Tuesday, March 10, 2009

More Separation Anxiety?

As of this writing, this post is very relevant to me.  As of the publication, a solid two weeks later, I hope that I have forgotten the entire matter.  Contrary to popular belief, time is not necessarily the greatest healer, but it certainly dulls the pain, whatever it may be.  "Time heals griefs and quarrels, for we change and are no longer the same persons."  Pascal said that.

Why the grief?  At the end of each segment of training, be it basic, advanced, or "kav," discussed in the "End of Tironut - Basic Training" post, commanders tend to come and go.  Officers get promoted, commanders decide to head back to their units to see some action, and sometimes someone finishes their service.  As you can imagine, everything changes all the time.  The second you think you're making a good connection with someone, they're off to some far away place.

That's the nature of armies, I believe.  Despite knowing this, I'm just plain bummed out that we're losing Commander Crazy Eyes (referred to as Yonni).  This particular commander, let's continue calling him Yonni, was one son of a b****.  One moment he was laughing and joking around, the next you found yourself doing pushups until you wanted to run away to Cairo and catch the next plane to JFK.

Of all the commanders, I'm pretty sure he was the most sadistic.  Honestly, the majority of the punishment induced pushups and runs I did was because of Yonni's dogged demand of discipline.  The slightest movement in a standing formation, no matter how inconsequential the circumstance, was grounds for hitting the ground and staying there for ten minutes.  Easily.  

"Ben-David, why did you scratch your arm?"


"Three seconds, matsav shtayim."  That's pushup position, just staying in it for as long as they like.  

Never once, in all of the three months of basic, was I the reason the entire group had to do pushups.  In fact, the vast majority were never once responsible for something like that.  Instead, only a handful of our fellow soldiers were the culprits, over and over and over again.  And true to Yonni, he never showed sympathy for this fact.  While Commander Sweetheart, my actual squad commander, may have isolated the offender, Yonni subscribed entirely to the "one team, one punishment" philosophy.

Now, you may think Commander Yonni is a total jerk.  Crazy Eyes indeed had crazy eyes, just looking around ready to strike.  Yeah, now that I think about it, he was a jerk.  Not a few times did I reply affirmatively to someone claiming that Yonni was obviously disturbed.  At those times, he really did seem insane.  His eyes.  Searching for something.  To punish.  To strike.  At those times he seemed so evil.  Ruthless.  Callous.

But as much as even I despised him at times, because really what did I do to deserve all that, he was the nicest guy in the entire company to me.  None of the other commanders, even Sweetheart, pulled me aside as much as Yonni to ask me all about my life.  I can't even count how many times I was trying to do something simple and boring when Yonni would call out, "Danny, tell me about yourself."  

"Danny, what's your plan in life?"
"Danny, what do you like to do?"
"Danny, what do you like?"
"Danny, what do you think of Israel, Israelis, the IDF?"

And so on and so on, endlessly.  When we still had major distance between ourselves and the commanders, not even small talk being permissible, and much less opinions being discussed, he would ask me what I thought of something or other.  He asked me what I thought of the situation in the Gaza and the West Bank.  Our wars in general.  Our leaders.  Everything you could imagine.

This guy just had a thing for me, I think.  I am, to be fair, more interesting than the standard 18-year-old post-high school IDF soldier.  So, one day we were sitting in a shooting range and cleaning our guns.  He gave us five minutes, but then two minutes in he began to ask me more questions.  I was minding my business when he asked,

"Danny, tell us about college."

I looked around and saw that he was asking me to tell him, and in effect the entire platoon, all about my formative years.  Being that my Hebrew is pretty fluent in terms of being able to speak (much better than my comprehension), I started from the beginning.  I began with the first year, telling him about my roommate and the adjustment to having so much freedom.

Before I even realized it, five minutes were just about over.  As necessary, someone requested an extension of time to continue cleaning the guns.  Yonni granted another five minutes, but then prefaced our session.

"If anyone says a word, they're running out into the range."

Right away a French immigrant happened to ask a question, and Yonni sent him to the 100 meter marker.  "Hey!," Yonni yelled to the Frenchman, "pushups!"  That kid rejoined us well after everyone forgot he was out there, including Yonni.

"Danny, continue..."

I am not making up one word when I tell you that Commander Yonni granted about six or seven five minute extensions just for me to continue my totally uninterrupted speech.  And, I swear to you, he sent about five people deep into the range just for saying one word.  During my speech I looked up occasionally, pretending to be actually cleaning my gun after 15 minutes, in order to make eye contact with Yonni.

He was staring at me, mouth open, eyes wider than a deer caught in headlights.  He was absolutely enamored with my stories, as boring as they may be compared to people who went to big state party schools.  I kept going, thinking maybe it was a little too much of me to talk so freely in front of a commander and the entire platoon.  Nope.

I can't even begin to tell you how many times I pushed the whole "distance between commanders and basics" thing with Yonni, of all the commanders.  He's the only one I actually slapped on the back during a masa.  And you know what his reaction was?  He smiled, but then quickly remembered the protocol and grabbed my vest and pulled me back and forth, quietly saying, "What, you think we're friends?!"

Yes, Yonni, we were friends, and I miss you.


Anonymous said...

I think Yonni wants to go to University in the US.
And you will probobly meet him again in Miluim or one day or in a few years time in Jerusalem or a park and both of you will be married with 2-3 children.
Israel is a small place.
My husband is always meeting people he new back when.

Aviv said...

That was a great, great post.

When I was two years along, my direct commander H changed with A.

H was the most caring commander in the world, and he'd always greet you with a smile, especially if you just happened to see him in the street.

A was much more proper and distant. One of the first mornings I ran across him, he just said hello and asked if everything was okay.

No smile.

I thought about it later that day and cried.

About Me said...


I am so grateful to have stumbled upon your blog. I am a 23 year old Jew from New Jersey who is planning to join the IDF as well. I will be studying at a Kibbutz Ulpan (either Mishmar HaEmek or Maagan Michael) for 5 months and then will take it from there. Thank you for the insightful posts.

Israeli by Day said...

mia - not so sure about the kids part, but I'm sure i'll see him around the gdud base when I get there.

Aviv - thanks for your comment. Sometimes I also feel kinda degraded and dissapointed in all this when I'm not treated like a peer.

NJ - think long and hard about doing this stuff, joining the army. It takes more than a little ideology.

Roadie in Vancouver said...

Great story, those of us who went through this years ago can identify. So that you know, in Tironut, they are supposed to run you ragged. Remember, they are human just like you.

Most of my commanders were awesome and garnered huge respect. In fact, Boogie Yaalon was a Mem Mem in my unit, but not my Machlaka. There was an unwritten competition between ours and his. On paper, he had the better group. Boogie was a real "fighter" while our Mem Mem was a quiet sort, but he inspired us in his way, and we would beat Boogies machlaka on a regular basis. Once we switched Mefakdim, and Boogie was running us through our paces on some training, and I remember him voicing his approval on how fast I changed magazines. Then he left to Sayeret Matkal and eventually became Ramat Kal.

Israeli by Day said...

that's a pretty cool story, israeli. What unit was this? Any other stories are much appreciated!

Anonymous said...

Love you bro. Be safe

Anonymous said...

i loved my MM to his name was ariel perel

stay safe simon