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.

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.

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…..

Aliyah Update

I am moving forward in my application process. I have certified that I’m healthy, that I’m not too crazy, that I want to join the army, that I have read and agreed to the terms and conditions, and whatever else was on those forms I have to fill out.

So, pile number one of the paperwork is almost done. I have been assured that there will be very many more forms to fill out, but that is the price you have to pay in this day and age of bureaucracy. At least I can send them in online rather than mailing them in. Thank you to whoever set that up.

I have been getting a lot of feedback about this blog, and I am glad that people are finding the information useful. I am also extremely appreciative of all the support, good wishes, and offers to do my laundry. Gotta love dem Jewish families.

Thanks for reading!

The Reason Why

I’m positive I’m not alone in feeling the shock resulting from the rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas militants hiding in the Gaza strip. In the past few days, over a hundred rockets have been hurled at Israeli towns and cities full of innocent people. This past Saturday, this same militant group attacked an Israeli army vehicle with an anti-tank rocket, critically wounding two soldiers and injuring two more. In the city of Sderot, mere kilometers from the terrorist-governed Gaza strip, residents have less than 15 seconds to reach shelter in the event of a rocket attack.

This is not the first time terrorists have reared their ugly heads in Israel. Last year, there was an attack in a small town called Itamar. Two terrorists broke into a family’s home and slaughtered the father, Uri, the mother, Ruth, and three of their children: Yoav, Elad, and Hadas. Hadas was only four months old. The terrorists beheaded her. This act of cruelty that two men would behead a four month old baby for the simple reason that she was a Jew – that says volumes about “Peace in the Middle East”. Mainly: it cannot happen. To quote Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu – “if the Arabs were to put down their weapons, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons, there would be no more Israel.” We are fighting a war against an enemy who cannot be appeased with anything less than the complete annihilation of the Jewish state and its people.

This is why I will join the IDF. I feel like I need to be a part of the solution. We cannot let them get the better of us. Golda Meir, the first female prime minister of Israel, said “When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.”  We have no choice but to defend our land.

Just to point this out for you skeptics, it’s called the Israeli DEFENSE force.  Not the Israeli “let’s kill the Muslims” force. All we are trying to do is to live in peace. And it seems like that is too much to ask…..

Done With My Interview

Sometimes in life, we worry way too much. We get nervous about certain things that turn out to not have required much worrying about in the first place. This being said, I have no idea why I was nervous about my phone interview with the people from Garin Tzabar. I’m writing this just minutes after getting off the phone with the interviewer, and I’m ready to move on to the next stage of my aliyah process- more forms.

During this interview, I found out a lot more about the Garin Tzabar program. There are three phases of the program. Phase one is mostly informational. There are three weekend-long seminars, where there will be presentations and discussions with Garin Tzabar personnel and alumni, as well as people who have served with the Israeli Defense Force. During these seminars, I will be meeting the group with whom I am going to make the biggest trip of my life with. Together, we will fly to our new home, our nation’s homeland, in mid-August.

This brings us to phase two: the absorption process. Our group will all be going together to a kibbutz chosen by the powers that be. We will attend an ulpan program to help us build our Hebrew skills. We will all have adopted families on kibbutz (any volunteers?) and we’re going to work on the kibbutz as well. Best part of all this? FIELD TRIPS!!!

After all this “fun and games”, we move on to phase three. We go to our first draft and we enlist in the army of the State of Israel. Based on differing personal limitations, we will serve for between 2-3 years, in whatever unit we get into.

That, my friends, is the Garin Tzabar program in a nutshell. For more information on the program and for applications, go to GARIN TZABAR.

On a slightly different note, this blog has barely been up for 48 hours and already there have been over 1000 views, and a significant amount of congratulations and wishes of luck, good fortune, and places to stay. I can’t even begin to say how much this means to me, so thank you so much everyone, thank you for supporting me in my journey towards the next three years of my life. It means so much to me that not everybody out there thinks I’m crazy! Stick around, ok?

Am Yisrael Chai!