When Rabbi Meir Ohana takes off his traditional black suit, he puts on a Border Police uniform. While much of the ultra-Orthodox world in Israel is up in arms over the so-called "sharing of the burden" -- the state's intent to compel Israeli ultra-Orthodox citizens to enlist in the military after years of enjoying blanket exemptions from service -- Ohana is a rare sight among his ilk.
Ohana and his wife Batya are the parents of six children, between the ages of six and 17. The rabbi was raised and educated in religious schools, but this did not dissuade him from joining the Israel Defense Forces Golani Brigade, in the tradition of his father and older brothers, who also served in the brown-bereted brigade. Ohana served in a Golani commando unit, and was transferred to the 13th Battalion, where he manned the unit's heavy machine gun.
Ohana was discharged from the army in 1986 and joined the Border Police officers corps. In 1998, he was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate and has since served as the chief rabbi in Kfar Yuval and other communities along the explosive border with Lebanon in Israel's north. He also heads the Kfar Yuval emergency squad, as well as volunteering as the Galilee firefighting department's rabbi. In 2005, he was trained to lead the "Matmidim" (counterparts to the police's civil guard), and now tours with the unit every month as part of his Border Police position.
Ohana is not only in favor of "sharing the burden" but also demands that his sons work toward the goal of greater haredi integration into Israel's armed forces as well. His eldest son is set to enlist next year, and has already undergone the trial period the IDF uses to evaluate potential elite-unit soldiers. Ohana's son will likely serve in a combat unit.
"Studying Torah and preserving the religious lifestyle don't prevent one from contributing to bearing the burden in an equitable way for all parts of society. Sharing the burden and defending ourselves against our enemies is a commandment written in the Torah," Ohana said.