As I just mentioned, we just did a '20', rather than a '17', the reasons of which I'll get on to later on in the blog. Twenty days. That's the longest amount of time I've ever spent in the army without going home and it definitely felt like it, especially since we spent three consecutive weekends on base. Despite only being on base three more days than what we normally have to endure, the difference was undoubtedly noticeable; mainly because of the extra Shabbat on base. Looking back to the start of '20' feels like reminiscing on years gone by, but here goes...
The '20' started with a trip to the Palmach museum, which is dedicated to the memory of those who fought and gave their lives while fighting for the pre-IDF, pre-1948, 'army' of the Jewish people in Israel. Speaking to a surviving soldier of the Palmach, now an old man, really put things into perspective for us young soldiers, as well as reminding me what an incredible miracle it was for Israel to survive its early years. The first night on base after being home (normally a very depressing time) turned out to be a really great evening, as there was a live showing of El Classico, the football match between Barcelona and Real Madrid, on a projector screen in the company area. For Barca-mad Israelis, this game was a must-see and I thought it was simply amazing to think how a whole fighting company from the paratroopers' brigade had gathered round to watch the match, with the Gazan border 'just around the corner'. Even those who returned from a patrol mid-match, immediately sat down and joined in with everyone else, despite being all geared in combat vests and helmets!!!
The last night of the '20'; going home celebrations.
Closing twenty days is such a long time that I have almost forgotten how Chanukah came and went during the time I was on base. Initially, I was annoyed to be closing for the whole of Chanukah, since it is one of my more favoured Jewish festivals, but I soon learnt that there aren't many more better places to celebrate Chanukah than in the army. Nearly every night, groups of religious guys would come to the company to light candles with us, say the prayers and give us doughnuts. Wow, did we eat doughnuts alright. I'm surprised I haven't been diagnosed with some kind of stomach disease after this '20', I must have averaged around 5 or 6 doughnuts a day! Seriously though, Chanukah felt very meaningful in the army and there were some special events arranged during the festival, like the company-Chanukah-steak-night-thing, where we also recieved some brand new fleeces. The big night, however, was first night Chanukah, as the whole gdud (batallion) came together to light the candles. The real reason for the big effort, however, was the visiting guest who came especially to light the candles, the defence minister, Ehud Barak. Obviously, I was intrigued to see him in person and honoured to meet someone who has contributed a lot to Israel. My Israeli friends, on the other hand, found it weird that I was excited to see and hear from a politican, typical Israelis. However, my excitement soon turned to disappointment as some of us were jumped to the border to deal with an incident and I missed seeing him completely. That's just the way it goes sometimes in the army. Whether it's missing a friend's birthday because you're closing shabbat or missing out croissants in the dining room because you're gurading; you just get used to it. By the way, the race to eat the limited number of croissants served at breakfast, if you happen to be awake or even on base, has now become part of our daily routine!!!
Even when on kitch duty, I still celebrated Chanukah. Here in the dining room, the Chanukiah proudly stands over the yoghurts!
The biggest thing that happened during this '20' was, without a doubt, an incident on the border last Saturday night. It was such a big deal that it quickly became news on the television the very same night and in all the newspapers the next day. Now I'm not overstepping borders of what I'm forbidden to say on the blog, as the incident has been made public, however, there are some (even major) details that have been held back, of which I won't be delving into. Those of you who regularly keep up to date with news in Israel will probably have heard about what happened, but for those who didn't, I'll briefly explain. The sighting of two terrorists near the border was followed by those terrorists being killed, as well as one of our soldiers, a tzanchan from batallion 202, being shot and wounded. Although I wasn't directly involved in the incident, I did happen to be there when it all happened and pretty much saw everything. A soldier getting shot is a rare occurance, in comparison to the more common killings of terrorists, so this just elevated the whole event. Afterwards, my platoon area became a mad-house of telephone calls from worried parents who had seen on the news the headline, "paratroopper shot in Northern Gaza". I contacted those close to me in Israel, who had heard something and were, consequently, alarmed for my safety. Hearing about a thing like that is the constant nightmare that Israeli parents (of sons in kravi) go through on a regular basis and is the day they dread for the most, bar none. Unfortunately, for one set of parents that nightmare became a reality last saturday night. The soldier, thankfully, is in a stable condition. My parents had not heard about it until I told them, which I was happy about. I would not want to think about how my parents would have felt if they had read that on the news. I just want to wish the young soldier, who happens to be a friend of a friend, a full and speedy recovery.
I don't want to end the blog on a sad note, so I want to talk about another thing that I will remember this '20' for; the blistering cold. Subsequently, the reason why we closed an extra three days was because of the weather and beacuse of the incident. Before I even start, I know it doesn't compare to those of you in London who have been quarantined by the snow lately, this is a rare instant where conditions back home seem favourable to those in the army! Nevertheless, it is so very cold in Gaza, especially at night. For us soldiers, careful planning must be taken, in order to tackle the problem of a mid-night guard duty in the freezing temperatures. For me personally, minimum dresswear is an initial level of thermal vest and longjohns, followed by uniform, a fleece and the almighty snowsuit. This is then complimented by a second pair of socks, woolly hat, neckwarmer and gloves. Despite that mountain of clothes, I was still freezing every night!!!
I definitely feel that I've deserved this upcoming break, in terms of the recent time and work I've put into the army. I'm obviously really excited to see my family, who I haven't seen since being back home in the summer, which feels like an age ago. Also, I'm craving a break from the kav lifestyle, meaning that I can look forward to sleeping more than three hours a night, going to bed without wearing boots and eating three meals a day with cutlery while sitting at a table. I hope you all have a happy and healthy new year, I know that being in Tel Aviv for a fortnight with friends and family will mean I'll have a good one...