It's been almost a month since my last blog, so you'd expect me to have lots of stories from being in the army for such a long time. The truth is, that I've hardly been in the army recently, spending nearly two weeks with my parents here in Tel Aviv., who came over for the Pesach period. After my parents went back to London last Sunday, I also went back "home", returning to base and to the reality of commanders' course, after being absent for a fortnight!
Before my parents arrived here, when I was living the life of a soldier (as opposed to a full-on tourist in a hotel on the Tel Aviv beachfront!), I did actually do some army work. The week before Pesach was filled with a lot of Pesach cleaning, as well as the last group of navigations. This included learning and performing urban navigating, which is a very interesting experience and something that was completely new to me. Learning to navigate in a city seems easy enough; we do it as tourists and even at home when we look through A to Z maps or GPS to plan our route. Urban navigating in the army is practically the same, in the sense that we are given a map of a city (like that of Google Earth) and simply plan a route using the streets. The difference is, however, that in army inner-city navigation, you are running around like a lunatic (due to time restraints), while carrying your vest, gun and the radio! This is, of course, following the four-hour, 12km navigation in the mountain-ranged desert on the outskirts of the city. In my urban navigation, I did find it enjoyable to run around Dimona at 3am, trying to find the codes around the city that are the get-to points for the navigation, it's sort of like a treasure hunt, but without a prize at the end! Anyway, who's on the streets of Dimona in the early hours of the morning? Naturally, it is the youngsters, back from their night out, many of whom were still reeeling from the effects of alcohol. This made the whole experience even more hilarious, especially when it meant interacting with them in order to ask where we were on the map or how to get to the next point! In the end, we finally finished two long weeks of navigating and I was selected as a 'mitstayen' (top performer) within my platoon and I'll be rewarded with a 'hamshush' at some point. Obviously there had to be a catch that somehow involved me getting more time off the army!!The class medic opening up one of my friend's veins as a part of a standard exercise.
Also, before we broke off for Pesach (or rather before I broke off for Pesach), I celebrated my one and a half year 'pazamoledet' (birthday in the army). This was quite a momentous event as it meant that I had exactly one year to go of my service. A year can pass very quickly, especially since my next 12 months of service is bound to include a month back home in London and a month's holiday before my release that all 'lohemim' are entitled to receive. This all means that a year to go is not such a long time, considering, and I already need to start looking towards life beyond the army. Finishing a year and a half of the army also made me realise that in all that time, I still haven't had a day of 'betim' (being sick while on base) or 'gimmelim' (being sick while at home), or needed to go to an 'aphnaya' (appointment with a doctor). This is an incredible statistic, not only becuase I am a 'kravi' soldier and am involved in physical exercises all the time, but also because that it is such a long time. In basic training there are guys who were always on 'betim', meaning that they didn't join in with everyone else and just did nothing, while there were also those who were at home all the time after getting sick days from the army. It just makes me feel good to know that I have never not joined in on any sort of activity because I was unwell or injured and, let's hope in continues. This doesn't mean to say that I have a exemplary attendance record in the army, as I will explain...
It is said that while in 'makim' (commanders' course), it is almost impossible to get time off. Sure you're can have the odd day here and there for a close relative's wedding or barmitzvah, but in general, it is known that any more than four days away from the course could result in being chucked out of makim completely, due to missing too much of the course. However, once again (much like I did in my excessive number of hamshushim during basic training or getting out for my garin's seminar while in jump school) I have somehow got my way around these "rules" and was with my parents for 13 of the 14 nights that they were here. Yes, we were given some time off for Pesach, but I missed at least seven days of 'makim' and am still definitely in the course. The army slang word for getting out of stuff is to "oketz" (literally means to sting) and this can range from missing out on kitchen duty to go to do something else far less horrible, to getting out on a weekend when everyone is closing. Since the start of my service I have built up a reputation as a master 'oketz', because of my endless 'hamshushim' (Thursday weekends), always seeming to get maiximum time off when my parents are here and other countless things too. This art of 'oketzing' is not something I do, in order to screw over my friends (which has never happened) or to get out of doing something hard (I can't remember not being present for a particularly hard activity during my service), instead I have just gained a skill of knowing how to organise myself things I feel I deserve, as a lone soldier, like getting out a day earlier than everyone else if it's possible. This has followed me wherever I've been in the army from basic training to the battalion and now to 'makim'; the other soldiers always seem to notice after a month or two of knowing me that I am very good at dealing with the army and getting things done for myself. This 'oketzing' ability of mine is the best example of how I have successfully integrated into the army and the Israeli mentality. I often joke with my friends how I'll write a book on how to 'oketz' the army for lone soldiers, but don't start to think of me as sly or conniving as I simply understand when 'oketzing' is appropriate, within boundaries and deserved.
Talking of which, getting two weeks off to be with my parents was no easy task. All this 'oketzing' I have tried to explain to you is not some way of me trying to be as less in the army as I can, far from it, it is simply my way of dealing with the hardships of being a lone soldier by getting out potentially when I can see that it is possible without affecting anyone else and won't affect me i.e. not missing out on anything important. I also feel that sometimes the army doesn't give lone soldiers enough time off that they deserve and need, and time with one's parents is by far the most important thing for any 'hayal boded; (lone soldier). That's why when I knew my parents' trip to Israel for Pesach coincided with me being in 'makim', I did everything I could to try and be with them as much as I could. My relationship with my parents is incredbily special and not seeing them for a day when they are in the same country as me is devastating and as much as the army can understand that for a lone soldier seeing his mum and dad is important, the commanders themselves don't know what it is like to see one's parents only a couple of times a year. I explained to the commanders of my course that I couldn't see why they wouldn't allow me to be with my parents as much as I could if there was the possibility of making up for lost time on the course by completing things at a later date. That's how I managed to get such a long time off from the army to be with my parents and I honestly believe that I deserved to be with them as much as I was, and I have seen, since coming back to the army, that not letting me off for more than four days initially was simply unccessary as I was able to do everything I missed out on and, in truth, I didn't even miss out on that much!!!
Being with my parents was as wonderful as ever. Every time I see them here in Israel is always a special time for us and each time is just as hard as the last to say goodbye. I know that it is a lot harder for them without me than the other way round, so it's important that we make the most of our time together and that is why being with them for practically the whole time that they were here was truly amazing. We all had a great Pesach, as I hope you did too, and it got even better when I managed to get a beard permit for the counting of the Omer, meaning I don't need to shave or cut my hair for anohter month! Also while I was with my parents, was the royal wedding and while my mum and dad weren't bothered and had gone to the beach, for some reason I was glued to the television and watched it for four hours! When I lived in england, I always felt no allegiance to being British whatsoever and would even want the football team to lose in teh World Cup so everyone would be disappointed. Since I made aliyah though, I realised that I've held onto my British identity a lot more that I thought I owuld and I think this is because it is one of the main things that defines me here in Israel and, espcially, in the army where I am known as being from London. Maybe it was the just the excitement of the royal wedding, but I have finally found my British patriotism; it's only taken 20 years and a combination of aliyah to Israel and drafting to the IDF to bring it out of me!!!
So that was my summary of the last month for me here in Israel, apologies for the delay. I am currently off for Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut and will write another blog about all that in a couple of days...