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By zamorse

When the State of Israel was founded in 1948, David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, granted the ultra-orthodox Jews living in the new state an exemption from serving in the army so that they could focus on prayer and studying the bible (Torah). At the time, this amounted to only about 400 army-age men each year.

Nowadays, the ultra-orthodox population of Israel has exploded, representing around 10% of the population today. About a quarter of the country's kindergartners are ultra-orthodox.

The fact the the ultra-orthodox don't serve in the army, study at religious seminaries instead of working, and live off welfare from the state has understandably upset the secular majority in the country. To them, they are paying extra taxes and contributing to Israeli society by serving in the army, but it's not fair that the ultra-orthodox don't have to.

Recently, this issue has come to a boiling point in Israeli society. The Knesset (Parliament) passed a law last week mandating that every ultra-orthodox male, except for the exceptionally gifted, will have to serve in the army starting in three years. This would amount to tens of thousands of ultra-orthodox males joining the army every year, compared to the 400 as originally exempted by Ben-Gurion.

This caused an uproar in the ultra-orthodox community, even before the bill was passed. Mass protests erupted around the country in the ultra-orthodox communities. An estimated 500,000 ultra-orthodox Jews literally shut down Jerusalem during one of the protests, for instance. They blocked the main way out of Jerusalem and some friends of mine had trouble getting out of the city back to Haifa for classes the next day.

Now the question becomes, what happens from here on? The ultra-orthodox leaders have called on their community to resist the draft when that day comes. If that happens, tens of thousand of ultra-orthodox males will be considered "draft dodgers" and will go to jail. And then chaos will ensue.

This issue will only become more interesting as the first draft approaches...

By catrionaschwartz

As many of you may have heard the Italian Prime minister Enrico Letto was asked to resign earlier this month after his Democratic Party voted to make rapid changes in the government in order to push through reforms. President Giorgio Napolitano then asked the current mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, to form a new government.

Renzi will be the youngest Prime Minister at age 39 (only two months younger than Mussolini was when he came into power). This is all occurring just ten months after Enrico Letto was elected following the Berlusconi drama.

This governmental upheaval hasn’t really disrupted my experience abroad (although I'm sure there will be some stumbling blocks in the near future as this new government is put in place) but it is interesting to see as a foreigner. In general I have noticed a greater number of strikes, protests and marches in Rome than in DC. There have been two major demonstrations in the time I’ve been here, both of which disrupted public transport. Italians do not seem terribly phased by this though and even expect it to some degree.

During our orientation we were told that Italians are happy to go with the flow; if their plans don’t work out, they make new ones, if the bus doesn’t come after forty-five minutes they’ll walk, or head home. This seems to be the attitude towards the demonstrations. I’m not sure if I wholly subscribe to the idea of national traits but I do think there would be greater frustration in the US if public transport was so frequently disrupted by strikes and marches.

This weekend I will have a break from the political drama though as I am going on my first trip—to Venice for Carnivale! To be honest my only real point of reference for this is the Count of Monte Cristo but I’m still really excited! Hopefully I will get some good photos to post for next week’s post. Till then!

*More info on Renzi here: