Embarrassed Hero

13 Apr

Soldiers in the IDF are brothers, sons, husbands, daughters, girlfriends, boyfriends, sisters, and any other conceivable relationship. As a result soldiers hold a special place in the hearts of the public. Greeted with open arms, given vouchers for shoes, discounts on felafel, idolized by tourists and little boys. I am not entirely comfortable with the attention, and aside from the first week in uniform, I generally do not think about my role as “hero” or “role model” when I am traveling from place to place in uniform. Usually my focus is on arriving home from base to begin laundry, or returning to base to begin the next couple weeks of training. Over the past two weeks, a number of small moments made me reconsider and appreciate my current place in Israeli society, even as I am embarrassed when they happen.

Two weeks ago, I stopped in the market on my way home from base, even though I was not looking for anything in particular, I just wanted to soak up the atmosphere of Jerusalem in the hours before Shabbat. Ignoring the aching shoulders from my bag of laundry, I stopped at a fruit stand to admire some of the incredible colors that this vendor had displayed. He gave me an orange. I told him that I was just looking, and I had no intention of buying. He said not to worry, and filled a bag of fruit for me. I did not like the idea of taking fruit from a vendor for whom this is his means of earning a living. He told me it was a gift of thanks. Knowing he would be insulted, I took the bag. He blessed me, my family, and my fellow soldiers, while tourists looked on and photographed.

My unit and I had a tour of Jerusalem and Latrun recently. So as we toured those two locations, we were the subjects of candid and posed photographs. While we were waiting for our buses, an Israeli school group passed by. One asked me how I felt to be a soldier, others asked me if I get scared or if I am always brave, and a third asked if I had ever killed anybody. Between the questions and among the screeching of nine year old girls, I spotted one boy off on his own. I went to talk to him, put my beret on his head, he puffed out his chest and saluted. He wanted to keep my beret, which had I had a spare, would happily have given to him. Shaking off my embarrassment, I realized how much this little gesture meant to him, he told me how excited he is to become a soldier. The next day at Latrun, which features a large display of tanks onto which visitors are welcome to climb, it happened again. Although I have been there a number of times, I never can resist the temptation to climb on top of these massive war machines. I grabbed a buddy and we started to climb. On the tank next to ours was an Israeli family of five. The two boys stopped to watch us, they asked their mother if she would request a picture with us. Of course we obliged, the boys were delighted, the parents thanked us, and we, besides some giggles, hardly gave it a second thought.

These three interactions highlighted for me the importance of my role as a soldier to the citizens I protect. My discomfort with the attention remains, but in the last several weeks I have tried to be more aware of how I am presenting myself to others when in uniform. Whether or not they are looking to me for an example I will never be sure, and I would prefer that they look elsewhere, but just in case I try to go above and beyond when asked for directions or a photo opportunity. One of the values of the IDF is that of being an emissary, so no matter my discomfort as the subject of photos and blessings, I hope to remain conscious of the fact that the wearers of green play a critical and multifaceted role in the State of Israel, even if it makes me blush.

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