Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kitty Litter In The IDF

I meant to post this about four months ago when it happened, but you know how life works out. Anyway, the RASAP (logistics guy for a company) had me cleaning out his storage room when I heard a strange noise coming from a shelf. I looked up and saw a cardboard box marked "vests" where the noise seemed to be.

Taking it down, I felt something shift inside the box. As I set it down on the ground, I saw a litter of kittens, all meowing as if nothing was wrong at all! I told the RASAP immediately, of course, and we took the box outside onto the sidewalk. As I furtively pulled out my phone and took the below picture (still at this point technically forbidden for me to have a phone on me at the time), he called over all the commanders nearby.

We had a good laugh about it. I had to run off to do something else, but I wonder what they did with the litter? I know that everyone was feeding a stray, tiny, miserable kitty a few months later that was living next to a dumpster, so I suppose they'd also have pity on this bunch.

Well, if you ask the anti-Israel crowd, they'd say he probably ate them!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

An Article Loosely About Yours Truly

A good friend of mine here in Israel, Paul Gross, is one of the country's rising, brilliant political and social commentators. Why is he so brilliant? Mainly because he featured me in an article for a British Jewish paper he contributes to biweekly. Let's not mention his high-profile speechwriting, Israeli embassy experience, connections, and numerous published articles.

Here is the link to a very fancy web version of the newspaper The Jewish News. If you want to read the bit, flip to page 8. The article is highlighted in yellow. If it doesn't work, I don't know what to tell you... it's really high tech.

Either way, this is like the third article about yours truly in a newspaper. I'm movin' on up!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

My New Life - Vatik v. Tzair

As I said in the previous post, my life has changed so much just in the span of a couple weeks. We have finished with our training, left the training base where you are only with your commanders and other kids in training (ie – no real soldiers or real units), and have joined the battalion. I’m with the platoon I’ll be with until the end of my service. Our company has a specific role in combat, and my platoon has a specific set of weapons for combat as well. We’re all settled, this is it, we’re full soldiers in the battalion with our job description sealed. It’s as if we’ve finally been “shipped off,” though in Israel that only means being no more than a few hours from home.

For the sake of clarity, let me define a serious part of army life:

Veteran (vatik) – 2 years, 4 months into the army.

Young (tzair) – Anything less, but of course the youngest are more “tzair” than those drafted later.

In an attempt to scare kids into acting the way they want, you hear all the time during training about what the “veterans” are like when you finally reach the battalion. First of all, they’re portrayed as demons. They have nothing better to do than have all the new guys unload shipping crates full of gear, timed with impossible expectations, of course, only to put everything back in the way it was taken out. A whole shipping crate in 2 minutes. The shipping crate is the most notorious form of tzair work (see above picture).

Secondly, kitchen duty is far beneath the dignity and respect due to a veteran. They come into the dining hall when the meal is ready, eat, make a mess on purpose, and then leave all the cleaning up to the young ones. But, don’t forget, when you’re young nothing is just at your leisure: you’re on the clock, always.

Thirdly, we have to mention what is forbidden. There are many things you aren’t allowed to say, and if you are caught saying them... “oy va voy!” Stupid things. Like, “until when,” “how much is left,” and even any reference to being tired. Oy va voy if you say you’re tired!

What else is forbidden? Well, as we were told, anything the veteran wants to claim, he can claim. He can be walking past a group of youngins playing soccer and declare the football “off limits.” Only a veteran is allowed to touch it then. I’ve heard of that happening when the veterans were playing the tzairim.

Another great story of this claiming ritual is when a veteran walked past a bedroom of tzairim who were just sitting around, something that is very punishable. The veteran declared everything in the room – all chairs, beds, table, even the floor – off limits. Except one bed. Ten tzairim had to jump onto that bed and stay there until they were released.

OK OK OK. So, that’s all the stuff they scared us with while we were at the training base. They said, “If the veteran sees you not working like you’re supposed to, he’ll make you suffer.” I was pretty damn worried about what they were going to do to us after hearing all that for 8 months! Needless to say, when I got to the battalion I had two wide-open eyes, looking for veterans on the prowl.

So, two weeks in, was I tortured? Have I called Israeli newspapers looking to expose abuse in the ranks of Golani?

No, it’s not so bad. Yeah, we had to unload some crates over and over again, and it was dumb and they were jerks about it. If anything touches the ground... well, you basically have to run with it, and some of the stuff is heavy! So, you learn, and you don’t let anything touch the ground! No big deal, as we say.

Kitchen duty – yeah, you’ll do that for a long time. Basically, my group is the youngest in the entire company, so we have to clean all the dishes and trays and all that. But, the November 2007 draft date, guys that fought in Gaza in Operation Cast Lead, guys that have been in for quite a while, they still have to clear up the dining area – clean the floor, empty out trash cans, deal with the extra food, clear tables, and bring us all the dishes. And, worst of all, they are timed too! It takes a long time to get away from being young in the army, so you can deal with it knowing everyone suffered.

But overall, I have to say that the veterans are people too. Mainly, they just want to get the hell out of the army. How many times a day do I hear one yell “UNTIL WHEN?!!” Or, “HOW MUCH MORE?!!” To be honest, they’re usually too damn bored or tired to mess with us youngsters. As a matter of fact, I’ve already had a few conversations with a couple of them. They asked me all the typical questions, like why I’m here, how long am I serving for, if I’m dumb or not (why would I join the army if I didn’t have to?).

Seriously though, it’s pretty damn weird being around these guys that either fought in Lebanon (the platoon commanders) or Gaza’s Operation Cast Lead (all of them, even my tzair squad commanders). Even though my Dutch friend and I ruthlessly make fun of veterans, simply because they think they’re very cool and very deserving of all honor, I do have some amount of respect for them.

Two years and four months in? That’s a long time. That’s nothing to sneeze at. What really gets me is that their training isn’t any easier than mine is at nine months in. They do all the same runs we do, some of which are really tough with combat vests and loaded stretchers. They have all the same gear checks, which are much more serious than you can imagine. They do guard duty and everything, middle of the night and all. After two and a half years of this life, they’re deserving of saying they’re tired.

I don’t know. This post isn’t at all what I wanted it to be. I wanted to talk about how strange it feels walking around with my brown Golani beret, but yet feeling so dumb and young. I don’t know anything about anything. I thought that once I’d gotten my beret I’d feel like a real Golanchik. I do feel like a real Golanchik, but now I’m around REAL Golanchikim, and still there’s something different.

You know, it’s really quite indescribable. For example, I just spent the previous week at a shooting range with tons of veterans. Just me, another couple youngsters, and mainly all veterans. I shot better than all the veterans, much better at times, and yet...

And yet they’re still veterans who demand respect, and I still feel like an out of place tzair. There’s a post that hasn’t been written yet, but if it ever is, then you’ll get a better feeling for what it means to be an out of place tzair. Sorry for this rambling post, I’m out of practice.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Word About The Blog

Being that it’s been a month since my last post, or something along those lines, I’ve had ideas running through my head constantly. Especially since my life is so different now, having left the training base and joined the battalion, there are about a million things I could write. The world is my oyster, as they say.

However, my intention has been to finish this blog, not write any more, after advanced training. After all, what can I say about the actual work I’ll be doing? What would I write about checkpoints and guard duty, ambushes and operations? It works out perfectly that this blog is a documentation of the path to becoming an IDF infantry soldier, and that is all.

But then again, I have so much I want to write! I have zero desire to write, I am tired, and I don’t really care at the moment to spend my little free time writing, but I do have things to share. So, I think the only responsible thing I can do is leave this blog open to my whims. I tend to do things 100% or not at all, and it goes against my instincts to just write when I feel like it instead of regularly – but it’s best for all of us, no?

My recommendation is that you sign up on the right to receive new posts by email, since they could very well be extremely irregular.

A new post will be coming out in the next day or two...