Friday, 18 November 2011

Communal Crossword

The soldiers, of which I have been responsible for over the last few weeks, are now settled in 'makim' (commanders' course) and, as a result, signals the end of my latest role as a commander. I am home for the weeekend now but am once again at the 'Tzanchanim Bach' (training base for paratroopers) next week to start yet another job as a commander.

For the last fortnight I have been situated at the 'Bach' where I have been a commander for soldiers who were preparing to go to 'makim'. It wasn't the most strenuous couple of weeks I've ever had and, at times, the work I was doing seemed more like that of a babysitter than that of a 'mefaked' (commander). Nevertheless, I did have some responsibility and tried as best I could to have as much of an influence as possible on the would-be commanders. I felt this most during the week of navigations, where I taught and advised my soldiers the process of navigating; from reading a map, to learning how to understand and identify the terrain. For me, it was important passing on the knowledge I had to younger soldiers (some of whom may even go on to be company commanders or even higher) and I may even have a lasting influence on them, since it was their first handling of the skill. In a sense, it is a way of giving back to the army, but, more evidently, it shows the successful way in which the army works; how one generation of commanders teach the next generation and so on. In both the jobs I have had as a 'mefaked' so far, despite being temporary ones, both have had a significant influence on me and have made me feel proud of the work I've been doing. In both 'tafkids' (roles), I have played the sort of chaperone role, in the way that I have taken soldiers and got them prepared for that next step; whether it was for basic training or for 'makim'. Like, I said these 'tafkids' aren't considered prestigious like that of being a commander of basic training, however, I am very much appreciative of the opportunity I have had, especially as a lone soldier, of being a commander and affecting younger soldiers' army service.

With my soldiers the night before they left for 'makim'.

For the last night of this 'achana l'makim' (preparation for commanders' course), the overall commander of the whole paratroopers' brigade came to talk to the soldiers about the step they are taking and what that means for the rest of their service. It was a speech I've heard before during my 'achana l'makim', albeit by the previous brigade commander, but his words of leadership, responsibility and authority still inspired me greatly. However, it was his admiration and pride of the tzanchanim brigade that really affected me and reminded me how special and formidable the paratroopers are. On one distinct note, he spoke how no one can know what lies ahead, but if one day, by some certain circumstances, soldiers were needed to be dropped in enemy territory to protect our land, then it us who will take on that incredible duty. By passing jump school, each and every one of us paratroopers are qualified to undertake operational jumps and we proudly show off this qualification through the wings on our uniform. More than that though, it was his sheer confidence in the army as a whole and his way in explaining that the IDF is the modern-day bodyguard for the Jewish nation and how we will stand up and defeat any obstacle that comes our way. In no way was his promoting war, rather instilling in us the exhilirating pride to be wearing the IDF uniform and protecting this country. It is those sorts of speeches that make him a brigade commander!!!

This is me when I started the army; my uniform is fresh from the packaging and has no form of pins or tags. But a lot has changed in two years...

The 'tafkid' officially finished this morning and as my soldiers went off to the base for 'makim', I took the train home with one of the other commanders. On our train journey home, my friend and I decided to do the daily crossword from the newspaper, which happens to be my latest hobby (despite the fact I am rubbish at them since I can barely understand the clues and can only answer the questions which asks for capital cities). When we strated to struggle in a couple of the clues, the man sitting next to me looked very intrigued in what we were doing and helped out with some answers. Before long, the girl next to my friend had also joined in and the four of us completed the crossword together (at one point the girl grabbed the pen from my hand to fill in a clue!!!). It made me think how nothing of the sort would ever happen in England, where complete strangers would come together and interact on a very friendly basis. This is one of just many, in fact countless, instances I have witnessed since living here in Israel, where people simply help out each other; with hitchhiking being the obvious example. Even when calling out for someone on the street, to ask for directions or pass on something, one says "achi", which translates as 'my brother'. I have come to realise that the Israeli society is based on a mutual care for one another, most likely derived from the fact that Israel has been in difficult situations where everyone sticks together and pulls through as one. I also think it's a combination of the charitable nature of the Jewish community and the uncanny 'chutzpah' (cheekiness/audacity) of Israelis. Whatever it is, following the empowering speech from the brigade commander the night before, I realised how strong Israel is and how we will overcome anything. Feeling extremely zionist, I then proceeded to walk home in Tel Aviv's heavy rain, in what seemed an unusually pleasant and fitting reflection of how I was feeling.

... now, two years later, my uniform has changed dramatically, with the addition of pins, the beret and ranks!!!

As I said at the start of this blog, I am continuing on the 'Bach' to do yet another temporary 'tafkid' and for the next three weeks I will be a commander of 'trom tironut' (the same job I had three months ago) for the November '11 draft of tzanchanim. Once again, this means I will be a 'mefaked' of a large group of newly-drafted paratroopers in their first two weeks of being in the army. The last time I did this 'tafkid' I had one of the best periods of my whole service and absolutely relished the opportunity of being a 'mefaked' for the first time. This time, I am equally as happy to take on the challenge once again, although the novelty of being a commander has ever so slightly worn off. I was, however, somewhat looking forward to going back to my company, seeing my friends and experiencing the current 'kav', which is in the West Bank. Although, I will still get to go to 'kav' when this job is finished, I was ready to leave the 'Bach' and get back to the "real army". In saying this though, I would never turn down a job of being a 'mefaked' and, of course, there is the 'oketzing' that comes with it; I'll be out for next three consecutive weekends! Being a commander in 'trom tironut' for the November draft is even more significant for me, not only because the soldiers coming in will be my "grandchildren" but also because there will be loads of lone soldiers from Garin Tzabar. To think I might be the first ever 'mefaked' of some guys who have made aliyah would be a big deal for me. I'll just have to wait and see who I get next week...

So that was pretty much my last couple of weeks. On Sunday I am back on the 'Bach' in preparation of the new draft, which happens on Thursday, after which I will be with my new soldiers for two weeks. I'm sure I'll do another blog at some point and share with you all the experiences of this next 'tafkid'. Three more weeks of being "Mefaked Sam", I just love it...


  1. Sam this is amazing to hear that you will be a commander for some lone soldiers from Garin Tzabar. Too bad I didn't join this year, but it is crazy to think that in exactly a year I'll be one of those new recruits.

  2. Sam, Thank you for sharing all of this, I found your blog sooner today and just couldn't stop reading! i went through your entire army and felt like if I was the one living it! I feel extremely identified with you because I'm 20 years old and also doing aliah in exactly 15 days from today and as yourself I plan to join the Tzanchanim, I've taken deeply into consideration all of your tips and stories and can't simply wait for start living up my own. We have a couple of things in common, I just went to Israel and did a program called Marva, maybe you've heard of it... and my Mefakkedet, MM and MP got so intrigued by my personal story that I ended up being interviewed by the defense department! I'll attach you my story, please right back to me whenever you can, I've got so many things i want to ask you.

    Send you my best regards.

    Mauricio Glucksmann from Mexico.,7340,L-3999638,00.html

  3. sorry, wasn't logged in... please respond through here or via e-mail... mauhamglu @ man . com

    anxious to here from you