Since drafting to the army almost a year ago now, I can safely say there are certain things I have picked up and learnt along the way about the dynamics and internal mechanisms of the large, confusing and completely illogical structure that is the Israeli Defence Forces. A main aspect that has struck me over the past two weeks is that nothing in the army stays the same for too long. After 8 months of being forced to integrate and bond with the specific group of people I happened to be placed with for training, I was finally beginning to feel a connection with them and to find my place amongst them. I found myself excited at the prospect of finishing training and meeting lots of new people but the small part I did not prepare for was the fact that there would be many friends I would not be seeing 24/7 as had become the norm. Arriving at the new base on Monday to find an established group of soldiers who had been together for the majority of their service and who had been in the army for significantly longer too, I, along with the few others who I arrived with from training, found myself a little in what Israelis love to call “shock”.
During first week on this new base I felt like everything I had worked for socially over the past eight months had been for a complete waste as once again I was in a place where I felt like a nobody and once again had to prove myself as a person and a לֹוחמת (warrior). Within my first few days I discovered I had been chosen to stay on base for Shabbat along with about ten others to carry out guard duties whilst everyone else went home. This was not so bad for a number of reasons. Firstly it meant I didn’t have to bother with making the 5 hour long journey home on Thursday night. Secondly it meant I didn’t have to get up at 5am on Sunday morning to make it back to base on time. And lastly it was partially exciting for me as I hadn’t been allowed to do any proper שמירות (guard duties) for the past five months due to my shoulder injury. The only downside was that it meant getting through the following week without clean laundry, which was not so fun.
The first week was fairly boring as it entailed a lot of tidying up, cleaning up, painting containers with oil-based waterproof paint that really is waterproof (even from skin) and a lot of sitting around being told off for sitting around. On one occasion, after spending the morning switching between tidying and cleaning the same rooms to wandering around looking for non-existent rubbish to pick up outside, I found myself sitting down before being approached by one of the מפקדים (commanders) who told us to get up and do something. After a response from me that unintentionally was considered to be on the cheeky side of things (me? cheeky? who would have thought it?), I found myself facing a punishment of leaving a day later than everyone else the next week. The remainder of the week I had many discussions with my מפקדים (commanders) about how I didn’t agree that I was deserving of the punishment (honestly I still don’t) but what it has taught me is that a lot of the army is not logical and you won’t always agree with consequences of your behaviour but now I can look back and see it as another life lesson.
After spending the weekend on base, I got to know some of the people who were with me a lot better and I am finding that it is significantly easier to connect with all the new people than it was when I started my טירונות (basic training) 8 months ago. I don’t know if it is because of the improvement in my Hebrew or because I have more in common with them now or simply because I am feeling a lot more confident in myself but I do know that I am very happy to be with the גדוד (battalion) and I feel a lot more like myself once again. The weekend was spent sitting around and chatting to people, sleeping and carrying out about 25 hours of guard duties! The שמירות (guard duties) are not so bad because it forces you to take time to be alone and think because there isn’t much else to do. I have learnt to always be prepared for anything though because once I had a shift in the middle of the day and made an experienced assumption that it would be hot so did not take my jacket. About half way through the shift, I see a group of angry, black, viscous clouds rolling over the open skies in my direction. Then the rough winds began, blowing dust and dirt in every direction, basically blinding me whilst also making the warm midday air very cold. The wind was joined shortly by thunder and following that some lightning. All in all it definitely livened up the shift and was very cool to watch from my post. Eventually at about midday on Sunday everyone returned from their time at home and joined us, meaning the guard duties would be a lot less frequent. Unfortunately on one of my shifts, the מגד (battalion commander) came to do a
check on my post and although it wasn’t my rubbish, the post was very dirty and messy and because I happened to be there at that time, I received the scolding for the state of the place!
The schedule of the week was a lot more interesting than that of the week before as we would finally be heading out with the rocket launchers once more and working on them as I had become used to after spending the last 4 months doing exactly that. It is certainly strange to be with a new team of people after spending 8 months in the same group and it will take time to understand the new dynamics of the group and where everyone stands but I am excited to see what that will be like. As well as spending time out in the field, we also underwent a lot of talks and lessons focussing on various topics from safety out in society on the road as well as with the rocket launcher out in the field to a revision on basic first aid. On the first night we were due to sleep out in the field, I swapped a friend out on his guard duty because he had had a particularly tough day so for some reason I found myself doing an extra few hours shift in the middle of a very cold night but luckily two of my commanders let me borrow their fleeces!
Other activities that we carried out over the past couple of weeks include the בוחן פלגה (platoon test), which is a 2km run with full equipment and the last kilometre involves running whilst carrying people on a stretcher. In order to pass, everyone has to reach the end of the run within a certain time limit. On this past Monday, we were endured the team test, which is a day of various competitive stations focused on different parts of the rocket launcher between teams and the winning team earns the reward of leaving base on Wednesday instead of Thursday along with being given the honour of shooting a practice rocket.
I spent the past Shabbat in Modi’in staying with a friend from England and her family. It was a really fun and relaxing 24 hours and I even overcame my phobia of dogs so it is now not much more than a mere discomfort! In the end my punishment from my cheekiness, was to return to base on Saturday night instead of Sunday morning, which was actually of benefit to me so at 6:30pm I set off on the 140km journey to base.
Since Monday night at 6pm, I have not been on base due to having various סידורים (affairs) to attend to before
the exciting day of Thursday (today) arrived when I would board the plane to take me in the direction of home! I arrived back to Kibbutz at about 10:30pm after taking 5 buses from my base up in the
Golan Heights. On Tuesday morning, I set off to Jerusalem, where I had an appointment with the orthopaedic surgeon to discuss my shoulder problems and I even made the effort to arrive 45 minutes early to ensure nothing would go wrong because I had been waiting for so many months just to get this appointment. Upon entering and explaining the whole story to the doctor, he requested the disc with the photos from the MRI that I had done a couple of months ago but nobody had told me I needed to bring that with me so to the best of my knowledge, this disc was down south on my old base, about a 4 hour journey from where I was in Jerusalem. The surgeon refusing to do or arrange any further treatment without seeing this disc caused many panicked calls to various מפקדים (commanders) and army doctors despite having about 10% phone battery. In the end, I decided to try and go to the base in Jerusalem where I had seen a doctor there, hoping that they could make me a copy of the disc. The surgeon told me he would only be there for another hour so I had to get back within 60 minutes. Upon checking how far away the base was, I ordered a taxi to take me on the 30 minute journey. Sprinting up five flights of stairs, I explained to the woman at the desk what I needed and was met with the response that they had no access to this disc that I needed. Defeated, I headed back to the taxi, on which I had thrown away 100 shekels. My next plan was to contact someone on my old base down south to see if the doctor there could maybe send me a film of the photos or worst case scenario I would travel to the base to get the disc. Of course, there were problems with the computers meaning I was about to step onthe bus to Beer Sheva when my friend said don’t get on the bus, they don’t have the disc here! At that moment, my phone died so my priority became finding a place to charge it. It was during the time I was sitting on the floor of the bus station charging my phone when something happened that would only happen in Israel… A kind man working at a phone store offered me a high quality portable phone charger and told me to wander around and return it when I was done instead of sitting on the floor. Once I had enough battery, I made the plan to travel to the base where I had originally had the MRI because the disc HAD to be there right?! So off I went on an hour long bus ride to a base called Tzrifin. Arriving at 4:30pm, I explained my situation for the millionth time that day and was told they can only print discs until 4pm. If you have read the story up until now, I’m sure you can imagine how it felt to hear that. I think the woman who was working there understood me too becauseshe then proceeded to make a few calls and within an hour and a half, I exited the base with two disc copies of the precious photos!
Heading back to kibbutz after a long but eventually semi productive day, I went to sleep in preparation of getting up early for the busy day I had planned for Wednesday. Leaving kibbutz early in the morning, I travelled to Tel Aviv and after suffering the stand still traffic of the roads going into Tel Aviv at 8am in the morning, I arrived at the Nefesh B’Nefesh offices where I would be collecting my plane tickets to fly home the following day. This whole process took about two hours and I headed straight from Tel Aviv to the hospital in Jerusalem where I took on the brave and ambitious challenge of trying to speak to the doctor without having an appointment. The success of this endeavour proved to me that maybe I am a little bit more Israeli than I thought I was because after waiting outside the door, I managed to get him to check out the photos and sort out my next appointment, which will be a pre surgery appointment the week after a return from my army leave in England. The surgery that they are planning on doing is called an arthroscopy so if anyone knows anything about what that involves, feel free to enlighten me! On my way out of the hospital I saw a sign for blood donations so off I headed in the direction of the arrows. Unfortunately after filling out all the forms and everything, I was told my haemoglobin level is particularly
low and that I should probably get that checked out so here I am with another health problem to sort out.
I am now sitting in Frankfurt airport, waiting for my next flight, which will take me home to Birmingham, away from everything I have become used to in the army for a whole month. Despite everything going on in Israel at the moment, I have decided to fly home anyway. Anyone who knows me will know thatI am not a fan of getting caught up in politics and it is a subject that I have always tried to avoid, whether it be in school or now in the army so I do not intend to begin a political blog. However, if things escalate further, which is very possible, I will be flying back to Israel, even if it means cutting short my time at home because there is no way I can sit back in the comfort of England whilst my friends and my people are fighting just to stay alive.
In just a few hours I will be home in Birmingham after about half a year since I was last around for a short trip and I am excited to take that deep breath of real freedom as well as being able to catch up with friends and family, especially those I have not seen in over a year as well as dropping by my secondary school for a visit or two!
Please get in touch with me, I’d love to hear how you’re getting on and if you are around and have some free time, it would be great to catch up!
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Number – +972 58 732 3434
Ronit Prais – רונית פרייס