Tuesday, 12 January 2010

"I swear..."

Wow, what an amazing couple of days I have had. Last Thursday was the swearing-in ceremony for paratroopers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where both my parents and grandparents came all the way from London to attend. Then from Thursday all the way until today, Tuesday, I have been given special holiday as a lone soldier to be with them. So for the last five days I have had quality time with my family in Tel Aviv. At the moment, I am writing this blog to you from Ortal as I get ready to go back to the army tomorrow, in fact I will have to wake up at 3.15am tomorrow, in order to be on time after coming back from holiday. I could've gone to bed a little earlier, but instead I am up at 11.45pm writing this blog, the things I do for my readers!

The 'Tekes Hashba'ah' (swearing-in ceremony) is a big deal for paratroopers. Due to their relationship with the Kotel, every draft of tzanchanim have their 'tekes' there after about a month and a half of being in the army. Since tzanchanim is rather rich, a lot of effort is put into the ceremony, with lights, speakers, flags and all the high-ranked generals there too. We did a lot of practice for it becuase of its formality and reputation, and on the day, everything went swimmingly. On the day, all 600 paratroopers cramped into the Kotel tunnels awaiting the signal to march out onto the plaza. In the unbearable humidity of so many people in such a tight place, each battalion started to sing their own war songs and as it intensified you could not help but join in and sing, jump and curse at the other groups. Even though I only sang/hummed along because I don't really know the words or their meanings (because of the langauge), it was an adrenaline-pumping experience. It really showed the healthy aggressiveness that these young soldiers have but also, more importantly, the brotherhood that we are starting to build. It was really one of those moments, which I won't forget. The ceremony was very meaningful for me; collecting a prayer book from my commanding officer, my gun from my platoon commader and singing the 'hatikva' with my class was all fantastic.

What really made the ceremony memorable was the fact that my parents and grandparents were there to see me (in uniform - for the first time), I can't begin to understand the emotion they felt when seeing me. In fact, the moment in which I sprinted to meet them from one end of the plaza to the other was unbelievably emotional for all of us and we just stood there crying for a couple of minutes. Following the ceremony, we spent a few days in Tel Aviv; relaxing, eating (way too much) and generally just being together. We have all agreed that this week was by far the most special time our family has had together. However, all good things have to come to an end and saying goodbye to them today at the train station was probably my hardest moment since making aliyah. Anyone who knows my family's unique situation will understand why we are so close and to be separated has been extremely difficult. While all my friends are now living away from home (I was always the biggest mummy's boy and baby), I am living in a different country from my parents. Despite making aliyah and doing what I believe in, it does not change the fact that being so far away from home and in the army (the place that makes everything harder and targets your emotional weaknesses) has made me miss my parents (and grandparents) unmeasurable amounts. Just writing about saying goodbye to them gives me a lump in my throat but I think it shows just how much love we have in our family and how each time we see each other is more special than the last.

What else made this week great was my new found celebrity status. The army wanted to give one lone soldiers' story to the media as part of the swearing-in ceremony and because of some aspects of my story (dad being ill, only child and even the blog), they choose me. So after two different phone interviews with journalists, would you believe it, I was in two papers. Firstly, there is a small article on me in the Israeli paper 'Yisrael Hayom', http://digital-edition.israelhayom.co.il/Olive/ODE/Israel/Default.aspx?href=ITD%2F2010%2F01%2F08, I am on the 12/13th page. Also, there is a much larger article about me (in english) in the Jerusalem Post, http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1262339437799&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull. I've heard that my commander has read both and has even stuck them up in our room!!

The day before our 'tekes' we had a masa (hike) for the swearing-in ceremony. Of course it was the hardest and longest (11km) one yet and lasted for a never-ending 2 and a half hours. The whole draft did it together and we finished in a town nearby to the base. The residents of the town all came out to cheers us when we finished, and seeing those little religious boys clapping me in, gave me that zionism drug that I crave. At the ceremony for the masa, we were presented with the next part of our uniform: the shoulder tag, which for tzanchanim is a snake with wings. While everyone received a message on the back from the secretary of the battalion, my commander gave me his own personal one with a private message, which is a big honour in the army. I can now proudly wear it when I travel to and from base.

I go back to the army tomorrow and I feel that after the toughness of saying goodbye to family, I want to try and concentrate on being as best a soldier as I can. I stay on base this weekend, since the week after is 'sada'oot', which is when you sleep all week outside in the desert, eating combat rations and doing physical stuff all day. Supposedly it is the hardest week of basic training and the weekend following it, I will be back here resting and will make sure to write another blog describing it. Really do need to get some sleep (at least 3 hours) before re-uniting with my friends on base. This week was so special with my mummy, daddy, nana and papa, and I will never forget it. Until next week...


  1. Hi Sam, I hope all is well. Even though I don't know you personally, I just want to say how immensely proud I am of you and I am sure klal yisrael and especially your family are as well. Tishmor al atsmecha, Rafi

  2. Hello Sam. Martin Gilbert here. I have been following you from Sydney. Your blog is so enthralling and I keep sending links to both my jewish and non-jewish friends, Spurs fans and non-believers too! When your Dad and I were young I used to think he was brave being wicket keeper at Cockfosters cricket ground but compared with what you get upto...!! I am sure your Dad and Mum are proud of you and I hope you feel a element of pride in yourself. I feel proud to say I know you and your family. You are someone who takes on and relishes the challenge and I am certain this will serve you well. ps Have you seen Ronnie Rosenthal??!!!

  3. hey Sam!,

    Firstly congratulations on your 'Tekes Hashba'ah'. While you were celebrating in the noise and humidity of the Kotel, we were having a little celebration here in London of our own... Gemma and I got married. It was a beautiful white wedding, an incredible day, weekend, ceremony and only wish you and your family could have been with us to celebrate.

    You will be pleased to know that the Leeds crew came down in full force and partied all night!

    I genuinely cannot wait for your blogs to hit my RSS feed. Reading and following your incredible journey and experiences make us feel apart of it, you write so well. I am actually amazed the army even lets you write it!

    We wish you all the success, luck and safety as you continue on your journey. We are proud to be your family.

    Until the next time....

    Wayne and the New Mrs Gemma Godfrey


  4. Hi sam,

    I mistakenly posted my comment under 'year zero/ 2009'

    I hope you will read it.

    Just to add to it; I hope that you continue to post throughout your time in the army - but that you show what would be real courage, by reporting what you actually see, do and feel, rather than what you feel your colleagues and your nation expects to hear.

    I hope if, or rather when, you see things being done that are wrong, you will speak out. That would make you a real man.

    I repeat that if theres one lesson to be learned from the horiffic eperience of the holocaust, surely its that human rights are universal, and non-negotiable. That applies to your neighbours as well as yourself. Please dont forget that throughout your military career, despite the fact that your leaders have.

    All the best for a peacefull 2010