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.

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Think Israel in NYC

Me with the other people at the Army info session at the Think Israel event. (Photo Credit Shahar Azran for Nefesh B’Nefesh)

When you have an important decision to make, it’s important to be well informed. Now, making aliyah is probably going to be the most difficult and important decision of my life. Therefore, I feel like I should probably be as well informed as I can be.

This past Sunday, my mother and I went to the Think Israel event in the Federation UJA building in Manhattan. They had booths for many different organizations and groups all geared toward assisting people with their aliyah process. While I was there, I spoke to people from some of the organizations to try and find the one that best fit me. That program turned out to be the Tzofim Garin Tzabar program, which takes a group of “crazy” young adults (like me!!!!) and helps them go through the aliyah process as a group. This group of young’uns make aliyah together, they go to kibbutz together, they attend an ulpan program (Hebrew crash course) together, and after 3 months on kibbutz they get their Tzav Rishon (first draft to the army).

When I join the army, I will be considered a Chayal Boded  – a lone soldier:  someone with no immediate family in Israel who volunteers to join Tzahal. At the Think Israel event, there was a presentation given by Adina Bennett, Nefesh B’Nefesh, Lieutenant Colonel Yossi Matzliach, Israeli Defense Force, and Einav Zamir, Director of the Tzofim Garin Tzabar program. They each explained the various functions that their respective departments served , what we can expect as olim, the various benefits a Chayal Boded receives, and how the entire process works. Aliyah for dummies. Who knew?!

Mrs. Bennett repeatedly pointed out the fact that the Lone Soldier program needs a new name, because Israel’s soldiers are never alone. I want to add to that.  Not only are there many people ready, able, and willing to help the chayalim along the way, there is also the Almighty guarding and protecting those that protect His people from harm.