Posts Tagged ‘Israel Defense Forces’

Has it really been close to 3 months since I last wrote a blog post?!?!?! Wow, I’m sorry to you (readers) and to myself. As much as this is a help guide to wanna-be lone soldiers, it’s also a chronicle for myself and others about what life is like in the IDF. I update a lot on Facebook (which if you’re a fan, you know is quite a bit), but I also should have been updating more here as well. With blog posts I can go more in detail and make sure my memories aren’t lost!

I’ve been back in Israel and on base for 2 weeks and already a ton has happened (or not happened). I’m home at my kibbutz now alone because my girlfriend was lucky enough to be selected to be a soldier on a Taglit (Birthright) trip. She’s traveling all around Israel for 10 days with a bunch of 20 somethings from the Philadelphia area, being their companion and guide through this holy land. She helps them with their questions and introduces them to Israeli idea’s and things they probably wouldn’t see or hear otherwise, along with answering the dumb question here or there of “HAVE YOU EVER SHOT ANYONE?!?!?!?!”. Contrary to popular belief, no, we soldiers in the IDF do not just walk around shooting people for the fun of it.

So now, where was I before I was sitting at my new computer eating strawberries from the shuk (market) in Tel Aviv? Where was I before two weeks of guard duty on the border of the West Bank? Why I was at home of course! Home in beautiful New York eating lox and cream cheese bagels, amaaaaaazing pizza and having the “occasional” beer or 10.

they're just as good as they look 🙂

Home was great. Really, I couldn’t have asked for much more. I saw my family and friends, I caught up on sleep, rode my motorcycle a few times, I ate A LOT, partied a bit too much and generally just did all the things I can’t or don’t have time to do here in Israel. There’s not much to explain about being home, you can’t explain the feeling of returning to a place that you’ve known for 23 years after a year of being gone. It’s just that, returning home. Most things are comfortably the same, with a few changes of the local stores. It’s nice that most things don’t change. It’s reassuring that there are things that don’t change every day. Keeps me sane at least.

Returning to Israel a couple days later than I was supposed to due to a screw up on the army’s behalf was a pretty good bonus for once. Apparently they were beginning to think that I had run away, until I showed up and explained what had happened with my plane tickets. Long story short the army sent me to get my plane tickets the day before I was supposed to leave, so obviously there weren’t any tickets left, so the travel agent just added the lost days onto the end. Returning was bittersweet. I liked that I would have something to occupy my time with again, but I missed home the second I was on the plane. It was hard knowing that the next time I would be home would be a minimum of another 6 months or so. All is well now though, I’ve come to peace with finishing up here and doing my duty that I have signed up for. June 15th is the day I’m done, unless they give me some really good reason to sign extra time? an interesting course or something maybe?

For those of you out of the loop, since finishing my training at my original base I’ve been stationed between the Israeli settlement of Tsofim and the Arab city of Qalqilya, Check out the area here on a map. We do various different forms of guard duty there. I can’t go very in depth here, but it ranges from guard duty on base, to patrols and lookout towers on the border of Israel and Qalqiliya which is part of the West Bank. It’s very tiring work and after being on base for 2 weeks all anyone wants to do is go home and sleep. Some shifts go up to 12 hours… and in one location you sleep there for several days on end, taking turns guarding with the other people there. No showers, no change of clothes, and you make your own food there!

Next week I’ll be moving bases again… but that’s for next blog. For now, I will give you a short photo essay to sum up my last month or so. I wish I could post more, but remembering our chats during training – I probably shouldn’t post some pictures that I have in case they got in the wrong hands, and that’s weird that I actually think like that now.

I got to see tons of family including my niece (Helen) and nephew (Sam, pictured here). It was great to see them after such a long time. I think Sam liked my motorcycle as much as I do! P.S. Don't worry mom's around the world, this motorcycle was never moving with him on it!

how I missed unkosher deli sandwiches. sorry but I don't think I can ever give it up!

My grandparents had their 64th anniversary while I was home!

Ben Gurion Airport... Returning to the land.

We built our own army Chanukiah for Chanukah!!! What do you think?

Thought it was a cool looking view while I was guarding...

I know this sorta looks like a Hess truck from the holidays, but it's a real truck the police and soon the army will use here! It's a Ford that's been heavily customized by an Israeli company!

SUFGANIOT!!!! Our Battalion commanders father was kind enough to buy/donate a ton of donuts for all of us during Chanukah... WOW they were good!

Another view from guard duty. Barbed wire isn't always the nicest thing to see, but it's unfortunately needed in a lot of area's around the border. I liked the contrast with the natural surroundings for this picture

A checkpoint near a border to check ID's of Israeli's and Palestinians alike crossing the border. A public area so I felt it ok to show. Many people cross this border every day to go to one side or the other to work.

I recently got an upgrade from my old Vietnam era M16, to a much nicer M4! Very happy about it. Now I fit in with everyone else 🙂

If you made it to here, Thanks for reading, thanks for looking at my pictures and if you’re a regular, sorry for the long wait for a new post! I hope to post more frequently now that I have my own (new) laptop, and have gotten a little more back into a regular schedule. Hope you’ve enjoyed and make sure to like and share my facebook page, that’s where the most frequent updates are! Till next time, enjoy!

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Dear Kids in the USA,

I know you’re not really “kids” but it seemed like a good title so it’s staying. For those of you who are confused, this is an open and public letter to the young ladies and gents at Solomon Schechter Westchester. This letter has been a long time coming, but if you read my blog regularly you should know that I’m a pretty busy guy. This weekend alone I went to a wedding, a bar mitzvah, shopping at the supermarket and mall, spoke on skype with my parents and two friends, watched a movie AND wrote this blog. I’d like to take a second to congratulate myself on spending my time wisely. Congratulations! ::pats self on back::

I would normally use this time to write about what I did in the army this week, but it can be summed up in a sentence or two so I’ll do that now before my letter starts. We re-learned everything we learned at Mikveh Alon. We wasted some time. And then we learned more. All week long we had lessons on guns, hand grenades, bullets, doctors, dentists, ranks of commanders etc. etc. I could write a lot about it, but that would take away from what I’m really here for now; also it’s probably not that interesting unless you’re there in person.

My good friend from school teaches Hebrew at Solomon Schechter and will apparently be following my footsteps and joining the IDF soon?!?! That’s another story for possibly another time. Besides that though, he was in Israel with his class and visiting friends around a month ago. He brought me letters from all his students in class. So finally without further ado, here begins my actual letter:

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you to all of you for the letters! It really means a lot to me to receive personalized letters from people in the states who truly appreciate what I’m doing. It makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile and reminds me after a hard week of why I’m here. You are all amazing! It seems that some of you know more Hebrew than I do at this point… maybe you can give me lessons?

I think it’s great that your growing up learning Hebrew in the States and learning at a school like Solomon Schechter. I say in all honesty that I wish I had gone to a school like yours when I was younger. I can’t complain too much because the public schools in my area are great and I learned a lot there. But even with going to Hebrew School I didn’t get nearly as much education as you all will be. Please don’t take it for granted! Learn as much as you can while you’re there, you never know what you’ll want to do in the future!

And here’s a quick rant for all of you – I don’t know what they tell you about Israel in school, but don’t listen to just one person’s opinions. Read the news, and I don’t mean one website, get the whole story. Read the NY Times, Read BBC, Read CNN, Read HaAretz, Read the Jerusalem Post and so on and so forth. They all report, but they all have their biases. Love Israel, but know the facts. Don’t hate Palestinians, hate terrorists. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING is black and white. I’m not here because I’m a diehard zionist, I’m here for dozens of reasons that are spread all throughout this blog and will continue to unfold in the future. Sorry if I went on a tangent that you didn’t like, but I thought I should put that out there.

Hopefully some of you will be back in Israel at some point and I can show you around, I’ll be here for a little longer 😉

Love to all the USA,
Me.

I got into the 101st Airborne!!!

“Wow, what did I get myself into?!?!” “Why am I doing this to myself again?” “My muscles are searing in pain, my lungs are on fire, WHY?!?!?!” “run faster… you’re being a little girl!” “BIGGER, FASTER, STRONGER!” “JUST DO IT!”

Those are just a few of the things that were going through my mind as I was at the gibbush (tryout) for Tzanchanim (paratroopers). There were doubts in my mind, my body hurt – but it made me feel alive. I’m here, once again at my girlfriends writing a blog, but this time I’m enjoying writing about my experience because it was a truly interesting one. One that I won’t forget, and I’ll surely remember when I’m being pounded on for 3 months through basic training (and then even longer through advanced training). I’ll remember because this is what I asked for and what I came here for. Training to make myself better, training to make myself physically and mentally stronger than the average human. I’ve always considered myself a pretty average joe, but always working toward improvement (that could be a whole blog by itself so I’m gonna stop now).

The gibbush took place at Bakum, the same place I was my first day in the army. It’s a base for all the new people in the army, as well as a type of sorting ground for people going to new units. We arrived around 8-9am after sitting on the bus from Mikveh Alon for around 2 1/2 hours, not really sure why it took so long – army busses are slow… always. The first day at the gibbush seemed like a big joke, we got there and were split into groups and were told to start cleaning dishes in the kitchen… seriously? I thought I came here to test my physical and mental aptitude for an elite group of paratroopers in the Israeli Army??? Oh well, I guess I’ll scrub the living hell out of that plate… and the next one… and the next one. While washing plates, utensils and other cookware, we clearly got a bit tired of the tedious work and started screwing around a bit. Luckily the guy in charge of us was all for it and we all ended up pretty wet in the kitchen.
A delicious lunch (Bakum food is amazing… and that really is not sarcasm), and some hours of usual army waiting around later, we eventually got around to changing into sports clothes. We were about to be doing our “Barour” (a basic test of physical strength). While there we found out that they wouldn’t be including the pushups and situps portion of the test, just the run. I didn’t like that very much because I can easily max out the 75 pushups and 86 situps required, where as my running ability is a bit lacking compared to some other peoples. Oh well, I guess I’d just have to put everything into the run.

The run was 2km – the same as what we had practiced at Mikveh Alon the week prior, this time however it was on rolling dirt, gravel and sand hills – oh ok. I knew it would be a little harder than running on a nice paved road, but also knew I needed to run faster. I was shooting for around the same time I had gotten on my first attempt (7:47) so I ran behind the same guy I did at Mikveh. Igor is quite a bit faster than me in long hauls so I knew I’d need to push myself. The first kilometer went easy enough, hardly a strained breath at all. The next half kilometer I was sweating and pushing myself, but it wasn’t until the last 500 meters that I really started to feel myself breaking. Igor began to pull ahead one stride at a time, but I didn’t put too much thought into it – just thought “keep on running”. I struggled to make myself sprint the last 100 meters or so but to no avail, I felt as if I was still moving the same speed.

I stopped my watch and told the register table the number written on my arm so they could record my official time. By my watch I had gotten 7:54, a bit slower than my previous attempt but good enough for me as I saw plenty of other people lagging behind. I was happy with my time considering I was still under 8 minutes and it was a much rougher course. For the rest of the day we didn’t seem to do much, just ate and wasted some time. We went to sleep extremely early and were told we would be need to be outside our tents in uniform at 3:30AM. Oh, so I guess that’s the time when I was going to start hating myself right?

After sleeping in my uniform, since we had heard we might get woken up in the middle of the night (we didn’t), I arose to a chilly and dark dawn of the day. We waited in formation for our mefaked (commander) for nearly half an hour… someone must of overslept – and it wasn’t us. First things first – chug your entire water bottle. 3/4 of a liter? No prob, I used to do this with beer in college every weekend. Yum, stale water out of an old plastic canteen. They say it’s to prevent against dehydration during the day, I guess we’ll be working out? Next was to take off our undershirts – bare skin against uniform. They say it’s to prevent against heat stroke during the day, I guess we’ll be working out hard?

We go to a meeting area where everyone else is, and eventually get re-split up into smaller, different tzvatim (groups) of about 20 people each. It seemed like almost everyone in my tzevet was from Mikveh Alon, I guess they wanted to keep the coloring book kids together? We received two jerry cans of water, a stretcher and a few back packs. We also each received tags for our uniforms that identified us with a number. Although I remember what we did and mostly in what order the details after this won’t be exact because my mind sort of just went somewhere else for a couple hours…

We stretched for a while with our mefaked and did a few short warm up laps around the perimeter of the area we were in. A decent enough warm up, but the sun still wasn’t out so it wasn’t like I was sweating from it. We were told to pick up a sand bag from the pile on the side and walk with the mefakdeem, at this point 4 other guys had joined our head mefaked. I immediately noticed that the sand bags were no where near even. Some looked to weigh around 50 pounds, while others couldn’t have been more than 15 – if this was on purpose or not, I’m still unsure. As we were walking the sun began to spread some light over the terrain we were going over. We passed a few other tzevet’s and eventually got to our area we’d be calling home for the next hour or so. We placed everything down on the side, and the mefaked had me place a sandbag about 35 meters (a hundred feet or so) up hill from where we were standing. Shloshoht! (lines of three) He said a bit in Hebrew that I wasn’t really paying attention to, and then said to run there and back in 14 seconds… GO! And we ran. And ran. And ran again. Every time we’d get back he’d say to run again. In the beginning we’d have 5-10 seconds between each run. After a while, it was just get back and run again. We were doing this for around 20 minutes. Then they added an interested variable into the equation… the stretcher. The stretcher filled with 7 sandbags.

Now every time we returned from the run we would have to run another time, unless you were one of the “lucky” first four people. The first four would be running again, but with the stretcher on their shoulders. Although It doesn’t sound good, it is good if you’re carrying the stretcher, because that means you were first, you were standing out, and the mefakdeem would be writing down your number. We did this for around another 20 minutes. I got the stretcher twice, not as many times as some people, but more than many. I had a secret…

Although I was working hard this whole time, I wasn’t putting in 100%… probably closer to 80%. Some of the “sprints” were more of a run for me, not a full out sprint. I was still gasping for air, but not like a lot of the people were. I knew we were going to have a lot in front of us so I didn’t want to kill myself in the first hour. Whether the mefakdeem noticed or not, I’m unsure – but It was fine with me because I had energy for later.

Next we would be holding sandbags over our heads. I unfortunately grabbed one of the bags that was closer to 50 pounds. Normally this is something that is very easy for me since I used to work out a lot with weights, but I guess it’s been a while.  I completely failed during this part of the gibbush. I was the second or third person to drop the bag from above my head and was told to stand in the center of everyone there. I had to put the bag back up, and I kept on dropping it – but every time I hoisted it back up. If I was gonna fail, I was gonna fail trying.

We put the bags aside and ran a few more times. Then we got the bags again… This time I made sure to get a little lighter bag and didn’t drop it once. It was a much shorter amount of time than the first but still made me feel a little better about my battered self esteem.

Almost done? Not even close. We set our water bottles down, oh yea, by the way, we were sprinting with full water bottles in our hands this whole time. Full because we weren’t allowed to drink from them. With water bottles aside, we were told we would be crawling up the hill to the point we had run before. YES, something I’m good at! Army crawling, for whatever reason, I’ve always been good at. I was in first or second every time we crawled… which was around 5 times. Just a warm up for later.

At some point when we were there we had a group discussion about whether we thought women should be allowed in combat roles. Positives/Negatives, that sort of thing. My opinion is that it was for two reasons; 1. To give us a 5-10 minute break. 2. To see how we think under stress. Sorry if things get a bit mixed up in the time line, The gibbush was over a week ago at this point (this blog was written at two different times).

We moved all of our things (stretcher, canteens, sand bags…) to another area to the side. The mefaked had us draw a star of david and then a paratroopers logo on the ground out of whatever we could find. Team work, leadership, creativity were things that came to my mind for why we would be doing this. In the same area was also a big wall, a log, a barrel, and a tire. There was an area of “mines” we weren’t allowed to go in and had to get everyone over the wall with just the log, barrel and tire. Again – team work, leadership and creativity. Interesting stuff, reminded me of scout camp when I was younger…

From here we jogged over to an area with a rectangular bar over head. We all had to face outward with our eyes closed and hang from the bar. The mefakdeem would jump to make it sound like someone else near us had dropped. Eventually I remember being patted on the shoulder by one of the mefakdeem and being told I could get down… I looked around and everyone was down already… oops? We ran to a nearby fence and this time faced each other hanging from the bar. And ran, and hung,  repeat over and over. We were allowed to have 3 people not hang at a time, I hung the whole time. Spit in my grip, a constant stare forwards and I didn’t move once. I was getting into the zone at this point, they couldn’t break me.

Next we jogged over to another area of sandy hills. CRAWL! I don’t know for how long we crawled, but up and down the hills we went, over and over again. My obliques were searing in pain like I have never felt before. Eventually I just stared at the sand below me and kept pushing, I looked down to know I was moving because It didn’t feel like I was. I came in 2nd nearly every time after this guy named Chaim. I may have been in second, but I was crawling low to the ground in proper form… he was crawling high and on his knee’s – he would have been shot if it was for real. This went on for ages. Getting to the top of a hill was such a relief, because then you would have 15-20 seconds of easier crawling/sliding down hill, until the next hellish hill.

When we finished crawling we had another discussion, this time about money in professional sports. All in Hebrew, and a random topic to think about after you’ve been in the middle of no where crawling on the ground for 30-45 minutes. Afterward we picked up all our gear and were to be going on a masa (trek/journey). It only ended up being around 2km, for me it was a nice cool down, for others it seemed like it was a little harder. We ended up back where we had started the day. Our mefaked congratulated us, told us to drink a lot of water, and told us to go with the midrachah (girl guide). We stretched for a while with her and were eventually released.

We had time to shower and relax for a little while before our interviews. The interview was interesting, and wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. It was more of me talking than them asking questions. Two officers sitting in front of me writing things down, once in a while asking a question. They asked things such as “What did you do before the army?, Why are you in Israel?, Why the army?, Why do you want to be in Tzanchanim?, Would you be interested in Sayeret? (special forces), Would you be interested in officer school?” I won’t write down all my answers, I’ll leave that for you to wonder about 😉

We helped clean up the base for a couple hours and had a late lunch. Eventually we were on the bus back to Mikveh Alon again. Everyone slept.

Showcase tank at the Entrance/Exit of Bakum


I didn’t find out until this Monday, exactly a week later but… I MADE IT! I was 1 of 3 in my whole machlakah, 1 of 11 in my pluga and 1 of 19 out of all of Mikveh Alon! About 1/3 of the people who went to the gibbush made it. I’m really happy about it and we’ll see what it means for me in the future. So long as they don’t make me sign for more time in the army, I’ll be in Tzanchanim after this Sunday. It’s gonna be a while, but I can’t wait for my tag, red koomta (beret) and paratrooper wings!