Friday, 8 April 2011

Destination: Tel Aviv

This is potentially the last time that I will be writing the blog from my room here in Kibbutz Ortal. Tomorrow, I am completing my move to Tel Aviv, meaning that I will officially be leaving the kibbutz and, consequently, the garin.

Leaving the kibbutz and the garin was a very hard decision for me. When I made aliyah, I joined a program called Garin Tzabar, which helps lone soldiers in Israel by placing them in a kibbutz with other lone soldiers. My garin was predominately from Europe and we were sent to kibbutz Ortal in the northern Golan Heights. For three months we were together, 19 soon-to-be lone soldiers; learning Hebrew, taking trips round Israel and going through the pre-army processes. Even after we went our separate ways within the army, we still came back every weekend to Ortal, in order to see each other. However, over the past six months, many members of the garin have left the kibbutz in order to move closer to the centre of Israel. Although there are many things keeping me in Ortal, like my wonderful host family and my rakaz, Ran, the time has come, for me as well, to move away from the kibbutz. It's so sad to leave Ortal after living here for over a year and a half, but it's time to move on and start a new chapter of my life here in Israel. I thank and appreciate everything that the kibbutz has done for me in helping me to settle in Israel and act as my first home here, and to all the people who made me feel so welcome.

Posing in our colouful berets.

Leaving the kibbutz means that I have, on paper, officially left the Garin Tzabar program and my garin itself. But in reality, my friends from the garin are those who I'm closest to in Israel and I will continue to see them all the time, albeit during weekends in Tel Aviv. As I said, I am moving to Tel Aviv, where I'll be living with a friend from London who has an apartment right in the city centre. For me, it's a nice change to be a lot closer to civilisation and to be living in the middle of a thriving and busy city, as opposed to a kibbutz in the north. I will be as close to living on my own as I have ever done in my life and the challenge of being more independant is quite exciting. While my friends in England are already well into their second year of living away from home, for me it's been a lot different. Although making aliyah and moving to Israel is the biggest move altogether, on the kibbutz, despite living together in a separate building, we were still very dependant on the kibbutz dining room for food, on our host families for washing and on the kibbutznikim for driving us around. Even in the army everything is done for me; from food and accommodation, to clothes and travel!!! So, as you can see, I am very excited to be moving to Tel Aviv, even though it means I need to start using a waching machine all by myself now!!

Now that I am in 'makim', I need to wear the green 'chongiyot', which is a sign of respect that I am in commanders' course...

This past fortnight in 'makim' (commanders' course), I spent the first week in Jenin and the second doing shetach. Guarding in Jenin was definitely an experience and I was able to witness, first hand, the actions of the 'magav' (border police), those guys you see in Jerusalem with riot helmets and batons. Well I can report back (you left-wingers won't like this...) that the commands from up top were very clear in avoiding unnecessary conflict; instead only to deal with threats directly concerning our security. It showed me how (not that I didn't already know) all that stuff you see on t.v. or in the newspaper about army brutality towards innocent Palestinians is simply the anti-Israel media spin on things that we have come to expect in the world. Once again I'm not trying to be too political (albeit unavoidable on this particular topic) but since I have experienced with my own eyes what really happens in the West Bank, it is frustrating to see how the media, so often, seems to blur the truth and give Israel a bad name. I will also remember my week in Jenin for the unusual Friday night dinner that took place with the soldiers and officers of the 'magav', many of whom are Druzi or Israeli-Arab. Doing kiddush with a group of soldiers where the majority were not Jewish was quite extraordinary and it was nice to see them all cover their heads with 'kumtot' (berets) and respectfully answer with "amen". It just shows how weird and wonderful and exceptionally vast the face of the Israeli army actually is.

Me with my class in 'makim'.

This week we were in the 'shetach'
(combat exercises in the open field), which I hadn't done in ages and was, subsequently, unhappily reunited with combat rations for every meal. In the shetach we each took turns in leading a class assault in open warfare, something we would need to do if we became commanders ourselves, either in training or in real combat. Despite being extremely nervous beforehand, I performed quite well in my exercise and was given the compliment from my samal that "even though the language was hard for me, my instructions were very clear". I think he was just being kind as there were a couple of occasions where I needed to repeat myself over the chuckles of the rest of the class, after an initial mistake! All in all though, I actually did do rather well, especially considering that it was the first time that I have ever led something of any nature within the framework of the army. Leading is something that I have had a small experience of doing, but this is limited to the football field or within social circles, this type of leadership, however, is entirely different and, undoubtedly, real leadership. To have gone through this style of leadership training is something that I can truly take with me for the rest of my life; whether I become a commander in the end or not. Learning how to take control and command of a class of 10+ combat soldiers on the battlefield is something very unique indeed and is, without a doubt, the hardest but most rewarding type of leadership there is. It's hard to believe that a mere two years ago I was worrying over my personal statement for a university application, while last week, I was leading a group of twelve combat soldiers from the front; whilst running up a hill and shooting our guns as part of an open warfare assault. It is amazing to think that at the age of 18, boys in Israel learnt this leadership and take with it the massive responsibility of others' lives. In my opinion this is one of the reasons why we are so strong and why we have defied the odds throughout the years with our incredible survival.

Just before going out to the 'shetach' last week.

Earlier today I took a bus from Be'er Sheva to Tel Aviv, a journey which annoyed me so much that I felt the need to blog about it now. After a hard week in the shetach; physically challenging for five straight days, very little sleep and not eating properly, we finally came home today after two weeks on base. We almost didn't leave the army (because of the trouble going on in the south) and found out we have to come back 'mekutseret' (returning to the army on a Saturday night instead of a Sunday morning) because we have a tight schedule of navigations next week. All this just added to my, let's just say, less than positive mood (not to mention a disastrous football result that happened this week) and I was relieved just to be on that bus. I get on the bus to learn that there are no seats left, meaning I needed to stand for the whole of the one and a half hour bus ride. The majority of the seats were being used by soldiers from 'modiin' (intelligence), not undercover secret agents but more like secretaries and desk jobs, in other words; 'jobniks' (an army position that isn't kravi). They were complaining about their 8 hour sleeps every night (!) and how their commander didn't let them out during the middle of the week. I was just standing there, watching them sitting and moaning, and felt dusgusted by the whole system. That being that it seems how we (combat soldiers) do all the hard and dangerous work, but still get treated the worst; through being away from home for long periods, living in bad conditions and going through months and months of a sleepless, exhausting physical and mental routine. Although the army is like a machine that would collapse if one screw came loose, i.e. every role in the army is important; from cleaner and cook, to fighter and intelligence, this incident on the bus did however, remind me how proud I am to be a 'lohem' (fighter) and how it is the only way, in my opinion, to do the army. I hate jobniks!!!

Next week is navigations, again, and then it is Pesach! Pesach means that my parents will be coming to Israel and hopefully I will be given enough time off to see them, as normally taking holiday during 'makim' is very difficult. This will be the last blog then before Pesach, so Hag Sameach and try not to get too sick of all the matzah...