Israel is a beautiful country and we are learning so many new things about it. Almost everywhere we go, we see men and women serving as army officers. We have learned to realize this is really a good thing and the people at the Jerusalem Center who have either served or have children who are currently serving give this a thumbs up. Everyone goes directly from high school into the military. The army is officially known as the Israel Defense Forces or IDF and is a central institution in Israeli society. The majority of Israelis serve in the military and most men continue to serve in the reserves until middle age. In addition to defending the country against violence, the army serves as a symbol of Israeli strength, efficiency and effectiveness. Some may ask, "Who serves?" All Jewish men are required to do 3 years of regular military service. Religiously observant women are not compelled to serve and, of course, married women and mothers are also exempted. Fifty percent of women who do enter the regular army now serve approximately two years. Most non-Jews are not required to serve in the army and some Arab and Bedouin men do volunteer for army service but from what I understand, many choose to make it a career. If so, then they are trained in very specific duties. We met a young woman on the plane to Israel who was on a two-week break from the army. She said she loved being part of that and planned to make it her career. She was 20 years of age. On our first visit to the Old City, we saw this army group touring. My heart jumped a beat when I noticed how close their hands were to the triggers of their guns. One week ago we saw these army officers in an ice cream shop and I was surprised they seemed so comfortable relaxing in front of the ice cream shop. The girls must have been just out of high school. From what we have seen thus far, the girls don't seem to have restrictions on how they can wear their hair and I thought their long hair made them look beautiful! After their regular army service, men are taken for roughly a month of reserve duty every year. During this time they leave their families and their civilian jobs in order to carry out military functions, which for some means front-line action. In times of war, the reserves are called up for active duty. Thus, Israeli Jewish men continue to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces until their mid-forties or early fifties.