I’m a soldier. It’s a whole new world. New rules, food, locations, clothes.
After arriving early morning to the enlistment location in Tel Aviv, myself and several hundred other men and women waited in the cold morning air while groups were called and put on a bus. Family members were crying and taking photos and a nervously excited atmosphere hung over everyone that morning. Considering most people there were chayalim bodedim and have no immediate family, I can’t imagine what the scene must be like during an actual Israeli draft…the tears must run like rivers. I said good bye to the Rubinsteins and boarded the bus along with a number of other Americans. A friend I met during my seminar, Roey, was there too and we stuck with each other throughout the day. The ride was much more symbolic than anything as the bus took us 5 minutes away to another portion of the base. We unloaded our personal bags and formed a semi circle around a few Israeli officers. One elderly man thanked us all for what we were about to do and then we were told to place our personal bags into a warehouse. From there, we walked to the Bakkuum, the building where they process all of the enlistment data. I moved from station to station (similar to my Tzav Rishon) getting pictures taken, x rays, fingerprints, and interviews. In addition to the many interviews during my Tzav Rishon, I had probably another 4 that day all asking the same thing: Who are you, where are you from, where are your parents from, do you have siblings? You’d think they’d have some database. When I would say Alaska, I always got a reaction. It always is a conversation starter and distinguishes me from everyone else…which is important when you are one of a few hundred. At the DNA station I was asked where I was from again. When I responded Alaska, the shocked faces were hilarious. Then one of the soldiers goes, “my cousin lives in Alaska! Do you know the Busch family?!” Incredibly I, told here that I do. The irony, is that the assumption here is that everyone knows everyone in Alaska, but, maybe it’s a fair assumption. She took my blood, gave me a few shots, and took a picture with me to send to her family in Sitka.
After receiving my military ID (Choger–now I get free buses!) I went to get my uniform, definitely the part I was most looking forward to. I was handed a military canvas bag (with “US” printed on it 🙂 thank you American taxpayers!) and I walked along while people threw things into it. Boots, three uniform shirts, two plain white shirts, three pants, socks, goodie bag, dog tags, beret. I then was allowed to try on everything to make sure it fit, and I tried on EVERYthing. I’d been told that swapping uniform pieces is easy at the Bakkuum, but once you leave, it can take months. So I swapped anything that didn’t fit. I then dressed in my army greens and went to eat lunch. The food was good (my food on my new base is not nearly as good) and plentiful. We then had to clean the giant lunch room after we finished. The day finished when we were loaded back on a bus two take the three hour drive to our new base, up north, called Mikveh Alone.
Three hours later, we arrived and were divided into Tzevets (units) of about 13 people according to native language and sent to all of the intake officers–they of course asked us the same questions: Who are you, where are you from, where are your parents from, do you have siblings? 1 am we went to bed to get up at 7 the next morning.
The next few days were crazy. I connected with the guys in my Tzevet and together we were instructed on all the different rules of the army. We always have to stand in a ח formation (which as you can see by the letter it’s named after, it’s just a square with a missing side). Our commanders are all girls and speak only hebrew. Fortunately, my hebrew is good enough that I understand 95% of what they say. Along with the basic commands and responses that we learned, we also took a hebrew test. I finished it and felt that I did really well. The next day everyone was placed into new Tzevets according to their hebrew level. I am in the second highest hebrew class. It was sad to leave my old Tzevet, but I quickly connected with my new one.
Time is everything in basic training. You have a certain amount of time to eat (15 minutes), to sleep (6 hours), to go to the bathroom, to stand, to walk…my watch has become a necessity at every second of every day. We get yelled at if we are too early or too late and yelled at if we don’t keep track of our own time. Most of us take it pretty well since 10 out of the 13 guys in my unit are volunteers. Unfortunately, there are 3 guys (two Russians and a Frenchman) who really hate it and are drafted soldiers. One of the Russians is openly disrespectful to our commander over everything. At one point, we were all standing in two lines, in which it is forbidden to talk. The Russian continued to mouth off to our commander in Russian whenever she told him to be quiet. After about 30 seconds of them arguing one of the guys in our unit told the Russian to shut up. He was so angry he would have hit the guy if the other Russian hadn’t held him back. Our commander took the Russian away to talk to him and my Tzevet received a lecture on how we need to work as a team and that just because our commanders are girls, doesn’t mean we need to protect them. I don’t know what our commander told the Russian, but since, he has chilled out a little bit.
It was also really cold this last week. While not cold by Alaska standards, it was about 40 (7 Celsius), windy, and rainy. And standing outside for 5 hours in that weather was really chilling. It was great to come home to the Rubinstein’s warm house this shabbat.
Next week we begin basic training. We will get to do physical activities and also be issued our guns. I’m looking forward to that. This last week, our commanders weren’t allowed to give out punishments, but in the coming week, they will be allowed. That’ll be interesting.
For now, I’ll say goodbye. I’ll try to write again next weekend when I’m back home. Feel free to comment on this post with any questions you may have.
In response to last post’s comments: @ Pinchas: thank you very much Pinchas, it feels surreal.
@ Laura: Thanks Laura. I know she’s nervous…I tell her that I’m safer here than I would be driving on those icy roads in Anchorage.
@ Aunt Elaine: 🙂 Maybe if I’m really good at the dance she’ll let me sleep 6 and a half hours.