,“ Ohana said at the graduation. “The training team and I pray that the students will implement what they learned in the preparatory program into their military service. We pray that they will be a testimony, a light and salt wherever they are in the army and later on in their lives. We thank God … that we can hold a Messianic pre-military preparatory program in the nation of Israel for the next generation of believers in the body of the Messiah, and prepare them for their military service, and life.”
And with this recent graduation, a second quiver of sharpened arrows was released into the world. We pray that Netivah may continue this program every year.