Friday, 18 December 2009


Back again for a free weekend. This weekend started on Thursday, as we received the treasured 'Hamshoosh' (a weekend that starts on Thursday not Friday, very rare), ah, the joys of being in Tzanchanim. I remember hearing once, that a soldier normally comes home once every two weeks, however for me, it seems that I am coming home every week! In fact, since officially drafting on the 25th November, I have already had four free weekends here in Ortal, absolutely no complaints about that. Yet, there is a rumour going around that at some point in January, my battalion, 101, will be staying on base for '21' (two consecutive weekends on base).

My bed - notice the gun under the mattress for sleeping at night!

Another great, exciting, filled-to-capacity but tiring week in the army. I can definitely say that my early experiences in the army and in basic training have been fun and enjoyable, especially since getting closer with friends in my 'kita' (class). My class has actually been increased by one soldier, we are now 11 guys, as someone from Sayeret Matcal joined (soldiers from arguably the best unit in the army do their basic training with Tzanchanim). The week started on Sunday, as it does every week, and I arrived on base two and a half hours later than everyone else due to living so far North. The first couple of days this week was filled with learning 'Ma'ar' (first aid), which was extremely difficult for me in the lessons as they used so much technical Hebrew that it was almost impossible for me to understand. So for the majority of last week, all the olim hadashim and chayelim boddedim (immigrants and lone soldiers) in my battalion had group lessons where the hebrew was a lot easier.

One of the most exciting points this week was throwing a 'rimon' (grenade). Yes, unbelieveably, on Wednesday I threw a live, real grenade as part of my training as a 'lochem' (fighter). We had a number of lessons beforehand, learning about the different types of grenades, the actual mechanism and when to use it. We practised a couple of times by throwing with rocks, while in the special grenade bunker. Then came the moment. In full gear I ran up this hill to meet with the commander of the 'mahlaka' (platoon - about 30 soldiers). We went through the procedure and then he handed me the grenade, I couldn't believe that I had a real grenade in my hand but, also, how much trust the army has in us 18 year olds with theses deadly weapons. I mean what could have stopped me just taking out the pin and holding it. Anyway, people do remain serious, of course, and I prepared to throw the grenade about 10m into this massive ditch. I pulled out the pin, shouted "Rimon!" (grenade), croutched down on the floor and counted "21,22,23,24" (the reason being that it takes 4 seconds to detonate and saying 21 lasts for a full second). What I didn't realise, is that the 'mefaked' (commander) then jumps on you! My platoon commander is a kippa-wearing, six-foot-something, giant, who, when holding an M16, makes it look like a minature toy. The shock of his massive frame falling on me was more terrifying than the defeaning bang of the grenade!!!

Me with 3 guns!!!

Hannukah in the army was something I will never forget. The whole battalion stood out in the center of our building and they brought out this massive hannukiah. One of the religious platoon commanders took a candle and proceeded to say the brachot. At that moment, all those who weren't religious (i.e. not wearing a kippa), started to cover their heads. The commanders put on their red berets and us soldiers put on our mandatory sun hats. It was one of those moments, no-one needed to be told to cover their head, it was just an immediate reaction and it didn't matter in the slightest if you were religious or not. After the war-worn platoon commander sung the brachot like a tuneful chazzan, the whole battalion started to sing 'Ma'or Tsur'. As I looked around, I saw that every single person was singing and knew all the words, again I had that feeling of emotion and felt a lump in the back of my throat. When in Israel, you sometimes forget how it doesn't matter if you're religious to know the customs, as Judaism is the way of life here, even in a secular approach. That's the reason why I came here, to help protect our one tiny portion of land, in order to allow Jewish people to carry out a Jewish life without being in danger. Although we have still yet to find complete safety from those embedded on destroying us, nowadays I have realised, it is the Israeli army that is fighting on that front line to try and ensure our safety.

It was another really busy week, so I am going to write another blog tomorrow about more interesting things, such as the first masa and a special run we did for Hannukah. I want to finish this blog by telling you how I felt during this week. I hope I cause no offence to all my friends who went to university and are now on their month-long break, but this week I really felt that I was doing something important with my life. I've had to make an enormously hard decision this year in deciding to leave my parents and my life in England, all because of my ideals and beliefs. Not only was the decision difficult but now, in the army, it is also as hard as you can imagine. Physically, I come home sore each week from all the different exercises, mentally, I am tired from trying to keep up with a foreign language that I am still coming to grasps with and, emotionally, I am away from my home, both in England and in Ortal, for at least a week at a time. Having to make new friends from a completely different culture and language, being stressed about sorting out your stuff all the time and travelling for hours on end from one side of the country to other, only makes my situation even tougher. But, despite all this, I still don't regret what I've done for an instant and I feel even more Zionist than ever. I could have gone to university and had it easy, but look what I've done, I feel like I've achieved so much and have actually delivered on doing what I believe in. So while my friends are at home on holiday, probably bored stiff, I am painfully doing 30 press-ups in my pyjamas because we were four seconds late. But it's all worth it and it has already made me so much stronger as a person. Another blog tomorrow....

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