Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The War in North: Prelude

I may discuss the recent war, but I'm not sure that I have anything new to add over and above what you read on CNN and FoxNews; I did not get called up, possibly a combination of me being a) in Tanks, not infantry, b) not a citizen, c) I forgot. But my old brigade fought in it. Although they were sent in only for the last week, that was plenty enough time for people I knew to die. All of the yeshiva guys I was drafted with made it, but here's the story of one of my friends who nearly didn't. He was in Rambam Hospital in Haifa, but then my friend's condition improved, and he got transferred to Tel-Aviv, where his father is a doctor. I had heard he's the only soldier in his ward, and was bored out of his mind, which is a good sign. I got the story the night of my engagement:

It's better to be the smallest of the lions than the largest of the mice. Itai, who was a tank commander, got put into his commander's commander's tank (the company commander) as a Loader - like me (that was his job before he went to commander's course). In tanks, you can never be overqualified. Having 4 tank commanders run a tank just means that the whole thing will be that much more efficient and powerful.

Anyway, he got put into this tank just for this mission: an emergency evacuation. Some paratroops had come under attack, and there were two wounded who could not be evacuated under fire (they were in the news). Itai's tank went in, with another tank that held back from the immediate area to cover them. They went in, drawing fire from everywhere - only that's the beauty of a tank, it's just darn bulletproof to small arms. Then a mortar landed on the hatch (it was opened in a defensive posture, that is, "just a crack" - otherwise, the mortar would have landed directly in the tank, killing everyone). That was bad, but not so bad, since mortars are generally anti-personnel, like 40 grenades worth of shrapnel. But tanks laugh off shrapnel. It tickles. In fact, in other theaters, American tanks have been known to fire anti-personnel rounds at each other if that other tank is getting swarmed by infantry. However, while the shrapnel did no damage to the people inside, it did knock out the swivel action of the turret.

Then Hezbollah-niks fired a Metis anti-tank missile at it. That wasn't good. It hit the front engine block (a brilliant Israeli innovation: put the engine in the front to protect the people inside), and managed to send shrapnel flying through the turret. The commander and the gunner are somewhat protected from that, as they have their targeting systems in front of them. Itai, the loader, broke his arm, and had two pieces of shrapnel lodged in his neck - one a few milimeters from his jugular, the other a few from his spine. The pain was incredible, despite the adrenaline rushing through him. Even so, he managed to get out the back (imagine exiting a car from the backseat through the trunk), and drag in the wounded soldier [the other had died of his wounds before they got there - I'm not sure if they got his remains out].

The [company] commander - who had been wounded in the eye by the missile - tied a rather pathetic dressing on Itai's neck to staunch the blood flow, which nevertheless saved his life. They got back to a safer position, and got Itai on a helicopter, as he fell unconscious from blood loss; they got him to Rambam hospital in Haifa.

Miraculously, the shrapnel missed the deadly things by that much. His arm is broken, and his neck is not so good, but he is alive, speaking, and thank God, now bored. Well, maybe. I was going to visit him on Sunday with Adena. I don't know what happened with the paratrooper.

UPDATE: I went to visit him in the hospital in Tel Aviv, the Sunday after he had been wounded, but he was already released. Once the critical areas were cleaned and his arm set, he could be said to have a mere fleshwound, and was sent home. thank God.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Slice of Life from my Phone

After reading some sociological studies, I found myself amazed at the information they could tease out from the most mundane and random of sources. I hope this collection of SMS messages may provide a similar snapshot of my year, the undercurrents, etc. These are not 2nd-hand conveyances like all my other posts (See "Amitai's Introduction") -- these are primary sources removed in situ.

"I like the Daf Yomi shiur, I like the food, and the guys are very friendly, but if I don't exercise soon, I'm going to have a cow"
- To Orahn, from when I was in KBY pre-Army, morning, 21 JUN 05. What I really meant was that I didn't know anyone there, and I was going sitr-crazy.

"If you start sucking up to me, I'm going to fart on your precious hallot. You're not still in seminary, and from my french you can see I'm not yet a rabbi. I'm not mochel you, shorty. :p"
-To Rachel, after she said something really frum regarding our shabbat meal plans, and the hallot I graciously offered to bring, 24 JUN. And by "frum," I mean that I think she was insincere, since I know her for many years now.

"Loser, maybe i'm working on being a nicer person and being careful about what i say to people. You suck"
-Rachel, to me. So it seems I was right, but wrong. hatati.

"Pull my finger. Dinner will be me'en olam haba."
-To Rachel. I express my contrition.

"I realized that if I'm going to be a modern Orthodox philosopher, I'm going to have to learn all of Shas. [What's up with] you?"
-To Orahn, 25 JUN

"Hormones acting up from [lack of] sleep, bad cold, and sabbath's stimuli...I am going to take a cold shower and go learn, it helps. I passed my time online by eating, reading 3 different things, and random mass SMS'ing. Keep me posted." 3rd JULY

"ah, hormones. I am sitting in a hallway full of lithe 18 year old girls"
-***, on his visit to the army base to defer his service, 3rd JULY

"R' M.J. Broyde, Journal of Halakha and Contemporary Society 39: showering on Yom Tov clearly mutar, smoking 99% assur. Gotta love yeshiva!"
-To myself, 6th JULY

"I just saw a 'Tobishi' TV for sale, and I nearly pooped laughing. Tell me if you ever spy a Magnabox or Sorny."
-Mass mailed 10th JULY - If you've never seen that particular episode of The Simpsons, you'll never understand.

"Only in subjectivity is there Decision. To seek objectivity is to be in error. -Kierkegaard"
-mailed to 4 selected friends, 13th JULY - this is all pre-army reading...

"Note that Kermit's girlfriend was also a greedy capitalist swine..."
-To Batya Rutter, one the subject of pinko Kermit's song "The Rainbow Connection"

"Mass mail is so 2004! Mass TEXT messaging is all the rage! You too lass..."
-To Debra Moher, a brit. I don't remember why I sent this. 3rd OCT

"Ah, it's good to be back where I belong."
-Me, to Orahn on returning to the army after weekend leave. Can you believe I was so gung ho? Well, by the end, I had lost -- and regained -- my gungy hoedom. 20th NOV

"Deep Thoughts, with Jack Handy: I was on shmirah and suddenly wondered: Why is there a disproportionate dearth of [God-fearing, of course, but also] cute girls amongst my NCSY [peers]?"
-Me, to Orahn, bored outta my mind near, not on, the Lebanese border. 1am, 22nd DEC. Present readersjip excluded, of course.

"I have actually thought about that before. pretty girls are less kind?
-Or*hn, 22 December

"I realize that this is a potentially touchy question, but are you home for Shabbat?"
-Me, to fellow soldier serving in Nahal infantry, Dave Rosenbaum. 17th FEB. It's always nice to get together.

"No. Okay!" -Dave R., 17th Feb

"Spanks alot" -Dave R., ditto

"It's hilarious. They can't understand a word I'm saying on the radio."
-Me, to fellow North American tank soldiers Uri and Mike. I think it speaks for itself. 19th FEB.

"I'm sure they think its funny too. (the pazamnikim came! Help!)"
-Uri Westrich, 19 Feb. They might have thought it was funny, but they weren't laughing with us, Uri... ;)

"Honk if you'll be up at 2am..."
-Me, to a girl I dated while in the army. 19th Feb

"I finished thinking through the implementation of Church & State in Israel. Can you give me something else to think about on shmirah?"
-Me, before I completely caved into reading on duty, to my intellectual friends. 21st Feb

"Your Daily Moment of Zen: I just taught an Israeli soldier How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Try it [yourself], and have [your Israeli] perform for your sick friend. She'll laugh that bird flu right back to the Galut where it came from! ;)"
-Me, to that same girl I was dating. Aren't I a smoothie?...Don't answer that. 27 Feb.

"the active future of the Jewish ppl lies in this's fast forward vs rewind.the upward spiral leads to Israel i wanna be a part of that.:)"
-introducing Batsheva, 8 March.

"As long as the Greater Jewish Nation [i.e., that lives in Israel] is housed and taught in buildings called Azrieli, Wexner, and Schottenstein, then perhaps they [in the Galut] deserve to be included in that label [of a GJ Nation]?"
-Me, to Batsheva, again, on shmirah.

"Can you get me Continental Airline's Israel number pronto?"
-Me, to any friends with internet, 15 March

"Continental 03 511-6777" -Uriel Weisz, 15 March

"Hey amitai! Dont think i've filled u in on recent events though its possible word has spread...I got engaged 2 Shalom Ozarowski lastg wk.Hope ur doing well!"
-Bryna Billauer, 16 March. Thanks for keeping me in the loop...a week later! That's how it is in the army barmy.

"Wonderful! May it be under a favorable Zodiac sign [be-sha'a tovah]! When will be the first in the series of Free Food Fests?"
-Me, to Bryna Billauer, 16 March, on her engagement

"Next week's leave has been cancelled. We'll be doing tank drills instead. So I won't be home, really."
-Me, to Pritzker and Batsheva, 16 March

"Can you look up "phronesis" for me?"
-To Orahn, 16th March. I had no dictionary with me. [shrug]

"Amitai (my new #)! You're very trusting with other people's numbers"
-Me, to Miriam Deutsch, 20 March, on giving me a friend's phone number without knowing she was giving it to me, since I had SMS'ed her from a new phone #.

"The bad reception in our armored car makes it difficult to be expressive. Thanks for the info, seeya there, tfu tfu tfu. :)"
-Me, to Miriam Detusch, 20 March - I sent an SMS because the steel plates were breaking up the call.

"Mass Text - I'm off to my bro's BM in the US; if you want a book or H&H bagel or Leatherman, etc, just email me!"
-Me, to everyone on my list, 23 March

"You, quite frankly, rock, my dear."
-Me, to Batsheva, on baking me cookies since I am a soldier, 4 May. Very patriotic of her.

"What happened to Midnight Musings [sic]?"
-From Sarah Zacks, 6 July. ha!

"Hey flexi, whats up? I'm sure you can tell who this is. So what do u click to make the 'www' and '.com' appear instead of it? peace out brother"
-From Dov Jacobs, 10 July

"I see you're beginning to see how the army works. What do you need from the store? Also, did you get the lease approved [from the army] yet?"
-Pritzker, 28 August. This on fenegiling out a long weekend from the army.

"635 smooches" -Dena Weiss, timeless

"Shmuel Eliyahu was niftar 3 hours ago."
-Orahn, 30 Sept. He was a highschool friend of ours who got cancer. He will always be missed.

"o,don't worry,ill have some food for u.just cus u were part of the best machal ever.machal '03 was definitely the best!u like coke too?"
-Dov Jacobs, 7th October

"Your sandals (and 2 stray towels) r still here. Ask people if they lost a towel (they'll need to return it when they finish the army)"
-Yeshayahu Hurvitz, 19th November. UPDATE: I just got my sandals back, 9 months later.

"My nephew just had a brit. They called him Amitai!"
-Debra Moher, 19th December. And she immediately thinks of me... [Another punny one: a brit for a brit]

"You are definitely something else....."
-Dave Rosenbaum, 24 Dec. You heard it here first.

"Hey! Heard you're protecting a strategically vital mall. Can i call whenever?"
-Merm, 25th Dec , on visiting Israel. I was protecting a vitally strategic mall.

"U 2. hope u'll call sometime, and come whenever u want..."
-Sari Moskowitz Holz, 27 Dec. We worked together on Torah Tours, before she became a Holz.

"Party was really great, we'll show you pictures. When you coming home next?"
-Pritzker, 7 Jan. No. Okay! Spanks alot!

"How did you get a date with your mom.She is in america isnt she in america"
-Zecht, 2 Feb. According to Zecht, everything has to do with Your Mom. It's funny because it's true...

"Please, brother! This was my mitzva, for me. Blessed me His name, and may only Good things come your way." [trans. from Hebrew]
-random soldier, 2 Feb, who returned my tefillin left on an army transport. Ooops.

"I'm a spoon i'm a knife. Good shabes!" -Gropey, 3 Feb.
I taught him that camp cheer when he was bored out of his gourd on shabbat shmirah. And his name isn't Groupy, or Gropey, but Jeh'rufi, a temani.

"Impossible timing. Still proud of you." -Dave R., 8 Feb. Fellow soldier from the US, couldn't make my tekes.

"Not in yerushalayim but DEF In tel av...Interestd? Love to have u! :-)" -Bobo, 1 March. Sackler friend. Apparantly with benefits.

"You win." -Ariel Irwin, 1 March.

"Um...Amitai? Very sneaky..." -Rebecca Winter, 2 March. I win again.

"That's great - take me with you!" -Elisha L., 20th April. When he heard I'm getting out May 7th instead of Yom Kippur, like him. He liked the army, then didn't like it, and last I spoke to him, he was just tired. Great soldier though.

"Thank G-d don't worry i'm letting you off for the day we'll do it some other time [that] you have time[.] thank you by the way[,] again i truly appreciate your help" -Abbey, 10 May. Out of the army, and I'm learning Torah again!

"For sure. but id call it Superhero chug" -Jonny Steiner, 10 May. Out of the army, and I'm going back to Camp Stone again!

This was just a sampling, but I think it reflects something. Discuss.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

War in the North - To Be [Drafted] or Not?

Due to the conjunction of various zodiac arrangements, and the alignment of a few pesky planets (including the deadly Blood Star, Mars), I am in Israel, not yet a citizen, at a time of war. Yes, for you folks out there in the Diaspora, this one is being called The War in The North right now, since most people sleep in underground shelters in, well, every part of the country North of Tel Aviv (i.e., 40% of the population). While the UN surprisingly supports us, so does Europe (shocker); but the big surprise is that Saudi Arabia and Egypt, etc. are also, if not supporting us, criticizing Hezbollah (pronounced ezb-Allah = Party of God). But all this you can read in the papers, at least the Israeli ones.

So to go straight to the point, Should I get redrafted and go fight? Here are some clues to this tricky riddle that I haven’t answered yet:

  • Even though I finished my service, I am still “in the army” because I am in yeshiva. Guys like me get called up first. We’re called “shalatnikim” since we’re in a state of “shala"t.” That just means we're in the yeshiva part of our service.
  • Even though I have 1 year left of “yeshiva/shalat” service technically, there is an automatic reduction clause that allows me to leave to go to school, in my case, YU. I just have to show them letters from YU proving it.
  • Part of the reason I joined, even though it was for a short time only, was because in the event of war, when Israel needs every man it can get, I would be trained to help on the front, not flop around limply in a bunker.
  • Although nearly all the active duty tank units have been mobilized, that “nearly all” excludes my brigade. We’re still guarding highways like reserve infantry.


  1. This is a war,
  2. and they are calling up [some of] the reserves.


  1. Israel doesn’t exactly need “every man she can get.” Me going to serve means that other soldiers get that many more furloughs.
  2. Unless it becomes existential, and they call up all the reserves, I’ll be getting out anywhere between August 7th and August 17th anyway. That’s 10-20 days of service in a regular (non-reserves) unit, minus ~2 days for retraining – if they bother with that.
  3. I won’t be serving in Lebanon in a tank, which they might conceivably need more skilled personnel (like myself) for – rather, my brigade is still doing infantry detail, which can be done by anyone, and is actually peacetime duty, so I’m not being called up for war-related reasons.
  4. Adena and I have little time together as it is.

In the end, I think reasons Con #1-3 only have merit when they justify #4, since that to me qualifies as a hefsed merubah – an irreplaceable loss. That is, although it is a melemet mitzvah (defense of the land), I am not being called up for those actions; and the army can repay the lost R&R to its regular soldiers after things quiet down. The sooner I get out, the more money the army saves.

UPDATE: A few conditions have changed in the few days that have gone by since I began this entry.

  1. My brigade just got moving orders earlier this week: they leave for the North today. (pro)
  2. I just checked with KBY: I was not called up despite this: and even if I was called up, “my brigade” is no longer mine. If I rejoin the army, it will be with a newly formed Shalatnik Brigade. (con)
  3. The war is being taken to the enemy (and heaven help us, their human shields). Whatever you read in the papers, this is not [yet] an existential threat where absolute numbers are crucial. Rather, this is a physical threat that does not threaten the existence of the State of Israel. It may also be a politically existential threat, in the sense that if we appease Hezbollah and Iran now, they may go so far as to actively try to destroy us that much sooner. But for political wars, you don’t need absolutely “every man you can get.” (con)

And so the question has changed: should I fight the red tape in order to get myself drafted, to be sent North? That, in the end, is a simpler question, which I think I can safely answer: No. The seductive machismo of being able to “tell the grandkids” that I fought in a war, that I can make speaking engagements at Manhattan synagogues for seudat shelishit, that I can fire my machine gun at The Enemy, and rough it out in my air-conditioned tank and take Polaroids…all these are the reasons why I did not join the army when I was 18 (see earlier posts).

Keep in mind that the halakhic analysis of “what kind of war is it?” does not determine whether a particular war is just or not; rather, it reveals to us whether it is so. And so one does not hide behind those long-established reasons: one heeds them.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Memoirs of a Sha'ar Geisha

I introduced Shmirah in my last [real] post; sounds like an ideal way to relax, no? No. My Faustian corruption, Shmirah-wise, might've come 7 months into the army, but nevertheless it came.

It came, not through a succubus or devil, but from a friend (howsabout "Joe"?). Returning to base after the weekend off, I caught up with "Joe," who berated himself for getting caught reading on guard duty! For getting caught. Why was he be so hard on himself? Because he got caught in the most mentally challenged way you can imagine. He overheard Cmndr. Udi on the radio actually telling the duty officer that he was going to check on the guards at their various posts. After a short while, with the commander still a no-show, my friend figures he's not coming, and whipped out his [neo-post-Zionist history] book...into the waiting arms of Commander Udi. Oops. Joe just lacked some basic trust in the commander's word. Tsk.

I commiserated with him. But the idea, like a moth in the wardrobe of the mind, closeted in my mind, slowly eating away, growing. And so, I started to read, too.

On Shmirot of "secondary importance" I began to read. I started to love Shmirah, and would request the most annoying posts in the middle of nowhere, doing nothing, since now privacy and solitude were advantageous. It would be difficult for a suspicious commander to surprise me as they had, er, Joe! Ironically, I guarded better, more alertly, since now I was constantly on the lookout for my own officers.

With growing confidence, I developed my skills in guarding-while-reading. I know I was corrupted, i.e., that I had officially changed my mind on the issue, since a different friend ("Oswald") had been caught reading on Shmirah (in the middle of the day, in the middle of the desert, on Shabbat) only two months into boot camp, Way Back When. And upon hearing this WBW, I was horrified, but mostly mystified: 'how could someone disregard his moral and patriotic duty so fragrantly? What a hillul HaShem as well, for a hesder guy to be caught so. Sleeping, I can understand. It happens. But reading??'

But in that nostalgic time of Way Back When - when besides working through the rough life and philosophical knots in my mind, I was so gung-ho that while on duty I'd run through imagined scenarios how I could be attacked: which heights commanded a view of my post, which directions were defensible, etc. This is what They told us to do. My fertile mind would produce a Bedouin popping up from behind the rock over there, or the Egyptian Second Army sneaking behind that tumbleweed (hey, we were only 3k from the border!). Hmm, They must have been cracking up.

The naivete of my Zionism dried up shed: Shmirah-as-mitzvah ceased to motivate. One of the ramim at Gush had tried to inspire us in advance, before we got inducted, to see shmirah as an analogue to awaiting God's response to the events in your life, and to the events in the life of the Nation - the art of awaiting the redemption, a rarely practiced skill in this day of proactive generation. But that did not, in the end, float my boat.

Over the months, my Zionism became pragmatic: What am I really doing here? If I am watching the tanks so that other soldiers don't nick our equipment, do I really need to patrol? Do I need my combat webbing so I can grenade the heck out of Akiva from the next company, and will I seriously need to pump Cmdr. Nimrod full of 5 magazines of lead? Where will 145 bullets make me more effective instead of 29?

If I am manning an access gate, a sha'ar gisha, on a base within another base, am I really needed to stand 50 minutes out of every hour? If the enemy attacks, they will clip the fences, or jump them. Terrorists don't charge the front door, and if they do, being inside the guard booth, and sitting, will protect me more than standing!

In general, erosion comes from -- in traditional army language the world over-- chickensh*t (CT). Equating all types of breaking the rules dilutes the effectiveness of any single infraction; sitting down is patently not like walking off the job, forgetting to bring a weapon to guard duty, or going to sleep. All suspicions of CT are confirmed, however, when you have flexible commanders who, because they are leaving the army, don't care about beauracratically maintaining the letter of the law. They care about needs and results. For example:

- Some commanders would tell us "you can sit and read, take off your combat vest, do whatever you want, just don't fall asleep. And if the Lt. catches you, I didn't say you could."
- At some posts, the rules allowed us to listen to music, just so long as it was with speakers, not headphones.
- The Deputy Company Commander (hiloni) once responded to a request for time for mariv, "Pray? Why don't you just pray on guard duty?"
- We had the strictest SOPs (Standard Operating Procedure) for guarding, but if a commander needed a grunt for manual labor, he'd tell you to doff your combat vest and put down your weapon to come help him monkeywrench the tank.
-We're allowed to talk to anyone we want, like our fellow soldiers. (How is that different from a hands free phone?)
-We can belt out songs at the top of the lungs. No secrecy here!

Perhaps the greatest indictment of [some specific posts'] guard duty regs, however, was when my friend Aviad Badner broke his only pair of glasses. He could not recognize a person sitting 6 feet away in daylight at, say, another table. Nevertheless, despite his practical blindness, they still put him on guard detail! (He was still allowed to serve as Gunner, but that's because the tank's focusing apparatus can compensate for near or far sightedness, like that doohicky in the optomotrist's office).

If an officer will have me leave my guard post because he's too lazy to open up the gate himself (or fantastically busy?Anything that important could be radio'ed in - we don't use couriors), it leaves an impression on the soldier. That post might need a guard, but he can scan the territory once every 3 minutes, instead of every second.

And that leads to a general erosion of idyllic idealism. I do not think this is a bad thing. Coming from America, there are some values that I intend on importing to the country, but I do not want Little America in Israel! Though I am proud of our Tradition Of Democracy, and though I appreciate the US gov't's embrace of technology, our work ethic, tipping, et al, I will swing my elbows when boarding a bus -- I will smile, typically American, at my fellow passengers, but I will swing. I will argue my points. Ideology did not suffer from this process, just idealism. A realistic and pragmatic reaction to the requirements of your environment are the sign of a mature, developed military sense (in this specific instance), or a mature, developed decision making sense in the larger picture. We did not play fast and loose with the rules when guarding over the Green Line, for example. There, you never know what will happen. Fast, but never loose.

Does this affect other areas of army life? Best illustration: 5 months into the army, and Shabbat is coming. Shabbat kitchen rules are just so strict as to be just shy of kariism so as to provide a K.I.S.S.-level procedure for the secular army to keep kosher. But what if you are the kitchen helper for the day, and you know something is kosher or mutar - can you do it? On the one hand, it's halakhically ok, but on the other hand, you're breaking army regs. What if nobody will know? You don't want the kitchen staff to get any bright ideas because of what they learned from some smart alec yeshiva soldier, but what if it's the middle of the night, and you want a bowl of cereal? Example: The army doesn't provide milk, only chocolate milk, and any non-listed product cannot be used with army utensils. So even though Tenuva choc. milk is ok to bring in from the outside (since it's army approved), Tenuva regular milk is out of bounds, despite the same hashgacha, plants, cows. Can you eat your cereal?

I don't think this trully illustrates the guard duty question, however, since one SOP is meant to guide the army's intuitive sense for defense (I mean, it's an army!), and that is not weakened by pragmatism, while the latter SOP is meant to blind-guide the army on kashrut issues for which it has no training, short of the individuals of the Rabbi Corps. (Religion-Engineering Corps? God Squad?)

Also keep in mind that this has nothing to do with volunteerism. Most of the time, I was amongst the first to volunteer for everything, as we hesderniks are wont to do, except for the most difficult thing: staying in for Shabbat. After 6 months, I started to volunteer for those as well, as I lost my fear of the unknown, and I felt more comfortable in Israel in general (though I admit, I did not ever offer to lose days out - as a lone soldier with no family to take care of my basic needs [hot food, laundry, etc.], all things were never equal, and I had priority) .

In short, most people break shmirah in some way, shape, or form, or desperately try to escape it by going through a commander's course. Those few who never break often as not become officers. And I have no regrets, and a clean conscience. But that means little. What if something had happened? Would I consider myself blameless, an ones? Perhaps this one army minhag that I should have resisted. Perhaps this is the perfect place for idealism. Nothing happened, which is the basis of the logic of reading on shmirah, but is that luck? I am unsure of the answer, which means I still have not truly resolved the question of shmirah.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


I am tired of writing, and I think you're tired of reading. Well, it's almost over. I am in America for two weeks, and the army paid the ticket, since I am a Lone Soldier. When I get back, I have two more weeks of army, and so many stories will remain untold. Furthermore, the people I am writing this for I am now seeing in person, and so that leaves only me, and progeny.

I plan on writing about the bad things which I haven't told you, how I have changed from my experience (rather than simply describing everything), tidbits and lists (books I've read while in the army, war movies I've seen, etc.), and to finally upload all the pictures and movies I have somewhere around here.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Real "Neturei Karta" - that's us

An apolitical post...3 months late

We graduated advanced training, and had a wonderful ceremony which nobody I knew attended. sigh. I got my "wings," a shiny silver tank pin for my dress uniform, which somebody Upstair's took it as the cue to start a downpour. So it rained on me, and I hitched home most of the way, but the last leg took most of the time - the irony of hitchhiking. Welcome to Israel. (<-- that's something you can mutter underbreath every day for years). I got back to my apartment after around 6 hours of travel, whence I began enjoying a long weekend. I got posted to B Platoon, stationed in the Judean Hills, protecting a settlement named Tekoa around 5 miles South from Jerusalem, in the Eastern Gush Etzion bloc (the bloc with Efrat, Migdal Oz, Bat Ayin, Alon Shvut, and many other less famous settlements). It is a small base, so much so that it doesn't even merit the term "base."

There are exactly 10 religious people in the platoon, so there is never a minyan. The guard duty rotation makes it impossible that all 10 people will be off duty and/or awake at the same time, and so by the time the 2nd Shabbat had rolled around, I hadn't prayed in a minyan for around 16 days.

But this Shabbat was different. I pulled duty in nearby Noqedim - to guard their strategically knesset! What this meant, essentially, was that I was allowed to doven with a minyan, and oh, was it wonderful! For the first time in a long time, I appreciated the quorum. It is a very effective device, the minyan idea, and it is inspiring! People came in droves to invite me to dinner, or offer me food. I got some questions from Anglo olim that could only be described as Shiddukh Questions. (What I plan on doing after my service is a valid topic; asking if I'm single, though, lacks subtlety, no?)

In truth, we weren't really necessary, except to remind both Arab and Jew that the army was there, Guardians of the City; because in reality, so many of the citizens were packing iron, they could have made their own platoon. I'd bet us three soldiers were really assigned as decoys. Most of the civvies had better weapons than we did! Or rather, better techno-geeky gun sights. ACOG 4x telescopic sights (aka, the "trigicon"), Elbint parabolic sights, and things with even cooler names that would blow out your monitor just to display them. Neato gnarlations!

Anyway, the moral of the story is Oh How wonderful it is, this Jewish country, and the patriotic citizens that live the moral life in the name of their God, revive the ethical in the name of their brethren. Soldiers as symbols of independence rather than force; an army whose middle name is "Defense." It makes us fair targets for terrorists, and fair recepients for your home baked goods.

This is one reason why I am here, and one more reason why I plan to live here.

I'll tell you all the bad post- and revisionist-Zionist stuff in some later post; now, let's bask in the the glory of the dream...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Price of Freedom

"The Price of Freedom," said Jefferson, "is Eternal vigilance." But what is meant by this vigil that had no beginning, and has no end?

* * *

Back when your visions of the army followed plot lines from Delta Force 3 or Under Seige, you may have been mystified at my acceptance to the Israeli armed forces. "But Amitai isn't a kung foo master!," you thought to yourself as you nodded politely at my martial artless conversation on my induction plans. "What," you continue to yourself, "do they do with the useless cruft of karate-deprived humanity that is supposed to protect my holy vacation spot of choice?"

Tada! - most of the regular duties of Today's Army's combat soldiers consist of, in one way or another, guard duty. There are many different things to watch, and many different things to watch out for, but the experience is almost always the same: a true experience of Endlessness; you cannot FastForward, you cannot skip the commercials, you cannot cut out the boring dialogue to see the camo-wearing, bridge-exploding, ninja-star-throwing action. The price of a free nation is [temporary] Eternity.

But guard duty doesn't have to be a boring topic to discuss, as I do here, since it bears ramifications regarding a person's soul, religious complications ("I'm sorry ma'am, but your son is not only suffering from senioritis, but is experiencing religious complications." ), and the power heirarchy in the army. This entry is just the beginning.

A short history of a soldier's experience with guard duty:
In boot camp, they ease you into the concept, starting you off immediately on 30 minute stints walking in a tight rectangle around the barracks, unarmed, in your dress uniform. You cannot eat, talk to anyone, sit, read the posters on the wall [the ones the army puts up for you to read], lean on a wall, or anything else, really, that doesn't consist of walking and staring ahead. A lesson is learned: if you don't want it stolen, keep an eye on it.

Once we guns on day #3, we had to guard with them. Once we got combat vests, we had to wear those as well. At least we didn't have to put the heavy flak helmets on. But this was all training for the long guard details. My first experience with real shmirah (guard duty -trans.) was a full two hour stint from 8 to 10pm outside the base armory. It was a cool, crisp Saturday night with a beautiful, clear desert sky, and I was well-rested from Shabbat (the one time during the week that this is true in basic training). I spent Eternity thinking. I paced and thought until Eternity ended. Wow! I am being trusted with real guard duty! In the Israeli army! A dream come true! Ok, these exclamation points are giving me a headache, so I'll cease, but please understand that that night, during the first two hours (4 times the "regular" guard duty!) the punctuation never stopped. When you have problems or complications in life, taking the time to dissect and analyze them can really get you back on track, allow you to recenter. Personally, I had some girl issues, and two hours wasn't enough!! (ouch, my head).

My 2nd taste of real guard duty came four hours later on the 2 to 4am shift. This was the opposite end of the spectrum of experience: I was zonked out of my gourd, and by myself. Staying awake took all my strength and ingenuity, and the seconds passed like hours. I realized at that time how much honest to goodness energy it takes to have a good Think. All those mishnayot I memorized, all the math problems, all the ethical dilemmas, etc., could not be gripped by my flacid mind drowning in exhaustion. It's the Chinese head-dropping fatigue torture, where the very end you seek, sleep, jerks you awake. The wait passed more slowly than a camper last on line for the BBQ after a fast day. It turns out that I had had the best and worst of times in less than 8 hours. It never got [legitimately] better than those first two productive hours, and never worse than the 2nd two, in my slanted Romantic memory.

Your tolerance grows with time, like a callous, thickening skin. When we did 30 minute stints, one hour seemed impossible; but the same perspective held for two hours when we did one, 3 when we did 2, and now we do four hours regularly. It still drags on or passes quickly based upon how much sleep you've had, and/or if you have a companion to guard with you. The best thing to do on shmirah is, like in life, to Be Happy. Guard duty gives you the time to appreciate the feeling, and I highly reccomend that to anyone. The catch-22 is that happiness consists of three things in the army: food, sleep, and shabbat [getting out], all of which are contradicted by being on guard duty. Stinks for us, eh? That's when the ideology (mentioned 7 months earlier in posts on this blog) actually comes into play, and lends support. That, and breaking shmirah...more on that later, but right now I need some sleep before I go guard for the army.