Friday, 28 August 2009

Back from Gadna

Just recently worked out how to put photos on the blog so here are a couple from my first 3 weeks here in Israel...

This is a picture of my Garin. It was taken by a photographer and put in the local Golan newspaper. As you can see, I (pink t-shirt) jumped off a little bit too early compared to everyone else!!!

This is me (near left) in the Hadar Ochel (dining room) of the Kibbutz, with some of the other boys.

Most of the boys in an ice cold (seriously, ice cold) water spring near the Herman mountain, on one of our tiyuls (trips). I am third from left and don't ask me why I wore glasses on the day that we went swimming.

So I am now back at Kibbutz Ortal for the weekend after spending 5 days at the Gadna base in Jo'ara. Some may know Gadna from Fzy tours and those who do, would have heard that it is an annoying and an boring week. Israelis see Gadna as a chore, a week that doesn't prepare for the army (although it's aim is to try and give you an insight to army life) and, from what I've heard, all Israelis treat it as a joke.

Well, I am here to squash those rumours. Although it wasn't massively tiring, in terms of fitness, the constant discipline, packed conditions and army 'shtuyot' (senseless nonesense) made this week challenging. The whole of the my programme participated in this week, i.e. not just my European group of 19 people, but also 250 olim, mainly from USA. Being in a room the size of a box with 15, I repeat 15, other guys was extremely difficult. Every morning at 5.30am (wake up time!), the smell of feet and the sight of a bum in my face is just a taste of Gadna. From what I've learnt, amry conditions (while on a base) are better that they are on Gadna, but still, I now understand and appreciate the luxury of space.

The 5 days were very interesting though and I would have to say that, although some parts were hard, I had a really great week with some memorable moments and constant laughs. The day in the 'shetach' (outside) was exhilarating, as we were briefly taught lessons of camoflauge and grenade evasion. Also, the shetach has given me scratches from elbow to wrist on both arms from doing something called the 'Indian crawl'. On the last day, we shot M16s in a firing range, having been drilled with constant instructions and safety precautions for the 4 previous days. I felt surprisingly confident and in control once it came to my turn in the range. However, after 5 fierce bullets, I looked at embarrasment at my shooting sheet to find one single hole miles away from the target, the other 4 bullets were off target (the 5th may have even been an off target shot by the person shooting next to me - I don't think I am going to be a sniper in the army!)

Gadna also gave me those heart-pumping moments that epitomise my zionism. At both opening and closing ceremonies, standing in 'mizvar adom' (attention), facing the Israeli flag and singing the hatikva with hundreds of other 'nearly-soldiers' gave me that buzz. Also, to see and hear how other people on this programme are as passionate as I am about what we're doing, really assured me that Israel can continue to survive, and flourish.

In the closing ceremony, my 'mefaked' (commander) told me that I was very disciplined and that I would be a good soldier, which made me beam with confidence. Although this week has been tough, I feel confident that when it comes to the real thing in 2 and half months time (!), hopefully, my passion and determination will help me to get through the toughest challenge of my life.
My favourite picture - My mefaked giving me my shoulder badges

My Garin, in line formation, just before our 'masa' (hike) - who is that, 3rd from right, holding the gun?!?

This week is back to normal, ulpan in the morning and relaxing in the afternoon. On Monday, though, we have our 'tsav rishon' (first draft) where we go through medical, psychotechnic and hebrew tests, which will give us a final score to determine where we are eligible for serving within the army. Assuming everything goes as expected, I should get an 82 medical profile (2nd highest, due to my vision), which would make me eligible to be 'kravi' (a fighter). But I will let you know what happens, wish me luck for the hebrew test as I need it. Shabbat Shalom.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Eve of Gadna

Tomorrow, as a Garin, we start Gadna for 5 days. Gadna is a trial week for the army but from what we've been told by Kibbutzniks already in the army, it doesn't even come to close. Instead, this next week will be a bit of a laugh, taking orders from the Gadna commanders, but will also be a good chance for the group to really bond in a different situation. I am really excited for Gadna, I want to really excel as a 'soldier' (you get to wear uniform) and wantto try and prepare myself, even though it will be far from the real thing, for this new atmosphere.

It has been a superb week here in Ortal in the magnificent Golan Heights. Firstly, I received my A level results, a day after the rest of the world. Thanks to my Mummy, who managed to convince JFS to release my results to her over the phone, something they have never done before, but allowed because of the circumstances. I got A A A (English Literature, History and Politics) and am clearly delighted, as you can't get better than that. More importantly though, the fact that with these grades alone I could have got into any university or course in the country, but, instead, I am going to enlist in the Israeli army, what a feeling.

Also this week, some of the boys (including myself) had our first training session with one of the Kibbutzniks in order to get in some sort of fitness for the army. Even though it was only a glimpse of our training programme, which itself is only a minor glimpse of what we have to face in the IDF, it was one of my personal highlights so far.

Picture this...Four of us boys were painfully trying to stay in 'Matsav Shtayim' (the position that you start a press-up in, i.e. arms and body straight) for minutes at a time, while our 'commander', a Kibbutznik with massive dreadlocks who was in Nachal, stands over us. With my arms shaking, our fitness instructor was telling us things in Hebrew, like "the Israeli army is the best army in the world" and "these are the people who are protecting this land". It is difficult to describe it completely, but it was definitely one of those moments that I keep having where I'm reminded why I am here.

There has been a lot of ulpan classes this week, my hebrew is improving but is still nowhere near the level it needs to be. During our peulot (activities) only hebrew is spoken and I do need translation from other people. Language is probably the aspect of aliya that is frustrating me the most but I have faith that I will keep picking it up and hopefully I don't have to go to army ulpan. The garin football team is now starting to beat the kibbutniks, and I am definitely playing my best football since the days of Brady Maccabi!!!

Finally, for 18 years of living in England, I never really felt dizzy heights. But here in Israel, it's lovely knowing that Tottenham are sitting at the top of the league as I write this, long may it stay that way. I have watched both of Spurs' games this season and still feel like I am there with my papa. C'mon you spurs.

As I have said, next week is Gadna, so I will let you know how that went in the next blog. Much love.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Back from my first free weekend

Am now back on the kibbutz after spending my first free weekend with Dov Newmark and his wonderful family in Modi'in (Dov also met me at the airport after making aliyah just 11 days ago!). I had a really relaxing weekend in the scorching heat of central Israel, unlike the cool Golan, and enjoyed the religious atmosphere of Modi'in. In fact, on Shabbat we were evicted from the shul before the service had ended, as the Sephardi community, who owned the shul, wanted to start their service. So, we had to finish Mussaf on the street albeit with people driving past. I really felt like I was in Israel with this unusual situation.

Although I had a great "sof shavuah", I really missed my Garin and my kibbutz. I think this weekend showed me how important the group is for me, especially as I have no immediate family in Israel. Also, since the 7 days we have been together, I feel that we have become close friends and speaking for myself, I know that I have made some strong friends that I will be able to count on the difficult upcoming months.

I also wanted to let you know how, after being dropped off at Arlozorov train station in Tel Aviv, I needed to get a train to Modi'in. As I waited for the double decker train (!), I realised that it was the first time I had been properly alone in Israel, post-aliyah. As I sat there, I started to become quite emotional (not in a sad way) thinking how I have actually succeeded in following my dreams. Seeing the dozens of soldiers walking past also reminded me of why I wanted to come and gave me that buzz that zionism does to me. That feeling also came to me on Friday night at Modi'in, where at the Kabbalat Shabbat service, I looked around to see all the religious men. I remember thinking that I came to Israel because I want to contribute in all that I can in protecting these sorts of people and our right to follow our beliefs in our own land. This isn't just a cliche that I am writing, I truly believe in everything I have said and sometimes think that these beliefs are for people much more mature than me.

I will quickly let you know what I have been up to in the last week within the garin. We have had our first ulpan lesson, been on a couple of trips around the north (much like tour) and have completed many bureaucratic procedures, such as, mobile phone (which will be coming in 2 days!!), bank account and "teudat zehut", which is my Israeli ID.

This week will be filled with ulpan lessons, ulpan lessons and some extra ulpan help for those who need (, so next week's blog may not be as exciting but keep reading it please.

Friday, 7 August 2009

First couple of days

Today is Friday and am writing this blog to you from the beautiful Kibbutz Ortal, where I will be based solidly for three months before being drafted into the army.

Well guys, I actually did it! After all these years of dreaming, months of preparing and days of waiting, I made aliyah on Wednesday 5th August and am ready to start this new part of my life. After saying goodbye to my parents around 20 times by the security control at Heathrow airport, me and two other members of my garin (group), Daniel and Tal, made our way to Gate 56. The flight was pleasant and we touched down at Ben-Gurion airport at 10.30pm local time. We then were met by someone who took us to the Ministry of Absoroption offices at the airport. After half an hour, I was officially an oleh hadash (new immigrant) and received my first cash payment for making aiyah. From the airport we took a taxi ride to Mavyserret Zion where we stayed for the first night.

The next morning we left to go to Tel Aviv university where the opening ceremony for our programme was being held. Around 200 Americans and around 25 Europeans descended on the Smolarsh hall, where we met all the memebers of our respective garins. I was lucky enough to be surprised by 3 of my friends, whose visit to support me in my aliyah deserves mentioning of their names (Jake, Jabda and Josh). After the ceremony the 19 members of my garin got on the coach for the 3 hour trip our kibbutz!!!

Kibbutz Ortal is in the Golan Heights, 5 miles from the Syrian border! Everyone here has been really welcoming and our apartments are quite nice. We have already played the locals at a footbal match but were narrowly defeated, (remember that the guys we played are already in teh army, in some pretty tough units, so while I was panting on my back in the heat, they were slowly jogging around me).

Next week, we are continuined to get settled here and we also jobs to get done, such as mobile phones, banks and our teudat zehut (identity card). Hopefully, I will be able to update you at some point next week.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The day before....

I am sitting in my room on the eve of fulfilling my dreams and emigrating to Israel at the age of 18, it doesn't get much bigger than this.

This time tomorrow I will be an offical Israeli citizen and just three months away from being drafted into the Israeli Defence Forces. I am dreading tomorrow, purely because it will pain me to see both my mum and dad crying their eyes out at Heathrow airport, not because they don't support my decision but because they will miss me dreadfully, due to the fact I am an only child and because my father is severely disabled with Multiple Sclerosis. In fact, they do support my decision and are so proud of my determination to act on my beliefs, I know they truly admire that I will be leaving a supportive family (including 3 fantastic grandparents, one of whom, my papa, is my best friend) and a really great group of friends. Not only that, I am also leaving promising opportunities here in London, e.g. I was accepted at Kings College university to study a very prestigious degree. However, despite all this, I have decided to leave everything behind and make aliyah.

Throughout my life I have been aware of zionism, thanks to my parents' insistence on going to Israel of holdiay, both Jewish schools and youth movements, yet it was the trip to Poland that really confirmed my final plans. As a Jew, I feel that Israel is my true home and I desperately want to return there, defend the country and the citizens (by serving in the army) and build my own life in the promised land. I am not particularly religious, more traditional, but I do firmly believe that the Jewish people are led by divine intervention and that, for the first time in 2000 years, Israel is the only place that Jews can form a majority and feel safe from the persecution that we have been subjected to throughout our history. I am a strong zionist and have chosen to act on my principles and move to Israel.

I am on a programme specifically for people my age who want to make aliyah (without parents) and join the IDF. My specific group, one of nine, has been placed in a Kibbutz in the Golan Heights, which will be my permament base for the first 3 months of aliya and will continue to be my home during breaks from the army. In around November, I will be drafted into the army, into a unit of unknown destination at the moment, to serve for the full 3 years.

This blog will hopefully update you (family, friends or anyone else) on my travels, adventures, ups and downs during this monumental step in my life. Now I just have to start packing my life into 3 suitcases....