Saturday, 15 October 2011

Fasting in Lebanon

After being in London for thirty days, I was hoping for an easy transition back into the army routine, but that was one of the craziest weeks I've ever had. I was only in the army for seven days, yet still managed to spend Yom Kippur on base, finish the 'kav' in Lebanon and then complete one of the hardest field exercises the IDF has to offer. This all is but a speck on what is surely the most important thing to have happened in the last five years.

Firstly, my return to the army after a full month off was actually very smooth. Not only was I looking forward to seeing my friends and getting back into the swing of things, but the knowledge that in six months time I'm done with the army helped me to return with a smile on my face. Everyone was happy to see me and hear of my stories from back home, but as ever, any extra manpower in the 'pluga' (company) gives everyone a boost. A mere few hours after being back on base and officially the gdud's property once again, I was thrown straight into the deep end and into something I'd never done before. Due to my status as an '08' soldier, one that has finished commanders' course, I am therefore qualified to be a commander of one of the vehicles of a 'siyur' (mounted patrol along the border) and this is what I was assigned to do shortly after arriving on base. I cannot talk about what a 'siyur' entails, but I can say that I did have a certain amount of responsibility and was responsible for a number of soldiers. Realistically, I didn't have to do that much, although it did show me that my 'mem mem' (platoon commander), who has become like a good friend as well as being my commanding officer, has a certain level of trust in me. It was a new experience to be in somewhat of a minor authorative role in the field (as supposed to when I was a commander on the training base) and although it was slightly daunting at first, I started to relish the experience.

Mid-siyur shopping in a petrol station!

Last week was Yom Kippur and it was my first and will be my only YK in the army. For the previous two YKs I was in my old kibbutz, Ortal, where I simply fasted and just tried to pass the time, much like I used to do when in England. This year, however, I was in very different circumstances, albeit not to far away from my old kibbutz. Along with about just half of the soldiers in the pluga, I started the fast on a big meal and then went to the Kol Nidre service at the tiny mobile synagogue on the base. I was a bit apprehensive about going to prayers, but it turned out to be a very meaningful service and something that I won't forget easily. The fact that it was all a bit patched together just added to it's specialness, whereby everyone gave input to a part of the service, giving it a multicultural atmosphere of Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Moroccan and even Ethiopian themes. It really encapsulated the beauty of Israel. At one point I accidentally lent on the light switch and turned off the lights, so one of the Druzi drivers was called in to turn them back on (!), again the beauty of Israel in it's most simplest forms. On Yom Kippur itself, I was on siyur for the majority of the day, so the fast was not easy at all, as we were effectively not resting. Being on border patrol during YK is one of the most unique thongs one can do, knowing that I was protecting Israel's northern border so it's citizens can go to synagogue in peace is exceptionally rewarding. We broke the fast on coffee and cookies while overlooking the landscape of southern lebanon, without a doubt, an unforgettable Yom Kippur!

My bed on 'kav'.

This week also marked the end of 'kav tsafon' (northern border deployment) for my gdud. My friends all said that it was one of the worst periods of their service for a number of reasons and were thrilled to be leaving. Luckily for me, I was absent for the majority of the 'kav', having had the role as a commander for a couple of weeks and then being in England for month. After leaving the north, the whole 'gdud' did a field exercise near the dead sea. I had heard that it was going to be hard and having not really done anything like that in as much as a year, I was actually excited to do the challenge. However, the reality was a lot harder than I'd imagined. We walked from 8 in the evening until 5 in the morning, covering over 20km of mountainous desert; 9km of which, were done with open stretchers. Once we finished all the walking, then the actual battalion exercise began, which lasted several hours, meaning several hours of us to runing up hills in the scorching heat. I can honestly say now, it was one of the hardest things I've done in the army. Walking up and down hills for an hours and hours ("hills" doesn't give credit to what we climbed) with my unbelievably heavy bag is no easy task. The pain was everywhere; from my burning shoulders (struggling to cope with the weight) and excruciating lower back (having to hold up the massive bag), to my legs (striving to push the rest of my body up the steep gradient) and all the way down to my feet, whose state is so severe that it's too horrific to put a picture of them up on the blog. How can one get through a night like that when it genuinely seems humanely impossible and it feels you can't physically continue. This question is what sums up what being 'lohem' (combat soldier) in the IDF is all about. As I walked along beside my 'mem mem', I feel as though we shared each other's pain; hearing him grunt on the numerous 'aliyot' (uphill climbs) and then him hearing me sigh once we would reach every summit. The army is all about being there for the guy next to you, whether its your friend or your officer. It's those sort of hellish nights that builds this army into the strongest in the world and I'm proud to say that we all finished it together.

Grounding of the coffee - a ritual activity for army 'youngsters' in my company.

I can't believe and never thought I would be able to write this sentence in one of my blogs, yet the news on Tuesday night was that Gilad Shalit is coming home. When hearing of the news in the army, we found ourselves overcome with joy and emotion and spontaneously started embracing one another. Without going into the whole debate, it is 100% the right decision from the government and it has taken far too long. I pray that the exchange goes as planned and that I'll be able to write on the next blog how it is fantastic to see him back with us and in full recovery. Imagine the moment when he'll actually walk into the room and reunite with his parents; it's very hard to describe the happiness and relief and all the other emotions that will be felt for every single Israeli. I have found myself a few times this week in pure disbelief at the thought of him coming back, it has gone on for so long that there was a genuine fear of him never ever returning. As I have said a few times before on the blog, Gilad Shalit's fate has naturally been the most prominent issue in the Israel media for five years and the campaign for his release has been ongoing and has never really slowed down. It is just unbelievable that after all the years of marches and posters and songs, he is finally coming home to us.

I am back to the army tomorrow but should be out again on Wednesday for Sukkot Bet (I am currently out for Sukkot Aleph). In the next blog I'll be sure to write about entering my final six months of my service and what that means. Also next week, we'll be starting a new 'kav'. Hag Samaech to you all and hoping for a safe return for Gilad...

1 comment:

  1. Great blog Sam. So proud of you. I love reading your blog. --Ronnie.