Saturday, September 26, 2009

Inter-Battalion Rivalries and Military Songs

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.

We will take any chance to taunt Company G, and so will they. Here's us
versus them while waiting for a speech to start. Two sides, just like West
Side Story. Funny enough, Company B is in the middle, yelling at both of
us. Neither G or the Messayat cares about B. So they just yell at both in
turn, and we clap for them. Sad, sad Company B.

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.

Note the girl halfway through. Terrible!


DanielC said...

I finally get it: all those african tribal songs are actually golani meseyat chants. they sound exactly the same...

Anonymous said...

girls are always quieter, but beware of the dog that does not bark ;))))))))


Anonymous said...

Hey I am reading your blog on and off when I have the time to do it.
I really enjoy it, seeing the reality in the eyes of the new guy from other country. It actually sometimes weird funny sometimes just plain logical, but mostly cool and I really enjoy reading your thoughts and how you interprate stuff.. keep it up brotha from anotha motha :D

Amnon said...

so are there girls in your unit? that you can see on a semi-frequent basis?

You see i was worried about being away from pot for 30 days on base, but come to think of it, being away from girls would be a much bigger problem.

The spirit you boys have is thick enough to cut with a knife. Im proud of you man i feel from reading your blog we grew with you step by step while you went through this experience. Hope to read more posts.

All the best- Amnon

PS. I am 100% clean from drugs, and excercise everyday in preperation for the IDF.

PPS. I do have a friend from Duvduvan is sais its completely possible to smoke hash on a frequent basis....but that doeant matter to me man, im on the clean path.

d-rose said...

im pretty sure you can face harsh MP sentences for using drugs while in the IDF..they do some random drug testing.. right?

I have friends who got away with it once in a while but never made it a regular habit. They're loving the ganja since finishing their service, though!

Anonymous said...

Ganja is a gift from Gd, but come on now

Israeli by Day said...

Thanks, anonymous.

Amnon - ah, my favorite commenter. keep em coming. in answer to your question, yes, there are girls in golani (non-combat stuff, of course). but no, you will NEVER have a chance with one of them. why? they go for the commanders, and especially the officers. and even they arent going around doing what you're suggesting. its a) forbidden on base, and b) you have no privacy, therefore no where to do such things. if you are worried that lacking conversations with a female will be bad, forget about it. you can get that every night by just going and talking to your mashakit tash (the girl that handles your rights).

good job on being drug free, amnon. and again, as i said before, you can always smoke whatever you want when you're off for the weekend - it's just a matter of whether or not they do a drug test (which they've never done to us or anyone i know, and i've been in the army for a year already).

Lady-Light said...

Hi. Haven't commented in a while. Girls are "non-combat" in Golani? My youngest daughter is in Combat Engineering (she made it through yom gibush, but her first choice, search & rescue, was full. This was her 2nd), is already a commander, and is now in Kours Ktzinim. She signed up for over 4 year; so there are some girls...
(in general, kol hakavod, keep up the good work; we need more American Jews excelling in the IDF!)

Israeli by Day said...

lady-light - Congrats to your daughter. That is no easy feat, and 4 years is no small pill to swallow! As my dad says, "she must be a tough old bird."

Lady-Light said...

Actually, she's a tough YOUNG bird," Baruch Hashem (and a real leader).

the sabra said...

Oy our army is mishug. I love you guys!