Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer — the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot — will set country alight tonight with bonfires. In the light of day, the holiday’s other symbols — and there are many — are celebrated, including bows and arrows in commemoration of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire.
It is also the day that the Gadna youth brigade was established in 1941. Fittingly Gadna bears the emblem of a bow and arrow.
According to Wikipedia, “The program was established in the early 1940s by the Haganah, which became the core of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Thousands of Gadna members fought in Israel’s War of Independence.”
“In June 1949, the Knesset passed a law requiring men and women who were physically and mentally fit to serve in the military from the age of 18. The law also provided for the establishment of the Gadna semi-military framework to prepare high school students for military service.”
Training in Gadna focused on geography and topography, physical fitness, marksmanship, scouting, field exercises, comradeship, teamwork, and mutual aid. Encyclopaedia Judaica notes that, “During the Sinai Campaign of 1956 and the Six-Day War of 1967, Gadna youngsters effectively replaced personnel in the postal system, civil defense, schools, hospitals, industry, and agriculture.”
“During vacations third-year high school students go to Gadna work and training camps in border settlements and immigrant villages, or participate in national service projects in landscape improvement, archaeological excavation, and assistance in hospitals. The corps also helps to reeducate and reintegrate delinquent youth.”
Following the 1991 Gulf War, defense budgets were cut and the Gadna program made subordinate to the Magen division of the IDF Education and Youth Corps, working in cooperation with the Ministry of Education’s Society and Youth Administration.
In 2008, Gadna was reorganized as a one-week program for 11th graders, training an estimated 16,000-19,000 Israeli youth annually in pre-military training that includes shooting, night treks and other disciplines but, sadly, not archery. For that, one must join the Israel Archery Association.