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The Nahal group (Hebrew: גרעין נחל) is a form of community service developed in Israel, which combines social volunteerism, agriculture and military service. The word "Nahal" (Hebrew: נחל) (acronym of Noar Halutzi Lohem, lit. "Fighting Pioneer Youth") is an Israel Defense Forces infantry brigade. Historically, it refers to a program created in 1949 to combine military service and establishment of new agricultural settlements, often in outlying areas. Later, the program branched out into volunteering and social welfare projects.
The service is divided into several parts:
- The military period (פרק צבאי)
- The national mission period (פרק משימה)
- Routine security measures (only for the male members) (בט"ש)
- Unpaid military service period (Military service with no payment) (של"ת)
The order of the periods is permanent, but there are changes in the length of the periods, in accordance with the recruitment cycles. Also, it is possible to have the unpaid military service period either at the beginning or at the end of each course.
The military period
During the first military period, the members of the Nahal group serve in the Nahal infantry brigade together. The male members have a combat service as part of the 50th battalion or Caracal Battalion, and the female members serve in the Caracal Battalion or in different positions in the Education and Youth Corps and the Nahal headquarters. As part of their service, the members of the same group are entitled to serve in the same military unit (the 50th battalion, in the Caracal Battalion and in basic training of the female soldiers and the non-combat soldiers), and to hold a group meeting once in a while. At the end of their military service, after the release of the female Nahal soldiers, the remaining Nahal members return for half a year of routine security measures activities.
The national mission period
The national mission period lasts a year, in which all the core group stays together, under the command of the Education and Youth Corps. During the establishment of the state, the national mission was mostly the establishment of new settlements in periphery areas (by means of Nahal settlements) and expansion of the existing kibbutzim. Over the years, and in accordance with the changes in the Israeli society, the national mission has changed to helping the poor populations throughout the country and nowadays the Nahal groups perform in the National mission period social and educational-based missions in the social periphery of the state of Israel. The soldiers live in apartments in different local authorities, and work in different education tasks in the schools, in the community centers, in the youth clubs, in the absorption centers, etc. The group is accompanied by Military commanders, the Youth organizers in the local authorities and representatives of the youth movement to which the group belongs to core.
The unpaid military-service periods are a remainder of the Nahal course which included living in kibbutzim, but today are more similar to the national mission periods, yet are shorter and are less monitored by the army.
In general, the military service of male members of the Nahal group is four months longer than the military service of most soldiers. However, some of the Nahal groups continue to work together, anyway, even after the military service, as part of adult movements or choose to continue living together, regardless of their original movement.
The Orthodox Nahal
Under the Nahal framework, there is now also a route in which soldiers who originate from the Jewish ultra-Orthodox sector could join. They serve for two years in the 97th battalion of the Kfir Brigade, and in addition they go to a one-year school in order to complete their studies and get a matriculation certificate or in order to get a profession.
Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, established the Nahal program in 1949.