Tuesday, September 19, 2017

This is the Kibbutz Life

 I’m finally writing a bit about what life is like here. How it is to live on a Kibbutz with my Garin. We get here August 17, after a 2 hour drive along the Jordanian border from our opening ceremony in Jerusalem. I can already see how different this is from America. The average summer day here reaches 100 degrees Fahrenheit, everything is palm trees and nettles, there are no such things as clouds, and there are two mountain ranges looming up around my kibbutz; one is in Jordan, the other is in Israel. I’m located just south of the Kinneret, 800 meters from the Jordanian border, a bit above the West Bank, and in one of the hottest regions in Israel. I stand on the roof and I can see the Jordanian valley, the only part of where I am which I can say is actually green.

Kibbutz work

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Tzav Rishon: No Turning Back

Today, I had my צו ראשון (“Tzav Rishon” – First Report). This is considered my first official step as an enlisting soldier. I’m now what is called a מלש"ב. It means I’m destined for military service, or in other words, too late to turn back. The צו ראשון is designed for the military to get a rough approximation of the boundaries of each enlisting soldier. It’s how they can start organizing the vast body of teenagers enlisting each year and assigning them to roles that best fit their abilities. There are three qualities measured in the צו ראשון: Health, Intelligence, and Psychological Stability.

"Welcome to the Tiberias Enlistment Office"

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

In a Land of Jewish Death

About two weeks ago, three days after moving to Israel, I get on a plane to Poland. I’m leaving my new home for 7 days as part of the first ever Garin Tzabar delegation heading to Poland with the Tzofim (Israeli Scouts) to visit the major Holocaust sites there. I’ve been waiting for a while to go to Poland. I’ve wanted to take part in March of the Living for the longest time, but I was never able to make that happen. When I heard that I would have an opportunity to see the sites of an attempted Jewish genocide right after moving to the land of the Jews and right before joining the army of the Jews, I jumped on that opportunity. I knew it would add much more depth to my decision to move to Israel and it would add a lot of meaning to my army service. Right after my return, I would be moving to the Kibbutz and beginning my life in Israel.  

Day 1: We land in Krakow, Poland early in the morning. Exhausted from our night of next to no sleep at the airport and on the plane, we all fall asleep for the bus ride to one of the four synagogues. That day, we visit four synagogues from around Krakow. We learn about how the Jewish communities related to the outside world, the differences between the “styles” of Judaism observed by each community, and how these different communities related to one another. When people learn about the Holocaust in school, they don’t really learn about the context of the Jewish communities. They don’t learn about what Jewish life was like in Poland before the Holocaust. It’s hard to see the Holocaust for what it is when you don’t really understand that the victims were real people with communities and homes.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

My First Days in a New Land

So much has happened since I moved here. Every day feels like a week, with so many new experiences and so little sleep. I’ve promised myself and a bunch of others that I’m gonna stop writing several-thousand word blogs so I’m just going to do a run through of what I’ve done and what has happened to me over the past 2 weeks.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

This is How I Know I'm in Israel

1)     The architecture is beautiful and the buildings are very modern.


2)     All the adds here are in Hebrew.

3)     The taxi driver who takes me from the airport cuts in front of another driver aggressively and then swears at him extensively.

4)     The streets are very confusing and not so straight and grid-like.

צומת נורא בגבעת שמואל

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Time for Preparing is Over (Part 3)

(Click here for Part 1)
(Click here for Part 2)

After my not-so-terrible Garin Tzabar interview, I hung out for a bit with the Garin. We made a bonfire and made some poyke (poy-ka), which is pretty much anything edible you can find all mixed together and boiled in a pot above the fire. You have no idea how good that was. We blasted some Israeli music, played a bit of frisbee and “never have I ever,” and ate poyke. It was a good few hours.

Setting up for the bonfire

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Time for Preparing is Over (Part 2)

(Click here for Part 1)

Shabbat morning, we wake up and do a bit of Krav Maga. It was pretty much standing in a circle pushing one another. We had breakfast and divided up into smaller groups for a Gariner-led activity (shoutout to Sarah, Eden, and Jared). The one I was in focused on communication skills in a group and teamwork. We had to solve a deceivingly confusing puzzle where each of us were the puzzle pieces and everyone had their own ideas to solve it. Then we had to build towers from thin spaghetti sticks and tape and perch a marshmallow on top. The only ones who could actually build the tower though had to keep their eyes closed the entire time. The goal was to get the marshmallow higher than the other competing teams. We just taped the marshmallow to the ceiling.

We played a simple game where everyone in the Garin paired up and we had to answer simple questions about our partner. I realized I did not know where my partner was from, I don’t know how to spell her last name, I do not know what she wants to do in the army, and I was not even close to guessing how many times she’s been to Israel. So how is it that I feel this close to her already?

In the next discussion, we each drew an American flag on a piece of paper, wrote what first comes to mind when we think of America, and then drew an Israeli flag. Then, we were asked to stand up, leave the pieces of paper on the ground in a circle, and for each person to move over to their right. I was suddenly looking at someone else’s American flag, what someone else thinks of when they see that flag, and someone else’s Israeli flag. Then, we had to step forwards onto the pieces of paper that our friends drew on. Some of us stepped on the flags that were drawn. Some of us went out of the way to step on whatever part of the paper was still blank. Then Yossi, our Garin counselor, started us off talking about what’s important in a flag, why flags should be respected, different people’s perspectives on the same flag, etc.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Time for Preparing is Over (Part 1)

I recently came back from my fourth and final Garin Tzabar Preparation Seminar. The next time I’ll see all of you in my Garin will be in Israel after two long but really quick months. This seminar had much fewer of those deep, exhausting discussions and much more free time to hang out with Garin. So there’s also much less to write about (Yay!). I’d say the main purpose of this seminar was to spend more time getting close to everyone in the Garin, to learn about what life will actually be like on the Kibbutz, and to prepare ourselves for how we are going to say goodbye to our lives on this side of the globe.

I got to camp Tel Yehuda in Upstate New York after several hours of driving, taking a train to Manhattan, taking the subway, and taking a bus. The bus that took me from Manhattan to Tel Yehuda also took a bunch of people in my Garin so we had a good time hanging out and comparing Israeli music on the way up. Tel Yehuda reminded me a lot of Camp Moshava – beautiful campus in a forest surrounded by mountains out in the middle of nowhere. After we had a classic Garin Tzabar snack, clementines and bissli, we sat for a presentation about Kibbutz Maoz Chaim from our Garin Coordinator, Sarah. Our Garin Coordinator is the person who lives on the kibbutz and will be in charge of pretty much everything on the kibbutz that has to do with our Garin. She will make sure that we have enough food, make sure we all are treating the kibbutz with respect, and help any of us with whatever we need. In the presentation, she basically told us what we need to know about what it will be like to live in Maoz Chaim. Now, I can actually get a vague picture in my head of what that will be like. She showed us pictures of the building we will be living in, the rooms we would be staying in, and the kibbutz itself.

What more to expect from Garin Tzabar for Shabbat dinner?

Monday, May 8, 2017

We Are Garin Meoz Chaim (Part 2)

(Click here for Part 1)
After returning from our isolation on the mountain, we divided into groups of about 10 and started talking about lone soldiers. Within my group, we talked about the perspective of a lone soldier. We were given different excerpts written by lone soldiers and read and discussed them. I read about Michael Grummer talking about what it was like to be in the artillery brigade during מבצע עופרת יצוקה (Operation Cast Lead) in Gaza in 2008. Part of what he said addresses what many people from outside of Israel, outside of the reality of the conflict, were saying about the way the IDF conducted itself in Gaza. We talked about the unique perspective of someone who grew up of outside of Israel and how this man serves as a sort of link between two worlds, having lived in both and understanding the way people in the Jewish community outside of Israel think.

After talking about lone soldiers and their unique perspectives, a number of us were required to take a Hebrew test to determine whether or not they must participate in a pre-Ulpan to learn Hebrew before the 3-month absorption period on the kibbutz. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that my name was on the list of people that already had a high enough level of Hebrew to pass straight into the absorption period without the Ulpan. Somewhat ironically, I didn’t understand my counselors when they told me in Hebrew that instead of taking the test, I would make food. The better Hebrew speakers and I went into a room and tried really hard to make good snacks for later. I was working with a few of my friends on making chocolate balls. To call it messy would be a bit of an understatement.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

We Are Garin Meoz Chaim (Part 1)

(What is the Ultimate Soldier?)

The third Garin Tzabar seminar changed everything.

It started early Friday morning when my friend picked me up in her car for the drive down to Stillwater, New Jersey, where we would be staying on a YMCA campground. Yup. No fancy Newark hotels this time. Just the outdoors. Since my friend had her Jewish Agency interview in Manhattan, I spent an hour walking around the city to pass the time. After buying a lamb shawarma and eating it at the base of the Empire State Building, I went back to the rendezvous point and we got in the car to continue driving to the campsite. At around 2:30, we got to the campsite. The seminar started at 1:00. Oops. Well, we got out of the car and looked around, but the only people we could find were the campground’s maintenance crew. When I asked them if we were in the right place, I learned that there are two YMCA Tall Pines campgrounds in New Jersey: one in Stillwater, one in Williamstown County. Guess which one we were at. And according to google, there’s a three and a half hour drive between them.

At 6:00, officially five hours late to the seminar, we arrive at the real YMCA Tall Pines campground. We were pretty pissed off, but our friends from our Garin were there to welcome/make fun of us. Well, our friends from our former Garin. Something important that you should know is that some changes have been made since Seminar #2. We were notified two weeks ago that our beloved מדריך (Garin counselor), Idan, will not be with us for any of the remaining seminars. We all really like him and he is an unbelievably wonderful person and leader for the Garin so I and everyone else were really put down by this. Although the counselors we have now only stick with us for פרק קליטה (the preparation seminars), these seminars are a defining aspect of the Garin and without him, it’s not going to feel exactly like the Garin which I have already come to love and regard as a sort of family.

Thanks for being such a great counselor Idan!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

What is The Ultimate Soldier?

During the second seminar, my entire Garin was asked to describe החייל האולטימטיבי, The Ultimate Soldier. It was a difficult and vague question to answer, but I’ve thought a little more about it. Every individual has a different idea of what makes up the Ultimate Soldier, based on his/her values, experiences, and goals. (Some of this applies specifically to a combat soldier.)

The Ultimate Soldier grew up with people from many different populations – different races, different religions, different nationalities. He is friends with many of them. In his eyes, he is defending all of these people, not just those from his own “population.” He has had a glimpse into all different sorts of lives these people lead and sees how different they are from his own. Unlike a soldier that has lived in a uniform, isolated community, he fights for the Mizrachi Jews, the Bedouin, the Ethiopian Israelis, the Arab Israelis, the Charedim (ultra-orthodox Jews) and the Chilonim (secular Jews). He even fights for the Palestinian boy who went to high school with him in the West Bank.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

We Will Be Soldiers (Part 3)

(Click here for Part 1)
(Click here for Part 2)

Day 3 - Sunday
Sunday morning began for us at 7:20. We were all given Garin Tzabar T-shirts which I have to say look pretty damn good. We packed our bags, ate breakfast, and got on a bus to John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. We traveled with the Religious Garin and Northeast Garin #1. First thing I see, before I even get to the airport-like security, is my middle school Judaic studies teacher/bar mitzvah teacher! He moved to Israel four or five years ago and I haven’t seen him since. Turns out, he works with Nefesh B’nefesh and was helping out at an Aliyah Fair in the building. Something I loved about that weekend was that I met a bunch of people who knew my friends from all over and that I saw a few people I did not expect to see. Turns out, one of the religious Gariners, Jesse, was in the class above me at my incredibly tiny Modern Orthodox high school, HHNE. I also randomly saw Rabbi Ari, this amazing teacher I hadn’t seen in a lifetime, I saw my friend’s parents who were at the parent education program on Sunday (I’ll get to that), and I saw someone I knew from NCSY who was considering making Aliyah. Randomly, during the IDF officer presentation (I’ll get to that), a girl from a different Garin sat down next to me and asked me to translate the presentation into English for her. When I asked her what her last name was, we discovered that she was the cousin of my camp co-counselor. It was so random! I love how whenever I go to Israel, or apparently even a preparatory seminar for moving there, I see a bunch of random people that I had no idea would be there. One of the things I love about Israel is that, with its minuscule size, I very frequently see the most random people I know that just happen to be visiting or even live there. Coming from a Modern Orthodox community and going to Camp Moshava, I know that several of my friends will spend a year after high school in Israel and that later in their lives, a bunch of my friends will end up moving there. I can’t wait for my 40 year old reunions with my camp and high school friends! 
גרעין צבר - היה נכון

Saturday, March 4, 2017

We Will Be Soldiers (Part 2)

(Click here for part Part 1)

Day 2 - Shabbat
On Shabbat, we got up after a lovely five hours of sleep and ate breakfast. To ease our way into the day and to gain a better understanding of Israeli army culture and humor, we watched a great Israeli comedian named עדי אשכנזי make fun of basic training in the army. It’s amazing how much better I felt like I understood the army after watching a short 30 minute show. We then had a Hebrew test so they could evaluate our improvement since the first seminar. It felt much easier than I remember the previous one being. After a break, we were told to bring to the main room a form of identification – Driver’s License, passport, etc. We didn’t really know why, but we found out when we got there.

Our Madrichim (guides), Kessem and Idan, were only letting those of us that had proper identification into the room. They made everyone line up against the wall and shut up. They weren’t nice about it at all. One by one, we quietly showed them our ID’s. Kessem stared at us coldly and questioned us in Hebrew about our dates of birth and where we’re from. Some of us, she let through in an instant with a dismissive wave of the hand. Some of us, she looked at and sent to the back of the line immediately. Once we were all inside, we were told what that was all about. They were simulating a possible experience at one of the checkpoints along the border of the West Bank and Israel. We all understand the simple yet unfortunate reasons for why the checkpoints are a necessary security measure for Israel. We understand that they have to be there. That being said, the point they were making was that there will be soldiers in the IDF that act poorly towards Arab Israelis and Palestinians and that these people are doing the wrong thing. They were trying to put us in the shoes of someone who is a victim to this sort of treatment. They want us to understand there are soldiers like this who exist, the IDF does not approve of them, and we will not become them.

Waiting in line at our "checkpoint"

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Garin Tzabar Seminar #2: We Will Be Soldiers (Part 1)

I don’t even know where to start. The sheer quantity of how much happened last weekend and how much I’ve grown as an incoming soldier is hard to grasp for me, even though I haven’t stopped thinking about it for the entire trip back home to West Hartford, Connecticut and throughout my entire first day of school back. The only way I manage this stuff is by taking several minutes at the end of each seminar day to write down a word for each activity we did and a few words for several of my thoughts. 

Day 1 - Friday
In my most recent post, I talked about how important my interview would be in determining my future with the army and how I’ve been preparing. We’ll get to the interview. I had been hoping that I would be chosen to interview first or last because then I would be less likely to blend in to the 60 or so other Gariners (Garin Tzabar participants) being interviewed. I regretted that wish immediately when I was chosen to go first only a couple of hours after arriving at the hotel on Friday. Let me tell you something about the woman who interviewed me. Her name is Avital and she is a big deal in the army. I don’t want to give her away her position because I’m half scared the Israeli army will take down my blog if I do. Let’s just say she’s involved in determining who gets into the most serious units in the Israeli Defense Force. And I’m sure she’s a really nice person, but when she’s in uniform, she’s very intimidating.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Impossible Challenge: My First Opportunity

It’s time for the next phase. Now begins the military preparation. It’s been six weeks since my first Garin Tzabar Seminar. And tomorrow, I head out to the second. So much has changed since the first. I’ve significantly progressed down the intimidating path to Aliyah (moving to Israel) and to the Israeli Defense Force. Where to start!?

Well, most importantly, at the close of my first seminar, I took on an impossible challenge. I promised myself that I would learn how to speak and understand written and spoken Hebrew by the time this upcoming seminar comes around. And why? Because of the officer. Tomorrow, I will making my first impression on the Israeli Defense Force. And first impression is key. Here, I either start climbing the ladder to enlistment into one of the most elite units in the IDF – Shaldag or Sayeret Matkal – or I begin my journey to one of the less impactful, less daunting, units of the army. And I will be making this impression through an interview with an officer of the IDF. So fine, I get to tell someone about my ambitions and my motivation; that shouldn’t be too hard! I’ve thought about this to myself plenty. The thing is that I’ve never thought about it to myself in Hebrew. And this interview will be in Hebrew. That’s where my impossible challenge comes in – to show up at this interview knowing enough Hebrew to leave a powerful imprint on my file in the IDF’s database. So that they know to keep an eye on me to track my worthiness.