Golani is the oldest brigade in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), started on February 28, 1948. It was a restructuring, in fact, of Hagana pre-state defense forces. With this early start, and its storied battle history, Golani has had no shortage of esprit de corps. Most indicative of the pride found among Golanchikim is the enormous collection of battle songs, company-based cheers, and most importantly, taunts against rival units. If you've read this blog, you'll know that our biggest rivals are the paratroopers.
But what you haven't been privy to is our rivalry, or really just our jeering, with a different company in our same battalion. I'm sure it's like this in every battalion of Golani, but all I know is mine - and mine is vociferous! Company G, said rival, gets quite the ribbing from the Messayat, my company. Especially when we beat them in all kinds of tests, like a recent day where we scored higher in shooting drills and had a faster time in a full-gear and stretchers run. It took a few days for them to live that one down.
Before I get taken away with this, I should back up quite a bit. This post isn't about the rivalry between the Messayat and Company G. Rather, I just want to talk about the songs and cheers that have become such an integral part of my life since joining this company and arriving in the battalion as a full soldier. In armies across the world there are songs, such as the famous "I don't know but I've been told..." Even better are U.S. Marine's cheers, especially songs like Blood and Guts. As you can tell, militaries will be militaries.
The first Shabbat that I got to the Messayat I experienced one of the strangest nights of my life. After coming back from services, I found the group slowly forming a circle. Here was a company consisting of veterans and near-veterans, and there was my platoon, fresh from the training base. Young. Green. Everyone else had been in Gaza for Operation Cast Lead. We were two months into basic training. They were knocking down doors; we were stuck perpetually in pushup position. But nonetheless, we were members of this company now, and we found ourselves in a large circle on an equal footing.
And then the songs started. Some of my guys knew a couple here and there, but most of us just clapped along, smiling awkwardly. And when the time would come, as it does for a few songs, we would run into the middle - jumping, cheering, punching and pushing. With the veterans. Guys that served in every major operating zone in the country. If anyone ever created one of those songs, many of which I'm sure have been passed down for generation upon generation, in an attempt to integrate the greenhorns, they can sleep happily knowing they accomplished the goal.
I swear to you, however, that that first night with these strange songs and their respective physical interpretations (a certain dance, kneeling, jumping, etc), I thought that I had landed on another planet. What in the world was going on? The night was dark and the sky was orange from the sodium lights. A strong Golan Heights mist was swirling the crisp summer air, creating the effect that we were stuck inside a cloud. And here in the midst of bizarre weather were these battled 20-year-olds singing what can only be described as alien chants. Most of the language was well beyond my comprehension of Hebrew. Only now do I know what half of it means.
The singing went on for an hour. A full hour of this massive circle, pulsating with pride and, admittedly, a desire to confront the enemy. Let's not forget this is Israel's most deadly infantry brigade. The energy level was enough to bring even me in, and I am not a singing or dancing type.
I can't tell you how impotent I feel at the moment. I simply cannot describe the strangeness, oddity, mood, setting, and atmosphere of that first night. The unmatched out-of-placeness I felt, but all that without the typical accompanying self-consciousness. I thought I was in a movie about an army unit, rather than actually being deep within one. Maybe I can't describe it because it all seems so normal to me now, maybe because that was over three months ago, or most likely because I'm a hack writer.
So hopefully a video or two of some of these songs, albeit not in the mentioned circle (which we do all the time, by the way), will show you just how intense the experience is. I could say a million things about a million songs, even some in Amharic Ethiopian, but let's just leave you in the same state I was in that first night: confused and unsure what it all meant.