Saturday, October 10, 2009

The President of Israel Listens to ME

Last Sunday night was the beginning of Yom Kippur, and I was off from the army. For the first night I decided that I would go to the popular 'meat market' synagogue nearby. I swear I wasn't checking out the ladies on the Day of Atonement. I just wanted to, you know, see to it that everyone was repenting for all that gawking that takes place there (they weren't). My flatmate was walking in the same direction, but then had to take another direction eventually. As I turned onto a sidestreet I noticed a big government Suburban blocking the way to a locally famous synagogue (there are lots in Jerusalem, you know). Next to the Sub was a moveable barricade.

Security was abundant. The first thought that crossed my mind was that they were making sure no bad guys tried anything tricky with all those congregants. I quickly remembered, however, that I had seen some government security doing the same thing one morning as I walked to my bus stop on the way back to the army. As soon as I recalled that, a few guys in suits turned the corner. Secret Service guys. Tall, strong as hell looking. M16's not dangling to the side like a soldier going home, but rather with hands on the grips, pointed forward but to the ground. "Who the hell is this for," I wondered.

And out walks Shimon Peres, the venerated President of this fair state. Here we were, just me and Peres on a tiny sidestreet walking in opposite directions. And about 10 ready to pop badasses culled from who knows which army units. Shayetet (Seals), Sayeret Matkal (Delta Force), 669, Palsar (Rangers), Yahalom (special forces demolitions), Egoz (anti-guerilla warfare), some others probably, and even former Mossad who took an even more prestigious assignment if I had to guess. Me, Peres, 5 feet apart - and the world's scariest bodyguards.

I'm not one to get starstruck or shocked over a fellow human being. I mean, we're all flesh and blood and dust and ashes. But this isn't an ordinary man. He is considered one of the founders of the State, and at this very moment he is probably the most respected man in Israel. Peres is like a modern Israeli James Madison. What do you say to a man like that, in passing, on the eve of Yom Kippur? Do you wish him an easy fast? Tell him he's doing a great job? Maybe even something as cliche as saying, "Good evening, Mr. President"?

And so I found myself as shut up as a Tibetan monk in solitude on top a great, lonely mountain. Honestly, I'm not sure that if I had even tried to speak that the words would have come out at all. And just imagine if the security saw some bumbling idiot, big and as potentially threatening as I could be, making a move towards the head of state! That would have been an inauspicious start to the new year. I think the security, black suits and assault rifles and dark sunglasses and all, probably put the kibosh on any greeting or words more than any other factor.

But now, days later, I really wish I would have said something about Gilad Shalit. If you haven't been reading the news, our soldier captured in 2006 by Hamas is still a hostage. He's been subjected to the discommunication between Israel and her enemies for over three years (1,195 days in captivity) now, and just about the entire country is saying the same thing: bring him home already. We don't care how, just do it. Now.

Man, I wish I would have said exactly this:

"Gilad Shalit."

That's it. Nothing else. In a normal tone of voice, no inflection at all, no gesticulation. Nothing. You know why? Because he knows what the country wants, and it would have been foolish to insult him further. I know that he isn't solely responsible for that situation, and the resolution, but he sure has a voice in the matter. He sure can make some moves.

But I didn't say a word, and that's OK - probably for the best. Definitely for the best. I don't need the Secret Service beating me up before I go to the meat market synagogue, giving me a bloody lip or something. Girls don't like a bleeding, awkward tall guy. Or maybe they'd think I was tough and just beat up some bad guys.

Ahh, the delusions of a sleep-depraved soldier...


Jacob B said...

Hey just read some of your previous posts. As an American currently transforming into an Israeli soldier it's great to hear the stories of those who have come to protect this sacred land.
Shana Tova


Anonymous Belgian said...

Hi, I've been reading your blog since the early days of your Tironut. First of all let me say that as an Israeli who's family recently did an Alyia from somewhere in Europe, your blog has been of great interest to me. I'm still not in the army (last year of highschool left to do) but your blog has really given me a new view on things in the army.

To the point: I also had a meeting with Peres a few months ago, I participate in an international Robotics competition, and in March at the Israeli regionals (a qualification championship, where the winning teams go to Atlanta) Peres came to visit, give a speech about the future of technology, and walk between the booths. In our booth, he stopped to talk to us, about the robotics project and our education in general. We only talked to him for approximately 10-15 minutes, but it was an amazing experience! He is an amazing person, and you can tell it from the first few seconds of talking to him. He truly seemed interested in our lives, in what we were planning on doing in the army, and in how we thought up of the idea to use broomsticks on our robot to save costs. He seems to be very much up to date with technology which surprised us, but not as much as his personal interest in us, the average joe high schoolers. We got to shake hands with him, he made a joke or two, and it was a really fun experience.
I don't think the security people would have attacked you; with a president like Peres to guard, they are probably used to him talking with people on the streets. The man seems genuinely interested in the public's views and opinions, and is probably the greatest president Israel has had in the past few years.

Anonymous said...

you're the man bro! love you! stay safe!!!

Israeli by Day said...

Damnit, I meant "sleep-deprived." oh well. Thanks to Stephanie on the catch.

Jacob - good luck bro.

Belgian - what the hell is it about you western europeans that you learn english to the point of sounding like americans? I know a swedish girl who could be any educated american I've ever met. Her english is that good, with an american accent. I also knew a belgian like that.
Peres does seem like a good guy. And by the way, 15 minutes with a head of state is a LOT of time!

Anonymous bro - love you too.

Anonymous said...

I dislike shimon peres very much. Some say he killed Rabin. but most knowlegable people understand he is a parasite in israeli government, although i would rather have him as foreign minister instead of lieberman. Bibi Netanyahu on the other hand,,,wel Bibi is a KING.

SingleGirl said...

As your flatmate I feel honoured by the mention and annoyed that i missed seeing Peres by a matter of seconds, i would for sure have said chatima tova to him (which is the common saying on Yom Kippur which means may your name be signed in the book of life).

I was once right next to him when he came to give a talk at a gala dinner at the Weizmann Institute and in response to Belgian - he is extremly interested and passionate about science and technology and believes that they are the future of this country both financially and from a security perspective. He gave a speech at that dinner and i remember him talking about nano-technology and his dream of pilot free choppers so we do not have to lose anymore of our men that way!

Unknown said...

danny, just because your "flatmate" is british doesnt mean that you are too!! americans dont say flat!

SingleGirl said...

he likes to distinguish the fact that we are not "roomates!"

Taller than a Hobbit said...


sleep-depraved, I totally didn't catch that.

Ruanne said...

I LIKE sleep-depraved. Because that's about how you feel, isn't it?

Star struck happens. A whole government van of us U.S. soldiers once picked up Jay Leno at one of those car shows in California, where we were putting in our volunteer hours. None of us could say much more than Yuh-huh. Uh-uh. It was just to surreal to be real. And he's not even that important. But his chin really IS that big.

Belgians and Swedes and Danes start English in first grade. Literally. Interestingly, there's a register of English I guess you could call Global English, which is neither British nor American.

pap said...

Did you make eye contact with President Peres?

Danny in LA said...

I'm enlisting in the IDF (planning on going to israel after fall semester ends)

Whats it take to get into Sayeret Matkal, 669, or yahalom?
Do they pick me, or do i try to get into them?

Let me know, I'm really intrested.

On another note, isnt the "president" of israel more of a ceremonial position then a political one. More like a spokesman for the government, does he really have a say in what goes on with the Shalit deal.

I think we should give as many prisoners as they want for Gilad. We need the boy back.

Lauren said...

Did you ever go to OZ on the Upper West Side? The synagogue that you went to sounds a lot like that...same 500 people every week with lots of awkwardness all round...trying to avoid those you've already gone out with and the creepy stalker guy/girl who just won't leave you alone...and then there are the people who just come to watch it all. Interesting, isn't it? Just from a sociological and social point of view.

Israeli by Day said...

Anonymous hater - I think you should give some more content after saying something like the president, a highly respected and respectful man, is a parasite. that's pretty strong, and in my book, disrespectful to a man that has given his entire life for public service.

Debbie, dear flatmate - if you were there, i bet you would have had a few words with old Peres. I'm not saying you'd boss him around... but he'd know what you thought! Marissa, don't mess around with her. She doesn't mince words.

pap - I would have made eye contact, but he was deep in conversation with a young man he was walking with.

danny in LA - to get into those ubersayeret units, you A) have to be a ridiculous athlete, and B) have the mind of a donkey, ie, the ability to suffer great pain for years. the training cycle is long. to get in, you have to do "yom sayerot," which is a day that you try out, then you try out for a specific unit based on what they allow you to try out for, if you make the first cut. it's nearly impossible to get into sayeret matkal, but yahalom is easier - 669 is what the guys who dont get into s"m get into. so... good luck! you can do it. i know guys in shayetet, so it's possible!

the president is less ceremonial here than, say, the queen of england. he really is much more involved in the atmosphere of the politics. though, you are right in believing that the prime minister is the guy that runs the show. but also, since peres is so well respected, he really does have quite a say in matters.

giving away prisoners is not a simple issue. it sets a precedent, it shows weakness which will empower the enemy, it motivates them to kidnap again... it's really an ideological issue in political science, whether to negotiate with terrorists or not. it's not just as easy as getting gilad back.

lauren - i have not gone to OZ, but I have heard of it and its meatmarket status. must be very hard to find spirituality there, no?

the sabra said...

O wow, sucky feeling to think afterward what you wanted to say.

I know my comments are not very intelligent/helpful/informative/witty/exciting/whatever but I've been reading your blog since way back, before you were a mighty cool Golanchik, so I feel like I have the right to just nod and smile and still feel like I've contributed to the world ;)