On With The Show

Where to start….

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve updated my blog, partially because I’m not quite sure what to write, partially because being in the army somewhat limits the time I have to myself and my writing.

Here goes the update: back in April I drafted to the army ulpan course at the michve alon army base. The course is designed for new immigrants with lower Hebrew levels to get the necessary help they new to succeed in the army. I was placed in the highest level class they offered, and I enjoyed myself immensely. Part of the course included basic training (not on a combat level, just what all soldiers are required to do) at the end of which I was picked to be “חייל מצטיין” “outstanding soldier” which was a wonderful feeling. Getting something right and being acknowledged for it? Nothing better.

After training, we continued with our Hebrew lessons, preparing ourselves for the final test which decides our Hebrew score which can influence the assignment you’re given after the course.

At the end of our course, we were sent to bakkum, the army induction center, to be assigned to our units. I requested to be assigned to הנדסה קרבית- the IDF combat engineering corps. It took about three seconds until they said okay.

That was a month and a half ago.

The last month has been my first month of combat training, and overall it’s been hard, but great. It’s very different here than it was at the course- I’m the only חייל בודד/lone soldier in my platoon. In the course it was something close to a 1:1 ratio. Here, I’m working with a 1:40 ratio. The people here are amazing and helpful and are attempting to change my classroom Hebrew to something a little more…. Israeli.

Speaking English on a day to day basis doesn’t really happen, but I’ve made a friends with a lot of the English speaking Olim on base, which helps. As my parents have likely noticed when I speak to them, my English has started to go a little rusty. It’s strange, going from being fluent in ones mother language to being semi fluent while at the same time becoming more and more fluent with ones new language. I notice that sometimes I need to think in Hebrew to voice a though in English because I’ve forgotten some of the words. It’s incredibly interesting how quick one can adapt.

Army life is hard enough as it is and I’m now beginning to understand on more than an intellectual level why it’s difficult to be a lone soldier. You go home on the weekend: your mother isn’t waiting at the bus stop to pick you up, your parents don’t do your laundry, you don’t have a car, you can’t just fall asleep the minute you get home: there’s stuff you have to do for yourself. all in all, it’s not the same army experience most soldiers have. BUT. There are wonderful people in this country who understand that and do their best to make it as good as possible. My adopted family on kibbutz welcomed me as if I was one of their own, I have endless invitations for a weekend here and there from an enormous network of family, friends, and friends of friends. The army gives me double the monthly stipend as a lone soldier benefit, and they arranged monthly coupons for the supermarket to help me out with food. Our kibbutz store gives us lone soldiers a monthly budget in the store, and our cafeteria gives us hot meals when we’re at home. There have been countless times when I’ve been shopping in uniform and when the cashier heard my accent and found out I was a lone soldier, they gave me a discount and praise and sent me on my way. No matter how crass Israelis may seem, they have a heart of gold.

This experience is wonderful, and it’s barely started. There’s a lot more to come over the horizon.

The Soldiers Oath

Yesterday, I reached the first of many milestones in my army service: my tekes hashbaa, the ceremony in which soldiers who have completed basic training swear allegiance to the country and the army in which they serve.
It’s a very meaningful ceremony.
The fledgling soldiers repeat the oath in unison, afterwards yelling out as loud as they can: אני נשבע! (I swear).

After that, one by one, each soldier is given a gun and a Tanach (Hebrew bible)(or a New Testament if they so prefer) and they proclaim again ״אני נשבע!״.

Why is it like this? The bible symbolizes our history that has brought us to this point. The rifle symbolizes that we must defend ourselves from those who would see us destroyed. Together, they represent the Israeli soldier: moral, proud of their heritage, and prepared to give their all to protect the land and it’s people.

The oath itself goes like this:

“הנני נשבע(ת) ומתחייב(ת) בהן צדקי לשמור אמונים למדינת ישראל לחוקיה ולשלטונותיה המוסמכים, לקבל על עצמי ללא תנאי וללא סייג עול משמעתו של צבא הגנה לישראל, לציית לכל הפקודות וההוראות הניתנות על ידי המפקדים המוסמכים ולהקדיש את כל כוחותיי ואף להקריב את חיי להגנת המולדת ולחירות ישראל.”

“I swear and commit to maintain allegiance to the State of Israel, its laws, and its authorities, to accept upon myself unconditionally the discipline of the Israel Defense Forces, to obey all the orders and instructions given by authorized commanders, and to devote all my energies, and even sacrifice my life, for the protection of the homeland and the liberty of Israel.”

As an immigrant to Israel, I chose this path; it was not chosen for me. For many, this oath is a starting point. For others, it’s simply another day. For me, it’s another step on the path I started almost a year ago – to serve my nation and do my part.

Currently, I’m part of a course for new Olim to help them improve their Hebrew. After we finish the course, we are asked for our position of preference and placed according to abilities and what the army needs at that point. It’s a little interesting to see how my mentality has become a bit more relaxed in the little time since I’ve drafted. I’ve stopped worrying about where I’ll end up being placed, and as I’ve heard many times from many people: “yihi’eh b’seder” (it will be okay).

The army designs training to get you used to army life as fast as possible. You get used to being given time to complete tasks, not being in control of your schedule, sleeping in a room with 10 or more people, and even babysitting a water bottle. (Silly I know, but there’s a story and a reason behind that.)

And after finishing all that training, when we’ve all been sufficiently prepared, once we know what it means to serve in the IDF, we take the oath. The same oath that the soldiers of the IDF have been taking since 1948.

My swearing in ceremony was not at the Kotel, or Masada, or anyplace like that. My ceremony took place in the old British prison in Akko where many members of the Jewish underground were held prisoner for crimes committed against the British.
At first I wondered why it was being held there but it was made clear to me exactly why.

These underground members were new immigrants for the most part. They left behind family, friends, and their old lives. They came to fight for their people and to fight for what they believed in.

And to some extent, so did we.

The Feeling Of A Nation

Last night I had my first military tekes. (A tekes is a ceremony, the army has LOTS of those.) It was a ceremony in honor of yom hazikaron: Remembrance Day, where we remember all the soldiers killed in battle or in accidents, as well as civilians who were killed by acts of terror. As a freshly drafted soldier who still doesn’t turn around when people yell “Chayal!” It was very moving, as I’m sure it will continue to be. Hearing the siren last night and this morning while standing at attention made me realize how real this is.
As a nation, we don’t necessarily all agree. We very rarely do. But on this day, it is incredibly difficult not to. In Israel, everyone has either lost someone important to them or knows somebody who has. During the siren, the country grinds to a halt.
People stop and think.
They remember the people who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and our people.
I don’t think that I’ve had a more emotional moment since I arrived in Israel almost a year ago.
I am honored to wear the same uniform as these heroes.
May their memory live on.

Little Green Men

Tomorrow I draft. What I’ve wanted to do for 5 years is finally happening, what I’ve been actively preparing for for almost a year in Israel, learning the language, the culture, and the mindset to do is becoming very very real very very quickly.

And to be honest, it’s very very scary as well.

I’ve gotten a lot of mixed reactions from Israelis when they discover than not only have I come to do the army, I’ve also made Aliyah. It ranges from “are you insane??” To “lets trade: you live with my parents and I’ll live with yours” “Israel needs more people like you” and “why on earth aren’t you serving in the Canadian army? Don’t you want to protect your family? Why would you come here?” To be honest, I considered serving in the Canadian army. You certainly get better paid than in the army here. Yes, I may be somewhat insane; I went to a foreign country where I don’t speak the language to serve in the army.

But why? Why am I doing this? Simple – for my people.

We just had yom hashoa -holocaust Memorial Day- this week. In 1939 when the holocaust started we had no voice. We had nobody fighting for our people. Then came the partisans and the ghetto rebellion, but it wasn’t enough. Six million perished. Now, we have enough. We have an army to defend our people from whatever threats there may be. So never again shall Jews be felled by the thousands while the world stands by the wayside and watches. Further, I’m drafting on the anniversary of the death of Adolf Hitler no less, I find a strange sense of karma in that. The day I draft is also the day the maniac who caused one of the reasons for me to draft died.

I’m drafting to a place called michve alon, which is an educational base in northern Israel. There I’ll be going through a Hebrew course and basic training, before they send me to join whichever unit I end up in. It’s a three month course that will hopefully give me the ability to be a better soldier.

Starting on Wednesday I’ll be in uniform. I’ll be that soldier sleeping on the bus, the soldier you see walking through town with a backpack full of laundry on his back, that soldier that you see eating falafel with a huge smile on his face, happy for a little break.

I’ll be just one guy in a sea of little green men.

Protesting Against The Protest

It has been a while since I posted, mostly because I’ve been immersed in army prep and other things. I am taking the time, however, to post today because of something that really ticked me off.
Today, there was a gathering of thousands upon thousands of chareidi Jews (ultra Orthodox Jews who currently do not get drafted into the IDF) to protest the new draft bill which would require that they draft just like the average Israeli. The new bill also provides harsher individual punishments for draft dodgers.
I do not agree with the protestors at all. In fact, I am INCREDIBLY angered by this. Six months ago, I made Aliyah and moved to this wonderful country. It was hard for me to leave everything I had: family, friends, and a familiar environment, but I did it because this is what I believe is the right thing for me to do as an individual and as a Jew.
The fact is that I volunteered to guard and protect every citizen of this country at the potential price of my life itself. If need be, I will go to war to protect my people.
But when people refuse to serve? When they refuse to be a part of a society that watches out for each other? That cheapens the sacrifice that thousands of soldiers over the years have made.
Today, they have demonstrated that they can be good soldiers. The rabbis called, and they showed up when and where they were told.
I don’t believe that “being more pious” can prevent you from being a soldier.
If the pious kings of Israel went to war to defend the nation, certainly someone who is nowhere near that pious can do so.
I don’t believe that this group should be excused from serving the country that they live in and maintaining the security that they enjoy without a second thought.
Allow me to ask this, is it fair that a mother in tel aviv and a mother in mea shea’arim to enjoy the same security, but only one had to sacrifice her sons’ time, hard work, and perhaps their lives to attain that security?
The answer is a resounding, absolute no.

Israel, My Home.

Well, I did it. I made aliyah. I probably should have written this a long time ago but things pile up…. You get the point. So let’s start with where we left off: the airport.

On the morning of august 12th, I left my house with all my worldly possessions and we all packed up into the family car and headed to John F Kennedy airport. En route, my mother and I were interviewed by the Jewish radio show, JM in the AM. We got to the airport without an issue, and once we found the counter, we joined the line. Imagine 330 olim and their families, plus myself and my family, waiting for our boarding passes and various papers before checking our luggage. After that, we went to the synagogue area to get ready for the farewell ceremony.

While waiting, I was interviewed by several reporters, including reporters from Arutz Sheva and Ynet. The attention may or may not be due to the fact that I was wearing an Israeli flag as a cape. It definitely makes me easy to pick out in photos, which is a bonus.

At the farewell ceremony, there were several speeches and then they sang Hatikva. I cried, knowing that this would be the last time singing my nations anthem before arriving to our homeland. From there, we went to go through security before boarding the plane. After plenty of teary goodbyes, I waved to my family before I went to begin my life as an independent adult in the land of our forefathers.

Boarding was surreal. I couldn’t believe I was actually doing it! I couldn’t get enough of speaking to everybody and hearing different reasons why they had arrived at the same decision as I did.

The flight was for the most part uneventful, until the last hour.

The final hour on that plane made me put any doubts I may have had aside. I have never felt like I was doing something so right ever in my life, until that final hour. People singing, music playing, the excitement was tangible. I had an incredible urge to just get out of my seat and run around the plane yelling “were almost home, were almost home” but I stayed put, mesmerized by the other 330 olim chadashim waiting to come home.

On our final approach, the excitement in the air thickened. We had almost finished our journey! Never have I felt so happy and so nervous and so many other sensations all at the same time in ginormous quantities. And then: WE LANDED.

IT WAS INCREDIBLE!!!!! We had finally reached home. The land that our forefathers have fought for, have bled for, and have died for. AND WE STOOD THERE, ON THE TARMAC, OUR NATIONS NEWEST IMIGRANTS. It was one of my proudest moments. I got off the plane and instantly kneeled to the ground and kissed the ground of the holy land. MY land. I cried and yelled out the “shehechianu” blessing, which translated goes “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the
Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and
enabled us to reach this occasion”, which is said by Jews on special occasions, thanking god for allowing us to reach a special point in our lives.

We boarded busses to take us to terminal one, where thousands were waiting to welcome us. I was on the first bus to go to the reception. I stepped off, and the noise was deafening, there was a man there with a shofar, trumpeting in celebration as in times of old, there was two lines of soldiers smiling and waving Israeli flags, and behind the gates, among the throngs, I saw my cousin! I headed into the building and met my aunt, my great aunt, and several cousins, I was so happy! There were so many smiling faces and sounds of joy, I was almost overwhelmed. Thankfully, there were refreshments aplenty, so that was one thing taken care of. Then there was more speeches, which by that point I was quite tired of, as were many others. Just shut up and give us our citizenship already was very much my feeling at that point.

After the ceremony, we went to the offices to wait for our documents. It took a while but I got it done. It was a relief walking out of the airport with my family, knowing I had a fresh start in a new country.

Now, its two and half months later. What am I doing now? You may ask.

Well, I’m on an ulpan program learning Hebrew and working alternate days. I’m really enjoying it! I am trying to see as much of this country as I can, seeing as I am now a part of it.

From Israel, with love.

The little zionist

Mission: Israel!

So there is less than a week left until my flight and I am excited beyond words! I have almost all the packing done; all I need to do is wait for the flight. In the last month or so the amount of support I’ve received from friends, family, and various assorted people has been amazing. The amount of advice I’ve been given is staggering.

Just a small piece of advice: if you are making aliyah, make sure you take plenty of time to make some good memories here before you go. Besides passing the time, it’s great to leave on a happy note. Personally, I’ve started my goodbyes already and yes, it’s hard. To say goodbye to almost everyone you know and love is a big deal. Make the most of it.

So, with only a few days left as a “chutznik” (somebody who lives outside Israel) I am making memories, having fun and possibly even enjoying a shenanigan or two. Nefesh b’Nefesh asked me to make a small clip to say what I’ll be doing, here’s what I submitted:

Aside from me making aliyah, there are many many many more like me who are making this journey together with me. Each of us has our own story behind what we are doing, yet we all arrived at the same conclusion. THIS IS WHERE WE BELONG! And that in itself is mind blowing.

Less than six days left. This chapter of my life is over, and another, hopefully more exciting one is about to begin…..