Friday, 21 January 2011

A near cycling nightmare

I'm starting to get a bit sick of the whole 17:4 thing, not that I was ever enjoying being home for only once a month, however, at the start of 'kav' it was a kind of new and interesting experience. The novelty has since worn off though, and despite never being happier in the army than I am now, I am ready to finish the 'kav' and start getting out of the army more than four days every month.

Coming back to the army after my two week holiday with my parents over the new year period was actually a lot easier than I had thought it would be. I received a warm welcome back from all my friends and commanders alike, which really meant a lot to me and shows that my newly formed friendships have really stuck. I didn't have much time to settle in though, because within half an hour of coming back I was already cleaning toilets as part of company duties!!!

Posing on base with my dog tags worn in the opposite direction - a sign showing I am halfway through my service!!!

The main thing that happened in this latest '17' was a very serious incident that occurred on the first Shabbat. Once again, I am not overstepping any boundaries here, mainly because this incident was so serious that it was well publicised worldwide, and I even got many facebook messages from friends back home, checking to see if I was OK. Two Friday nights ago, during an incident on the border, Nadav Rotenberg, a soldier from battalion 202, was killed. The fact that an Israeli soldier was killed is obviously a massive deal and it affected everyone immensely on base, and in Israel, in general. Without going into details of what exactly happened, I think it's vitally important to mention how terrible it is that a young boy has lost his life in the defence of our country and in the fight against those who want to destroy it. While some people will talk about the consequences of his death and what it means for the future of the current (relatively) peaceful border with Gaza, I think it's better to focus on what it means for his friends and family. The funeral, no doubt, was filled with many tzanchanim who served with him, who then went back to 'kav' with one man less. While the shivah has long since finished and his parents are slowly getting used to life without their son. It angers me to think that Israeli parents are still losing their sons, aged young as 19 and 20, all because there are those who can't accept that all we want is a land of our own. I never like this blog to be a political rant but sometimes I need to get across what I'm thinking.

Eating pizza with friends on base.

It was very difficult to explain to my mum (and now to you) why, despite that great tragedy, things carried on like normal almost immediately. Israel remembers and commemorates those who have passed away in the long struggle for our cause better than any other country in the world. I can give you countless examples of how I have personally experienced this since being in Israel; like how the army sends soldiers to the memorial days of every single soldier who has fallen in service, or the extreme solemness that is Holocaust memorial day. However, despite all this intense remembrance, Israel has developed a culture, whereby people are almost immune to tragedy, thus, explaining the 'tough' Israeli. This may because the suffering and tragedy of Jews has been common throughout history and, consequently, we have tragically become used to it. Or, which is what I think, the constant threat of our neighbours means that we are unable to stop for a minute and be sad, as the work of securing our borders safely for the citizens of Israel can never stop. This explains how even after everything that happened on that Friday night; on base, things just carried on like normal.

My Tottenham towel proudly hangs in my room on base.

It's hard to move away from a subject like that, but the '17', like I said, carried on as normal. In fact, it was one of the best 17s I have had so far, partly because I only did one full day of company duties and not one day in the kitchen!!! The day before we went home, we were scheduled to have a fun, bike ride for all the platoon. For those of you who don't know, for some reason I have never successfully learnt how to ride a bicycle and I then had to embarrassingly explain this in front of my whole platoon. My platoon commander said "it'll be fine", a common response in the army to any sort of problem, however, by the end of the day the whole company knew of my incapability to ride a bike, and I even had the deputy company commander offering to teach me!!! In the end, the bike ride got cancelled and we played football instead, so I got away with it...

I am back in the army on Sunday; the reason why my four days home has been cut down to three is rather interesting though. I have been chosen to do a special course of navigation, with elite paratroopers. The reason why I am doing this is because my platoon commander wants me to be his spearhead sharpshooter (even I have to admit how cool that sounds), so it should be a very interesting week. Until next time...

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Touching the Wall

Today I said another goodbye to both my parents and grandparents. As hard as it was to leave my parents once again, in comparison to previous farewells we actually coped fairly well. Knowing that I will see them again in 16 weeks, when they come out here for Pesach, encourages me a lot and will give me something to look forward to. I am now organising my things back on my kibbutz, as I return to Gaza tomorrow and start another 17...

What an amazing holiday I have just had. For the past fortnight I was with my family in Tel Aviv and I definitely took full advantage of my two weeks away from the 'kav'; staying in a hotel and going out every night is a stark contrast to kitchen duty! After not seeing my close family since the summer when I was back home, it was obviously really incredible to spend such a long period of time with them and we really used the time well to catch up and just enjoy being with each other. In addition to all the quality family time, I also partied very hard and have definitely exceeded my alcohol and food intake levels for the entire year!! Unusually, this time off felt more like a holiday from the army than my month back in London did! I think this is because by being in Tel Aviv with my family, I still felt relatively close to the army; seeing soldiers on the street, speaking to army friends on the phone and reading things about Gaza in the news, however, I still was most definitely on holiday. Even though I feel a bit depressed about leaving my family and how it is going to be extremely hard to get back into the routine of the army and of 'kav', it was all so worth it and I have truly had the best two weeks for a long, long time.

Tucking into one of the many steaks that I ate!!!

It was definitely a holiday to remember. I saw everyone I wanted to see; from friends I have in Tel Aviv to others who had played a big part in my aliyah experience. It was also great to be back with my daddy, who I have a special relationship with. Making him laugh by telling him funny stories from the army and explaining to him the complexities of the army culture, like the differences between all the units, certainly made this holiday enjoyable for him. While in Tel Aviv, I realised that, when seeing soldiers walking home on a midweek night that I could never be a jobnik. I have nothing against jobniks (non-combat soldiers) as every role in the army is vital and when one fails, the whole army would fail. However, maybe it's because I am a lone soldier, but I would never dream of giving up my place as a combat soldier. Even though we have it the hardest; forget the physical stuff, I'm talking about not going home, having bad conditions and not sleeping, we are the ones who are strong enough to deal with that lifestyle and still carry on and continue giving to this country. During this holiday, I also experienced that zionistic inspiration that always reminds me why I am here. On one instance, I was walking down Ben-Yehuda, a prominent street in Tel Aviv, when I was asked to help make a minyan for the evening prayer service. I decided to say yes and I ended up praying like I havent done in years and that is what Israel is all about; not the religious aspect (although I do think that's important) but the fact that everyone is Jewish.

Meeting up with cousins.

While I was on holiday, a new year started, 2011, and it made me think back to the year that has just passed me. For me, 2010, was obviously all about the army and was my first full year in my service. From January to December I was an enlisted soldier and, despite having many weekends off and some special lone soldier holidays, I was in the army for days on end. Looking back, it all started with a swearing-in ceremony at the Kotel, where I proudly stood in front of my parents and grandparents and pronounced my loyalty to the Israeli army and the state of Israel. Training continued into the early months of the year, which was filled by weeks in the shetach, a couple of interesting weekends in Hebron, a memorable helicopter ride and my training as a sharpshooter. Around the time when basic training finished, my parents came for Pesach and I once again spent time with them in Tel Aviv. Following Pesach, I started advanced training and the hard, exhausting and endless weeks of shetach continued. There was a two-week break from all the shetach, when we completed jump school, parachuted five times and received wings for our uniform. The end of advanced training came close and our last week of shetach, war week, concluded our time on the Paratroopers' training base. Then came the masa kumta, one of the hardest physical challenges of my life, let alone the year, and I finally received my red beret! My parents surprising me at the tekes was by far the best moment of the year and something I will never ever forget. I had two months of training in the Golan heights, before I went home for a month, the first and only time I have been back since making aliyah. Following the temporary depression of coming back to Israel, I finished my 'maslool' and received my fighter's pin (from my legendary platoon commander). Since, I joined a new platoon and a new company in the battalion, and for the rest of the year I started and am currently doing 'kav' Gaza.

With my papa at the kotel.

Wow, that was breathless! I have definitely achieved a lot, as well as experiencing things I would never have dreamed of doing if I hadn't taken this amazing journey. Reminiscing about 2010 really does show how much I actually have done in a year and this is only regarding my army service, I haven't even mentioned the countless weekends with my garin, where we blowed of some much needed steam from the army. It has been a long year, thinking about that swearing-in ceremony in Jerusalem seems a very long time ago and to think how much I have advanced as a soldier, both in terms of training, experience and qualification (and how much better my uniform looks now, with all the pins and the beret) is astonishing. Now to 2011, my last full year of being in the army. The length and difficulty of the previous year does make me worried that this year, a year of multiple 'kavs', will be even harder. Although nothing will ever compare to the difficulty of masaot and things like that, this year will probably be harder because of being home less and putting in more hours so to speak. On January the 13th, a weeks time, I will be "touching the wall", which means I have completed exactly half of my service. That is hard to swallow as it is scary to think how I've got to do it all over again...

So I am back to routine tomorrow and starting another 17. As much as it will be hard to go back because of my time off, I am excited to see my friends again and get back into the thick of things. On my next exit, I'll write another blog, updating you on everything that happens in this '17'. I do hope this blog continues to interest and inspire those of you who read it and I do really appreciate all the feedback that you give. A happy and healthy new year to you all...