Saturday, July 16, 2011

Nearly Two Years

I will shortly have been in Israel two years now. I wanted to reflect back over the past two years and see how far I have come and how far I have to go. I first arrived in Israel on August 4th 2009 in a haze of emotion and excitement. From the plane ride which ws far top exciting to sleep on, to the arrival ceremony and receiving my Tudat Oleh (Immigration Certificate) from Bibi Netanyahu, Prime Minister and war hero, I was just not sure it was all real. But after the ceremony and getting in the taxi to head to the kibbutz I encountered the first change in who I was. The taxi driver with a devilish smile asked me where I was from, and I at first out of instinct said “America”, and then instantly said “No! I am wrong I am an Israeli!” I felt so proud being able to say those words.  

After the airport came the kibbutz and the start of Garin Tzabar. Two years later I can say the kibbutz has really become part of my home. Be it my loving family here who takes care of me to all my friends in the Garin who are there for me or just to hang out with. I have really built a strong set of lifelong connections here. The kibbutz at first was a bit daunting for me. Coming from a Ronald Regan Capitalistic household and belief system to a socialistic commune is a big step. But I was quick to see the kibbutz had become mostly privatized, as have most kibbutzim in Israel, and no one was hanging up pictures of Marx or Lenin anywhere so I was good. 

On the kibbutz we began with our process of learning Hebrew, and while I had some basic foundations I was far from fluent. I remember my first cell phone bill, and wondering if I would have understood it better in Chinese. I was comforted only by the fact it was fairly low so I was pretty certain no one was trying to rob me blind. Then came the bank and mounds of papers in Hebrew, and a million lines to sign and a handful of words I understood. Thank god our Garin director was there to help us or I am pretty sure we all could have signed our first born children over and never known. Today the shock of a bill is only in its size occasionally. Now newspapers were also a challenge. In America I would read the paper every day from cover to cover keeping up to date on all the news. But suddenly I opened the paper and struggled with the smallest most inconsequential story. It would be months till I successfully read a full, real article in the newspaper and understood it. Today while I can open a paper and understand all her articles the extra effort needed for the Hebrew often requires the article to be quite interesting for me to put forth the concentration. 

A major goal of mine was to start reading books in Hebrew. I often pushed this goal off till I simply ran out of books in English. The challenge at first was to find a book in Hebrew which was both interesting enough, and of a high enough reading level I would not feel insulted by reading it; while also utilizing a level of Hebrew I could read and understand without having to pause to often to look up a word. The first book I started was fine for the first 10 pages and then took a turn into very high level Hebrew and I put it down. A month later I got the perfect book. Letters to Talya, the book was interesting, an intellectual grabber, and written in plainer Hebrew. From there I progressed onto two more books of a similar or slightly higher level. Today I have taken the leap to the next step with a book whose Hebrew is a bit more complex but I am going strong 35 pages in and loving it. I real feel this is one of my greatest feats in Hebrew to date and biggest steps to really entering Israeli society. Speaking is not enough reading is crucial as well.   

The central part of the past two years for me has been the army. I can honestly say I have gone through many changes in these two short years. From a know nearly nothing private to a sergeant after training in the Golani Recon Battalion, with operational experience, and time spent training with the unit. While I have the pins to show for it, my real accomplishments to me are not ones I wear on the chest. They are the things I feared or hated and yet overcame. Be it my fear of heights right before I jumped from the plane, or my dislike for fighting right as I sank my fist into my first opponent in my final act of Krav Maga, or the first steps on a solo 90 kilometer, two day navigation. It’s the knowledge I can overcome any obstacle or barrier, mental or physical. It’s the knowledge I have accumulated in my profession from training and experience. Now that I have also taken the first steps onto the road of command I feel almost as if I am starting my Army Career over again. Over the course of the next year I will go from a simple Israeli soldier to an Israeli officer, in the IDF. It is hard for me to imagine a more Zionistic pinnacle than to realize this goal.   

But now that I have looked back on these two years I must also look forward to the next year as well. Aside from the officership I am perusing I have several more goals I would like to realize. I would like to see myself moving to Jerusalem. This is both a spiritual and Zionistic goal. Jerusalem to me is both a Jewish religious center, and our nation’s capital. To live there is to join with the central nerve of both Israel the state and region. It’s to live in both the nation’s capital and gods house. I also want to make a real effort to learn this country better, and to this effort I want try and take more trips around the country to places I have not been. In my Hebrew I want to continue to build it up with my new focus being on grammar. I want to keep reading in Hebrew and to see the improvement in my vocabulary as well. 

As a closer when I was going back to America to visit my parents last February I had a stopover in Paris. As I was boarding the plane they were checking passports and I presented my Israeli passport. The lady looked it over and asked me if I was in the IDF I thought for a moment and said yes. She smiled at me and said it must be hard and I told her it definitely had its moments, she said “good for you” and I moved on.  As I boarded the plane I saw her check the passport of an American soldier who had been behind me, she also asked him if he was an American soldier and he said yes. But that was it, no question and no compliment. It made me proud to see the respect my army and thus my nation was given in comparison to the US Army. On the flight I though on far we, the Jewish nation, have come in 65 years from Auschwitz to the modern IDF; a powerful and respected army, guarding both our boarders and Jews everywhere.   

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Palseret it’s the combination of two Hebrew words Palsar and Seret. Palsar is its self an abbreviation of Plugat Si’ur, Reconnaissance Company, and Seret is the word for movie. Thus, the connotation of the word Palseret is another Hebrew term chai b’ (seret, meaning literally “living in a movie.” The meaning being a lack of connection to reality and living in a fantasy land. Now putting all the above together the term Palseret means the Palsar is living in a movie or a fantasy. So what does this have to do with anything?
            The Palsar of the Golani Brigade was one of the first elite units established in Israel. Set up in 1950 by Ariel Sharon it was the source of the first officers for the unit Sayeret Matkal, the IDF’s version of the SAS and top land unit. The unit participated in every major war and operation the IDF has conducted to date including Entebbe. She has operated alongside Shayetet, the IDF SEAL’s, and Sayeret Matkal. Her past commanders have gone on to lead the Golani brigade and to places much higher. The unit has much to be proud of in its past, that no one can argue. Today however, she is a different unit.
            Around 2005 the General Staff ordered that all brigades take their special companies, the Palsar (Reconnaissance), Orev (Anti-Tank), and Chan (Sappers) and place them together in a recon battalion. Some brigades already had this set up and some like Golani did not, with the Palsar being a unit of higher caliber and longer and harder training. Needless to say the Palsar by us was pissed and the order was largely ignored the first year. The framework was there but no one was really listening. This went on till just after the Second Lebanon War in 2006 when the army cracked down. A new battalion commander was sent in with orders clean house or else. He did, there was one pin now the battalion pin with all company pins removed and even shirts bearing there likeness banned. The Palsar fought but lost, badly. The Orev and Chan went along but reluctantly. They too lost things along the way but in the end of the day their training and standards were raised.   
            One standard of training was set up for everyone, and differing only in the courses for their specialties. I arrived at the unit in 2009 when this was the way things were. The Palsar was not even considered the best company the Orev was with a strong team from the November 2007 draft pulling us up. Shortly after my draft the company pins were returned though.
            Now this all ties back to Palseret. How? Because the Palsar still walks around with their nose in the air and attitude of WE ARE BETTER. I can’t stand it either! They still think they are one of the premiere units in the army and the Orev and Chan are just some lower level of existence. Today in the battalion there is a fierce competition between the companies and I do everything to see the Palsar lose. If I can’t stand them thinking they are better then I will also show them I really am better than them. Be it posting the best time in the unit on a run, or my team having the best run time average in the unit. Be it who finishes an act first, or god knows what, just don’t let the Palsar get their first! 

I got one week left in the prep-course (where I have the highest marks) and then Thursday its out to leave for a week! Pumped!