Over 2,000 Israel Defense Forces soldiers stopped in Tel Aviv on Thursday to run some errands: paying bills, renewing driver’s licenses, ordering passports, getting their pants hemmed.
Ordinarily such quotidian activities wouldn’t warrant a news article, but what set these apart was that the troops — foreign-born soldiers who serve in the IDF without family in Israel — were able to do all of these things in one place, rather than having to run between government offices or wait on the phone for hours.
This was the seventh annual Errands Day, or in Hebrew Yom Siddurim, organized by the IDF and the Nefesh B’Nefesh and Friends of the IDF organizations.
“The idea is to save them all the bureaucracy and bouncing back and forth between the different offices,” Lt. Col. Limor Mizrahi, of the IDF Manpower Directorate, told The Times of Israel.
Some two-thirds of the IDF’s foreign-born lone soldiers participated in the event, coming to Tel Aviv’s Beit Hachayal, or Soldier’s House, where representatives from a wide variety of government offices, utility companies, educational institutions and other services were available to the troops to pay a bill, file paperwork, sort out a problem, or provide information. A group of seamstresses and a tailor were also on-hand to fix a rip, sew a button or hem a cuff, according to Yael Katsman, one of the event organizers from Nefesh B’Nefesh.
“Over 2,000 lone soldiers from all over the world came to Beit Hachayal for us to help them get through a lot of their errands,” she said.
Mizrahi said the soldiers’ commanders had been informed months in advance in order to ensure that they’d be given Thursday off. The 1,000 or so soldiers who didn’t attend either didn’t want to or were unable to be released for operational reasons.
“There’s no chance that a commander wouldn’t release their soldier, unless there’s something operational in which case there’s nothing to be done,” Mizrahi said.
The event was not intended for Israeli-born lone soldiers — troops who for one reason or another are not supported financially by their families, who make up roughly half of all IDF lone soldiers.
One of the over 2,000 lone soldiers who did attend was Staff Sgt. Daniel Goldman, who moved to Israel from Baltimore, Maryland, and now serves in the Nahal Brigade’s reconnaissance battalion.
“I’m going to see the lovely faces of all the bureaucratic institutions that this country has to offer,” Goldman told The Times of Israel the night before the event.
Goldman, who is due to be released from the military this summer, said this was his third time going to Errands Day. He planned to meet with a number of universities and scholarship funds that sent representatives to the event, but said he would likely visit other booths as well.
“It’s like when you go to the grocery store just to buy milk, and you realize, I don’t have bread or eggs or lemons,” he said.
According to Katsman, the most popular draw of the day was the Transportation Ministry, as it was able to speed up the process of converting a foreign driver’s license to an Israeli one, bringing under one roof what otherwise would require at least three separate errands.
In order to get an Israeli license, immigrants who have had a foreign driver’s license for less than five years have to first pass an eye exam, then present that exam to the License Authority, and finally pass a driving test. Those who have had a foreign license for more than five years can convert it automatically.
To speed up this process, eye doctors were brought in to perform the exams and 26 driving instructors volunteered their cars for the soldiers to use in their driving tests, Katsman said.
In total, 561 soldiers took driving tests on Thursday, with 341 of them passing, and another 80 soldiers, who had been driving for over five years, were also able to convert their licenses, Katsman said.
A number of senior Israeli officials visited the Errands Day event, including Immigration and Absorption Minster Yoav Gallant, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich.
“It was an honor to come and greet these incredible soldiers, who made aliyah from all over the world in order to serve in the IDF. I was extremely moved to see this example of Zionism at its best,” Gallant said at the event.
Though lone soldiers are entitled to a day off each month to run errands, Mizrahi explained that this Errands Day event is held only once a year in part because of the logistical difficulties of getting representatives from so many government offices to come out.
“It’s a real effort bringing everyone together,” she said. “But it’s a very emotional experience. I get butterflies in my stomach.”