Tag Archives: Jews

Four Days Down

31 Oct

idfSunday morning I was officially inducted into the IDF. I arrived at Ammunition Hill, and waited. The gate opened and I entered, along with lots of other new immigrants who hope to serve in field units. Ethiopians, French, Ukrainians, Russians, Spaniards, Americans, and others. The organization was fairly effective, and it is always nice to see a smiling face from the Lone Soldier Center. Once everybody was accounted for, we waited. Then we boarded a bus, and waited. The bus then drove the soldiers who assist with the draft back to the office nearby. One draftee was significantly late, a guy I would later become friends, despite my despising him in that moment, so we waited.

When the bus arrived at the Bakum, the IDF’s induction center, we waited. Stood in rows, waited. Walked to the dining hall, waited. After lunch, we went through a series of stations each one with some requisite amount of waiting.  I was lucky enough to receive four vaccinations! Hepatitis, meningitis, tetanus, and influenza. This was immediately after having my finger punctured so that the army could obtain a DNA sample. The actual finger prick was virtually painless, but the squeezing of my finger tip and subsequent dragging of an open wound on a small piece of paper that felt like cardboard was slightly, um, not comfortable. And the soldier doing it had the touch of an elephant. After completing all of the stations, we went to get uniforms. Every soldier receives a big bag of items from the army, underwear, socks, pants, etc… all of approximate sizes. The only thing that must fit perfectly are the boots, or it will be blister city. Luckily I guessed my size correctly the first time, and no serious blisters have yet appeared. My uniform pants ripped right on the crotch seam in the first five minutes, I tried, unsuccessfully, to swap. So I brought them home in order to fix that rather compromising situation. We arrived on base at about quarter to nine on Sunday, then we spent the better part of the next six hours sitting on concrete, running from formation to formation, getting yelled at, while carrying two heavy bags (a personal bag, and the bag of army stuff). Finally, after meetings, and waiting, interviews, and waiting, we went to sleep at three in the morning, followed by a solid five hours of sleep.

The next days more or less unfolded similarly. Waiting, push-ups, running, waiting, eating. On Tuesday we received our weapons, and had to memorize the number, in addition to our army ID number, and in addition to our already memorized Israeli ID number. We received instruction on the weapon, the components, we took it apart and then promptly put it back to together. Because of somebody stupidly playing with the gun, we were all punished by the company commander, push-ups on the concrete, ouchies, apparently small rocks and the human palms do not mix. Several times a day, we assemble for a 30 minute lecture on varying topics, from weapons use and how to refuse orders, to how soldiers are expected to dress in public and IDF values. Sometimes people fall asleep, and then get yelled at later.

When I returned to Jerusalem on Wednesday evening, I finally began to think about all that I had absorbed, and that I was now a soldier, in uniform, walking through the Jewish capital. Amazing. After beginning to adjust to army life, I had to return to civilian life, even just for a few days. Nobody is timing me, nobody is ordering me. By the time I walked through the door of my apartment, I realized that it is a privilege and an honor to wear this uniform. One of the officers told us, this is not just the army of Israel, it is the army of the Jewish people, it is the army of brothers and sisters who are serving together no matter their personal histories or political interests. Although it comes with plenty of risk which will hopefully never be realized, the fact that I am now a small part of the defense of the Jewish homeland is, to me, unbelievable.

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Kvetch-Sesh

24 Apr
English: , alternative version as used on the ...

State Seal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Israelis and perhaps Jews as a whole have a propensity for comparing their most trying experiences. Whether these are stories of true desperation and difficulty, or just complaining about the line at the bakery, each person will in turn attempt to out-kvetch the other participants in the conversation. In Israel, where the bureaucracy often rears its ugly head, there are plenty of opportunities for friends, neighbors, and colleagues to bond over who has experienced the worst of Israeli bureaucracy.

Over lunch the other day in yeshiva, we struck up a conversation that somehow triggered the sharing of our varied experiences with the offices of the Israeli government as well as State governments in America. Once we began the kvetch-sesh as I have come to call it, there was no stopping, it was a game of oneupsmanship where the winner was actually the biggest loser. Using the snowball metaphor might work here to describe the progression of the conversation, but instead a more appropriate example is probably the back-up that happens in any government office when all two people working decide to take their hour-long coffee and cigarette breaks at the same time. No matter how hard they aren’t working, the line will never shrink.

There is the typical instruction to bring forms ‘x’ ‘y’ but that form ‘z’ was not required. Upon arrival at the office in question, after waiting in line, the customer is told that form ‘z’ is necessary while the other two are no longer in use. Accessing some benefits requires a letter, or “ishur” from a rabbi, doctor, or other recognized official. What you are not told is that those benefits require a renewal, including a new letter. Never mind the fact that the rabbi’s letter which vouched that the customer was born to a Jewish mother was valid in 2010, they want to see that in 2013, the person in question was still born to a Jewish mother. Of course there is the ever popular, “If you come back tomorrow, we’ll get it all straightened out.” The worst mistake is walking out of the office, because unbeknownst to you, the office will be closed tomorrow. Hooray! A government minister is coming to visit, yes, even during the hours designated for public reception. Applying for a city tax discount in one municipality? How about then being required to take a day off from work in order to go to the municipal office in another city in order to receive verification by way of the vaunted “ishur” that you did not use that benefit in the previous year. Three national service girls are sitting behind the desk in the Office of Immigrant Absorption, the phone is ringing, and ringing, and ringing. One girl turns to the other and asks, “Can you turn the ringer down, it’s really annoying,” What?! this office is supposed to help the absorption process not give new immigrants kidney stones. And of course, the grandaddy of them all, the IDF, where the motto must be, “Why put you through the bureaucratic processes today, when you can come back and attempt them tomorrow?”

So, how does one deal with such situations? Laugh. But only after the fact, because in the moment it is more important to push your way to the front.