Sunday, 20 September 2009

Shana Tova

Happy New Year everyone. Rosh Hashannah has now been and gone; and my first new year as an Israeli citizen and future soldier has started. Kibbutz Ortal is not a religious kibbutz, to say the least, but for Rosh Hashannah there was a different atmosphere here and it felt very Israeli. Although there was not a shul, they did have special meals on both Friday and Saturday night. Not only was there multiple courses, but we were also served our food, instead of the regular buffet service! Being in Israel for Rosh Hashannah was a very special experience and I look forward to the many more (just to let anyone who didn't know, that I fully intend on staying in Israel after my army service, I mean, honestly, once you've made aliyah and gone to the army how can you leave this place). Anyway, the new year was very nice and I though about my year ahead; the physical and mental difficulties of the army (i.e. the dreaded first 8-10 months of basic and advanced training), as well as missing my parents, family and friends. But of course, all the wonderful things I have to look forward to as well. Shana Tova to you all, I hope you all have a happy, healthy and successful year ahead.

In less than a week, my parents (along with my nana, papa and honourary aunt and uncle) are coming to Israel for Succot, but I think there is probably another reason why they're coming here, mmmm, I wonder what it could be... Due to the special circumstances, as you know, my absence at home has been the overriding factor of my parents' lives for the last seven weeks. So, next week, they are coming to see me, which will be as amazing for them as it will be for me. I wouldn't say that I have missed home, home being Stanmore and London, apart from maybe missing some luxuries, like Sky TV. However, I have missed my parents and the role they played in my life e.g. if I am feeling a bit down or annoyed at something, it is difficult for them to comfort me properly through Skype. But, I am very excited to see them and I'm sure you will hear all about it on their return.

This was my birthday present from my parents, notice the 'Sam 19' i.e. my age. C'mon you spurs.
As I said in a previous blog, we have a weekly kravi (combat units) training session from one of the kibbutzniks for those who want it. Every week, around 5 of us are subjected to some interesting and sometimes fun (but mostly gruelling) physical and mental exercises. One particular challenge, the koala, was where he made us hang by our arms and legs on a pole and the last man standing (hanging) was the winner. Extremely tough, but I finished 2nd out of 5. This weeks session was the hardest yet, in my opinion. There was running, sprinting, slalom, carrying a bag of rocks and crawling. But the continuous commands of 'Matsav Shtayim' (the straight press up position) and then "echad=1" (going down to an inch off the floor) and then "shtayim=2" (back up to mastav shtayim) was nearly unbearable. There were certain points where I was ready to give up (and this is just pre-army warm up!) just because it was too difficult, but I forced myself to continue. As everyone who has been in the army says, "it's all in the head", and this week I just about started to understand what that entails.

The picture here is some of us pitbulls getting ready to do 'matsav shtayim', i.e. we haven't lifted our knees up yet. As you can see, during the training sessions, matsav shtayim is not only performed on soft grass, but also concrete and rocks. My knuckles are still red!

Last week we all had individual meetings with an officer from the army, regarding where we want to go. I have requested tzanchanim (paratroopers) as my first choice with Nachal and Golani as second and third respectively. These choices are different units in the army but all three come under the bracket of foot soldier/combat/infantry. I chose tzanchanim specifically because I have heard numerous good things about this unit, it has a lot of meaningful history behind (i.e. taking back the kotel in '67) and I just like the idea of jumping out of a plane! From what I've heard, if you're in Garin Tzabar (the programme I am in) you normally get accepted into your first choice. However, to get into tzanchanim you need to pass the 'gibush' (screening day/elimination test) which will be in November. But when that comes, I will explain in more detail.

Another thing that happened this week was that most of my friends went to university and are currently at the end of their 'freshers week', a week of clubbing and partying. Seeing all the photos on facebook made me feel really weird. Firstly, I couldn't believe that my friends were old enough to be going to university; leaving home and living on their own. But then thinking about it, I suppose I have done something even more 'brave' (not sure if that's the right word), even though I still feel like a little mummy's boy from north London, but I'm sure that feeling will leave once I am issued with a gun! Also, it's not that I felt left out when seeing my friends at their universities, instead, in shock of what I actually achieved in making aliyah on my own and actually fulfilling a dream that I have had for years. I don't want to dismiss anyone who goes to university because that is not what I mean, just that looking at photos from Birmingham, Nottingham and Leeds, while in the Golan Heights just reminds me of my personal accomplishment.

This is something else we did this week, all the boys helped to clear up and then paint the sign at Ortal's entrance. Look at those hard working kibbutzniks.

Getting a little bit colder here, but still definitely no need to use the radiator! In two days is Yom Kipur and here in Ortal they do have a shul, so I will be fasting and going to shul like normal. Fast well everbody.

Here are some pictures from my first day of aliyah. To the left, leaving my parents at Heathrow and, to the right, some of my friends surprising me at the opening ceremony.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Tsav Rishon...

Shalom. Completed my Tsav Rishon last week in Tiberius. The 'Tsav Rishon' (first draft) is when young Israelis visit a special army base and do a number of different tests, in order to determine where you go within the army. There are different sections to the Tsav Rishon, all of which I did...

1) Hebrew Test - a bit of a struggle for me but my reading and writing wasn't too bad. Hopefully I don't have to got army ulpan.
2) 'Pyschotechnic' Test - this is just some short questions on the computer where you have to choose the right answer (normally the next shape in the sequence). This was kind of simple as it just proves that you don't have any serious learning difficulties.
3) Medical Profiling - this was a series of medical checks; general check-up, urine test, height, weight, colour blind test and eye test. After all this they give you a score/profile that determines where you are eligible to go within the army. I am a 97(!), which is the highest score and means I can do practically anyhting, but, most importantly, means I can be kravi (fighter/combat unit).
4) Personal Interview - specific to boys who want to be in combat units. This lasted nearly an hour and was filled with very random questions, e.g. How many friends do I have? or By how many minutes if I was late to my ulpan class would it be by?

So what this means, is that I have completed my first draft for the army, woo-hoo, but also that I can be a combat soldier in the army. The next step is choosing where to go within the army, but that is not for another couple of weeks.

In order to try and get familiar to the army lifestyle I decided to have a short haircut. Unfortunately, the boy who cut my hair used clippers that have only one setting, grade one, i.e. as he started to shave off my hair, I realised that it was more like a hooligan haircut than an army one. Also, in order to get some laughs out of this situation, the rest of my garin decided to leave a circle of hair at the back of my head, sort of like a monk. I quickly got rid of this gross style but only after going to the hadar ochel for dinner and showing to the whole kibbutz! If you're having trouble picturing this....

These are pictures of before and after the riduclous haircut.

Other news in the last week... Firstly it was my 19th birthday on Monday, thanks you to everyone for the birthday wishes. It was lucky because instead of having ulpan like every other weekday, we went on an exciting tiyul called 'yehudiah' where we hiked and swam until about 4pm. In the evening the whole garin went to the pub (when I say pub, what I really mean is the underground bomb shelter that has cushions and stereo system) to celebrate and had a memorable night... The next morning I did wake up with a very sore head!

Me, on my birthday, with my two roommates. As you can see, the silly monk haircut has now gone but having a skinhead is still rather extreme for me.

In fact, when I spoke to my parents and grandparents on Skype for the first time since shaving my head, I had to wear a hat for them, in order not to shock them (no jokes).

I feel like I have really settled now, not just mentally but also I feel like my flat, my Kibbutz and my country are really becoming my home. I do still think about my friends and family back in London but here is where I truly want to be. Anyway, another nice thing that happened this week was how we slept on the beach at Habonim. Although sand got absolutely everywhere, waking up in the morning and going straight into the sea was quite cool.

Me on the beach on my bed for the night.

Next week we have ulpan nearly every day as normal and I'm sure there will be a trip of some sort as well. The next big step is choosing where to go within the army and this will happen once I receive my 'manila' (the sheet where you prioritise where you want to go) within the next week. So, the next blog will let you all know where I have chosen to go to within the IDF!!!