Wednesday, 14 December 2011


For the first time in a long time, I really appreciate being home for the weekend. In recent months, I have become somewhat accustomed to getting out of the army for Shabbat due to the numerous 'tafkids' (jobs as a commander) and due to my general luck. However, having finished the latest 'tafkid', I have since returned to my company and have been on 'kav' this last week, where I closed my first Shabbat in a very long time!

Finishing the job as a commander in 'trom tironut' last week, meant separating from my soldiers (all 51 of them!!!) after being with them since the middle of November. I was the soldiers for a couple of days at the start of last week and tried to be as mean and unapproachable as possible, in order for the "breaking distance" ritual to be worthwhile. On the final morning, in the twenty minutes leading up to the point where they went to their respective, new companies, I even decided to unfairly punish them, ('kader' in Hebrew), by giving them absurd and repetitive orders. I have to admit, it was fun making them run back and forth from a fence in under 30 seconds over and over again. Those who were still injured from the 'gibush' the week before didn't escape my wrath either and they got put in 'matsav shtayim' (press-up position) while the others ran. Once I finished with that nonsense, I sat them all down and proceeded to tell them all about me. They obviously gathered that I had made 'aliyah' (undoubtedly from the moment they heard me speaking!), yet it was nice to fill them in on my whole story and see that some of them were impressed by the fact their first ever 'mefaked' in the army had been a new immigrant and a lone soldier. What makes "breaking distance" with the soldiers so entertaining is both the commander and the soldiers seem to recreate all the funny moments that happened and retell all sort of incidents that the other side didn't know. Just like I did when I was in that stage of the army, my soldiers were all desperate to hear of the times where myself and the other commanders simply cracked up and failed to control ourselves with laughter in front of them. It was an exceptionally rewarding and enjoyable couple of weeks and I wish them all luck with the rest of their service.

Moments after "breaking distance" with my soldiers.

So my time of being on the 'Bach' as a commander, which had stretched to a total of two months, had finally come to an end and, thus, last week I returned to my company, who are currently in the middle of a 'kav'. I was excited to go back to my company and see all the guys from my platoon, especially as I've not been with them consistently for more than two weeks since before I went to commanders' course (and that was in March!). It was great going back and after receiving a warm welcome from everyone in the 'pluga' (company), I then heard all the stories and gossip that had been going on while I was away and I recounted all my experiences from the past couple of months too. Before too long, I felt like I slipped back into my old place within the platoon and was quickly integrated into the life of 'kav' once again; albeit thanks to almost immediate hours of guard duty upon my return! It was very easy to get back into the swing of things and, despite only being here for a little over a week, I am well accustomed to this 'kav' already. My 'pluga' is currently situated next to a Jewish town, which is surrounded by Palestinian villages and not to far away from a substantially large Palestinian city. Effectively this is 'kav eyosh' (meaning Judea and Samaria), but it's not necessary for me to say on the blog where exactly in the West Bank we are. 'Kav' in the West Bank is completely different from what I've experienced in any of the other deployments of my battalion. Whereas in Gaza and in Lebanon where the border is very clear; whereby we are on one side guarding, whilst the acknowledged enemy is on the other trying to attack, in the West Bank things aren't so clear cut. There's no way I can go into the details of what this current 'kav' entails, but I can say that in the West Bank the enemy can be slightly unclear, while the borders are, to a degree, ambiguous. In short, with all the comings and goings, the West Bank can seem like a bit of madhouse but the IDF is still very coherent in its role of protecting Jewish inhabitants from any threat. After being on the 'Bach' and at home(!) for such a great deal of time, it was refreshing to go back to being a soldier in the "real army" out there on the front line.

Watching the "El classico" football match with my platoon.

The most exciting development that happened within my 'pluga' while I was away, is that my 'mahlaka' and draft, in general, have entered the final year of their service. Finishing two years in the army means that Nov '09 (my draft) and this feels so unbelievably good to say, are finally 'vatikim' (veterans)!!! Even just writing it here on the blog, I can't help but smiling when I write that we are, at long last, 'vatikim'. The significance of being veterans is, in no way, a paltry thing. For more than a full year now, after joining the battalion following our 'sof maslool', the Nov '09 platoon has suffered as the youngest platoon in the company. For twelve months and over three different 'kavs', we have been the grim victims of kitchen and company duties, as well as being deprived of certain privileges that only veterans are entitled to. I think I have explain sufficiently enough in previous blogs, most prominently during my time in Gaza, how kitchen and company duty can be extremely depressing, degrading and is often backbreaking work. But no more will I clean toilets from the inside, no more will I paint bags of sand red and white and no more will I scrub pots and pans for hours on end. Not doing anymore kitchen or company duty makes a big difference to life on 'kav' and to the morale of the platoon, as suddenly there is no pressure on who needs to be a 'toran' (person performing those duties, but in the army this could be more easily translates as simply 'slave') and you don't have the fear of knowing that your turn is tomorrow! It's not easy seeing the younger platoon suffering now, but this is just part of the "army cycle of life", whereby you have been through it all before. One of the other benefits of being a veteran is how we are now permitted to wear a dressing gown/robe. It may be hard for anyone who's not familiar with the insane institute that is army culture to contemplate this, but that is just the way things are. Consequently, my platoon ordered specially-made robes and each soldier has the robe personalized with their name...

My robe!!!

I was on 'kav' for exactly six days, but that was more than enough for me to be bored of this 'kav' already and of life back in the battalion. Yes, it's fun being back with the guys, and having free time to watch movies and play football. In addition, being a veteran and a 'hapash' (regular soldier) means I now have very little responsibility and life on 'kav' is relatively laid back. On the other hand, though, after two months of being a commander, going back to doing three hours of static guard duty in the middle of the night seems somewhat less meaningful. As much as I'm back on the front line and physically safeguarding a Jewish town in the West Bank, guard duty and mounted patrols can still be very boring and monotonous. I have come to realize that the best thing to have happened during my service was, without a doubt, going to course 'makim' (commanders' course). Although I was skeptical about it when picked to go and completely against it before that, I see now that going to 'makim' and becoming '08' transformed my service 180 degrees for the better. Take aside completing the course, becoming a more professional soldier, meeting soldiers from all the other brigades and of course having three roles as a mefaked, this week I've come to understand that going to 'makim' was beneficial for another reason. It's been nearly a year now since I left to go to course 'makim' and, in the time that has followed, I have barely been in the 'gdud' (battalion) for more than three weeks at a time. Being a 'hapash' and staying in my company for the remainder of my service, hopelessly lumbering through 'kav' after 'kav' is what I feared before I recognized that going to 'makim' was some sort of escape from the dreary and repetitive life of being a 'hapash' in the 'gdud'. In the time that I've been away from my company over the last year I have avoided nearly twelve months of being a 'toran', twelve months of static guard duty and twelve months of 17:4. There are obviously guys within my platoon and combat soldiers in the army, in general, who do stay in the 'gdud' for the whole of their service, yet I am relieved not to have endured the same repetitive lifestyle throughout mine and by going to 'makim' (and the significance of being '08'), I have a different and more meaningful purpose to my service. Needless to say, I am very happy to be here with my platoon for the four months that I'm left with and I will perform in my role as a veteran 'hapash' as best as I can.

All in all, it was a good couple of weeks. Finishing the 'tafkid' and returning to my company after months of absence has been undeniably pleasant, with the highlight of the week being how, as part of my company's 5-a-side team, we managed to get through to the final of the regional army football tournament. There's only a few more weeks of this 'kav' remaining so I'll post a blog then. In the meantime, happy chanukah to you all!!!