Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Masa Yisraeli

An interesting couple of weeks have just passed; experiencing both the extremes of a week of shetach and then a week of education and soul-searching. Was just out for Shavuot and celebrated the festival at home in Tel Aviv.

I want to start this blog by expressing my extended gratitude to anyone who continues to read the blog. I was planning in saying something anyway, but an unintended meeting with someone who has been a keen follower of the blog and is now in the army himself reminded me of the importance of thanking all of you. As much as I write the blog for myself personally, as a way of expressing my thoughts and keeping a diary of my experiences, really the blog is for you guys. To know, through your feedback, that there are people all over the world who have found this blog and read it to understand the true ins and outs of the life of a lone soldier in the IDF is very humbling. Even more though, to hear that I inspire or even help to confirm people's intentions to come here themselves, is the greatest compliment I could ever get from doing this little project of mine. Although I don't respond personally to every comment posted, reading those sort of messages is the best feeling for me and is what pushes me to carry on doing the blog, even though sometimes it can become a bit of a chore. I am honestly very grateful to anyone who keeps up with my, far too frequent, drivel and thank you again for continued support and comments.

Leading a team (on the left) during group-boding games.

My first week back in the army following my last time being home, a long three weeks ago, consisted of urban warfare combat and, consequently, a week of shetach. I've done 'lashab' (urban warfare) a couple of times before, but this time there was definitely a different feel to the week. As I mentioned in the last blog, it seems to me that part of 'makim' (commanders' course) is teaching us to be extremely professional soldiers and to excel in all aspects of being a soldier. This includes 'lashab', so there was a clear emphasis on teaching us to excel in the week, rather than showing us the basics and doing standard exercises. We also practiced leading a class of soldiers into urban warfare, since this could ultimately be what one would have to do in times of war. It was the first time I've enjoyed a week of shetach in a long, long time and, aside from the exercises, we had a lot of fun climbing buildings, jumping through windows and kicking down doors in the fake city, where the training takes place. Halfway through the week, I was taken out the shetach, in order to go to the dentist to have a filling. I have had a few problems with my teeth during my service, I remember that I once chipped my tooth by falling over and have the gun hit my mouth during a shetach week in basic training. So, I went to the dentist (who was Russian, like ever other doctor in the army!) and had the filling without any complications, the problem, however, came soon afterwards once I returned back to the shetach. I went straight back to my mahlaka and continued the urban combat exercises, despite having considerable tooth ache and half my mouth being completely numb. Of course this led to hysteria amongst the mahlaka as I soon led an exercise with half my moth dragging on the floor, while shouting undistinguished orders due to my tongue hanging out the side of my mouth!!!

Entering a fake house as part of urban combat week, I'm the one kneeling.

I spent the whole of Shavuot here at home in Tel Aviv, where I have definitely settled, following my move from the north two months ago. Life in Tel Aviv is a complete 180 degree turnaround from what I was experiencing in Kibbutz Ortal. Apart from having to worry about more things like washing and food, I am now having a better quality of life, so to speak, with beach visits, clubbing nights and eating out a regular affair. As much as I appreciate and love the time I had Ortal, my life has changed for the better and weekends home from the army are now a much more exciting event. So back to the army and one thing that hasn't changed by being in 'makim' is that there is still the occasional day of doing kitchen or company duties. I haven't done much of it to be fair but on the one day that I was given kitchen duty, it happened to be the day of the Champions Leaue final. I've never seen such an efficient days work of cleaning by all the people who were in the kitchen that day, we must have broken records by finishing up so quickly so everyone could go and watch the game!

The whole mahlaka climbing over a wall in under a minute!!!

This last week in the army was something called Masa Yisraeli, which is an educational trip normally attended by school children, but has also been incorporated in makim. It's a week long trip around the country, where subjects like zionism, Judaism and the army are all brought up and discussed. We hiked in the north and went to more sensitive places like the Ghetto Fighters' Museum, Mount Herzl cemetery and the Kotel, as well as having a lot of discussions about pretty much everything to do with Israel and being Jewish. It was a week that defines me as a person and in the talks where we each gave our own opinions, I was constantly at the forefront of it all because of my own aliyah story. It was interesting also to hear of others' opinions and I saw how nearly all regular Israelis are indeed very zionist, despite there being a wide range of demographics; from religious, ancestral and socio-economic differences. Masa Yisraeli gave me a real charge of zionism and going to those sensitive places only strengthened my unshakable beliefs that the Jewish nation is unique and eternal, and that Israel is are only home and we must do all we can to defend it. We were in Jerusalem for the majority of the trip and whenever I go there I always fall in love with the city that is the centre of Jewish life in this world. Throughout the trip, the exile from Israel and the longing for Jerusalem in that time was mentioned, and there is no better way of expressing the triumph of zionism than to arrive at the kotel or Mount Herzl (where so many of those dreamers, including Herzl himself sre buried) in the IDF uniform. In fact, it was at Mount Herzl where I had my most meaningful moments of the trip, especially standing by the grave of Michael Levin, a lone soldier from tzanchanim who died in the second Lebanon war, after flying back from his holiday back home in America once he heard the war broke out. I had obviously heard of his story before, but it was the first time I had been to his grave as a soldier and his life and death has a profound effect on one who shares his story in many ways. Apart from the important message behind the Masa Yisraeli trip it's also been the funnest week of the whole course; being in regular clothes, not having a timetable of lessons, guarding or shetach and generally having fun with all the guys from the mahlaka, who I'll soon be parting from at the end of the course.

My mahlaka during Masa Yisraeli.

Only two more weeks until I'm a qualified commander, the time has literally flown by, I'd say that makim has definitely felt like the quickest three months of my whole service. I return to the army tomorrow to close Shabbat and then next week I have my final exams before I am out for the weekend. I'll post another blog then and explain what finishing the course means in terms of the near future of my service. Hag Samaech.

What it's all about - at the kotel as an IDF soldier.


  1. I am climbing to israel from argentina in july. Must tell that you`ve been an ispiration for me.
    never feel alone, never. You have a complete people thinking about your wellness!
    I will star a blog too, but in spanish jeje

  2. well done sam! you should be so proud of your achievements :) (eleanor segall) x

  3. Sam, this is amazing! So happy for you finishing course makim soon.. Good luck and looking forward to your next post :-) xx

  4. Fantastic blog! You write so articulately and with such detail, i thoroughly enjoy reading every post. I admire your passion, bravery and ambitiousness involving every task, and generally settling into your new life in Israel. You are truly an inspiration and young advocate for the IDF and the country. I can relate to feelings you speak of regarding the life you left back home and how different everything would be if you followed your friends onto University. However nothing on earth can compare to what you have achieved and continuously learning on the journey you have chosen. Keep up the good work and continue writing. It will all be worth it eventually when you are able to look back and reminisce.

  5. Keep writing mate!