Friday, December 26, 2008

Into the Wild: The IDF

Family and Friends,
I hope that all of you are well and are enjoying a plentiful holiday season.
This is by far my most compelling and entertaining update and carries with it great significance. As such, it is quite lengthy, but details my first month and a half in the IDF.

Firstly, since many don't have a visual understanding of where I live, here is a Google map of my Kibbutz, its relationship to the rest of the country, and just how far I have to travel each weekend to and from my kibbutz to my base (located outside of Be'er Sheva). Click HERE to see the map.

Secondly, I have unlocked my international calling and as incoming calls are free in Israel, I can talk to all of you from my base when I have rare moments of free time. You are able to call from your phone or from Skype by buying credit (13 cents/minute). My international phone number is 011-972-54-9005721. I have already talked to many of you, but please keep in touch and if my phone is off, please leave a message and when I get a chance, I'll make sure to call you back.

On November 19th, 2008, I reported to Tel-Hashomer at 9 am for my draft into the Nachal Brigade of the IDF. My draft was for Nachal and Tzanchanim (paratroopers) and all members of Garin Tzabar heading to one of the two units reported together. As you can see from the pictures, it is a coming of age moment for Israelis to send their son's and daughter's off to the army. My family said their goodbyes and wished me good luck as I walked through the gate with my Garin to begin the next two years of my life.
Regardless of where you are reporting to serve, everyone is required to report to Tel-Hashomer (aka Bakum) and then be sorted into his/her unit. As such, Tel-Hashomer is a massive base and in Israeli tradition, completely confusing with few signs. No one told us where Garin Tzabar had to go specifically, so we asked directions from several people working on the base, and again in Israeli tradition, each gave us completely different directions. After 1 hour of walking back and forth on the base and carrying 70 lbs of army gear, we finally found the rest of Garin Tzabar. When we finally arrived, we were greeted by Nissan, our Garin leader, and many of my Garin members, all there to wish us the best of luck.
Following joyful goodbyes, we were filtered into our units, and ended up sitting around for 8 hours until our names were called and then boarded buses to Bach Nachal (Nachal's Base). When I finally arrived at the base at 7 pm, we ate dinner immediately and began what is known as Tromp Tironut (Pre-Basic Training).

Before I begin explaining my last month and a half in Nachal, I want to elaborate on two points. Firstly, this is my second time writing much of this update as we had a very explicit presentation on what you can and cannot write in emails and post on the internet. Having suffered numerous security breaches, it is now illegal to elaborate on most of one's army experience. Therefore, many of my vivid portrayals of the army have to been rewritten to generic explanations.
Secondly, I have labeled this post, Into the Wild: The IDF, for two reasons. For those who have not seen the movie Into the Wild, I highly recommend a trip to Blockbuster tonight and watching a true masterpiece. Although the movie was riveting, I was quite upset with the ending (it is, however, based on a true story) and cannot understand how someone can give up on life. With these thoughts in mind, I wanted to title this entry after the movie in a symbolic correlation of Christopher McCandless's (the main character) journey to experience what he considered was his calling while surviving on his own--away from family and friends--to my ideologies in serving in the IDF, thousands of miles away from my family and friends.
That being said, I want to begin with a quote from Mr. McCandless that I believe summarizes my time thus far in the army and hopefully the rest of my service:

"The core of mans' spirit comes from new experiences."
Looking back on my Tromp Tirunut experience, I didn't realize how easy I had it. The purpose of Tromp Tirunut is to ease new recruits into the army's rigid structure of "Ken Hamefaked!" (Yes, Commander). For half a week we learned how to form a "Chet" (like the Hebrew letter, it's a formation in the shape of a open staple) and "Snay Torim" (two lines of soldiers). Both are done in a matter of seconds and for many, after a month in the army, people still don't fully understand how to go from formation to formation while standing at attention (one hand on your gun handle, other hand behind your back, head up, and feet together in a "V").
As you can see from the map, I live 500 meters from Lebanon, about as far north as you can get. Leaving at 8 am the first weekend, I arrived at my kibbutz 4:30 pm, 8.5 hours later! To get back and forth, I have to catch a bus from my base to Be'er Sheva central station, another bus from Be'er Sheva to Tel Aviv central station, and a 3rd bus from Tel Aviv to Koah Intersection, the intersection at the bottom of my mountain. Another 10 minute ride from Koah to Yiftach and I am finally home. Regardless, after getting out of the army and getting away from strict discipline, living minute to minute on your stopwatch, and living in a tent, a long bus ride is a welcomed change.

The second week was my first true "Into the Wild" experience: a four day tryout known as a "Gibush." I have spoken to many of you about the opportunity to serve in a Special Forces Unit in Nachal. In each brigade (Nachal, Tzanchanim, etc) there are general units known as a Gdud, and special, smaller units known as Gadsar or Sayeret Units. The Gadsar units are broken down into Parsal (a reconnaissance unit), Parchan (a tactical bomb squad), and Parnat or Orev (an anti-tank unit whose missile is called the Orev).
Talking with members of Garin Tzabar from past years, some of which are in the Gdud units and others in the Gadsar units, I was informed that if you have the opportunity to serve in a commando unit, it is a superior experience. The people are extremely driven and constantly push not only themselves but those around them to be the best he can be; Gadsar does an extra 6 months of training which includes a parachuting course and extensive Krav Maga training (hand to hand combat); the accommodations are equivalent for both Gdud and Gadsar units for training, but afterwards, the Gadsar units receive better food and sleeping quarters. As a commando unit, Gadsar is used in tactical missions around Israel, often involved in raids and arrests in Arab villages. The catch to serving in a Gadsar unit is that I would have to serve and extra half year, something that I debated about, but after some thought realized that if the opportunity presented itself, I would willing do an extra six months.
As you know, I am a person who has always pushed myself to be the best in everything from cello to a leader in my fraternity and university. Faced with the opportunity to serve with the best of the best and serve in one of the top units in the top military in the world, I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to try out for Gadsar.

The "Gibush" (try out) was four days of non-stop crawling, running, marching, sit-ups, push-ups, running up 50 ft, 70 degree sand dunes with a 40 lbs sandbag on your shoulders, and mentally tiring exercises. Again, I am not allowed to detail the Gibush day by day, but I want to emphasize that this experience was literally NON-STOP. When you crawl, you crawl in full army gear over desert rocks, cacti, and thorns for hours at a time, then jump up and sprint from place to place. Mix in rotations of sit-ups and push-ups, and doing several miles of marches with a 200 lbs "alumka" (stretcher) or a 40 lbs sandbag on your back, and we're just getting warmed up. Sleeping for stretches of only 2 hours you are beyond physically and mentally exhausted; my Hebrew suffered significantly after a day. Every 20 minutes you are required to drink half of a large water bottle (quite possibly the toughest part of the experience), and the only free time you get is 30 minutes to eat each meal. My lips were so chapped that it hurt to open my mouth to eat. I was so full of water that combined with the pain of blistered lips, I ate no more than 1,000 calories a day while burning upwards of 5,000 calories a day. Keep in mind that the entire time you are trying to impress the commanders who are writing down every little movement that you make. You want to be first in every exercise despite the fact that you have nothing left inside of you. The purpose of the Gibush is to push every person to his limit and beyond. The army is looking for the mentally strongest soldiers they can trust to remain calm under pressure.

Here's a summary by numbers:

400 soldiers started
120 soldiers finished
70 soldiers were chosen (35 for Parsal (recon unit) and 35 for Orev (anti-tank))
8 lbs that I lost over 4 days
5 lbs that I gained over the next 3 days of nonstop eating
1 of 35 soldiers chosen to be a commando in Orev

The walk back from the Gibush to my base was one of the most best feelings of my life. Everyone who had tried out but didn't finish came out to greet us, clapping and cheering, a true hero's welcome. As I put my gear back in my tent, one of the soldiers in my unit came up to me, looked me in the eye, and told me the following:
"Nadav, we had no idea what to think of you. You're an American who came to serve, and everyone thinks you're crazy. But you don't understand what you've done; in Israeli society to finish a Gibush says everything about a man's character and who he is. You have my utmost respect. Congratulations."
I had barely talked to this soldier before. I was so taken back that for a minute I forgot about the tremendous pain I was in, and smiled. The most amazing feeling swept over my body, and my eyes began to water. I had done it, I was in Israel, serving in the IDF, and had completed one of the toughest try outs of any army in the world. My commander came up to me next, with an ear to ear grin, he shook my hand and slapped me on my back. Not bad for a 22 year old Clevelander.

The next day with the whole platoon of 120 soldiers at attention, they called out a list of 10 names, one of which was mine. I had been chosen to serve in Gadsar. Leaving base, I have rarely been happier. I was bruised from my ribs to below my knees, my hands were cut and bleeding, I hadn't slept in a week, but I couldn't stop smiling. I had done it. Despite being far from fluent in Hebrew, I had done it. I spent the weekend at my family's at Moshav Ein Habsor, exchanging army stories with all members of the family. I felt more a part of Israeli society than ever.

The following week I reported to Gadsar where I was told that I had been placed in Orev, the anti-tank unit. The week was unbelievably challenging. Long gone was the relaxed pace of Tromp Tirunut. We had half the time to do the same tasks, and if anyone dared to move or talk in formation, everyone was in "matzav sti'im" (push-up position), holding the position for several minutes or doing push ups. The purpose of Tirunut (Basic Training) is to take 18 year olds, break them down, and build them up as disciplined soldiers. Trust is key in the army; your commanders need to know that no matter the situation, you will obey orders in a matter of seconds. Although I struggled from time to time with being older than those around me, I was rarely frustrated as those around me were quite mature and unbelievably generous people. I felt right at home. My 3 commanders were extremely strict, but some of the most amazing people I have ever met.
At the beginning of the next week, I was pulled aside and told to speak with the commander of my platoon. He presented me with a piece of paper and a pen and told me that to stay in Orev, I would have to sign for an extra year. We discussed the opportunities that lay ahead if I stayed and he informed me that although in past years Nachal had made exceptions to older soldiers with 2.5 years instead of 3 years, this was the first year that they were instituting a no tolerance policy of less than 3 years. I spent the next two days talking with my 3 commanders, asking for their advice, listening to their experiences, and trying to sort my life out. I wanted so badly to sign; I was privileged to be one of a select group of people in the world to serve in an special forces unit of the IDF. My decision was made after a very emotional conversation my parents and hearing my father's stories about his service in the IDF. After hanging up the phone, the commander of the platoon approached me. With tears rolling down my cheeks, I reached into my pocket, looked at the folded contract, and handed it to the commander without my signature. I apologized and thanked him for his time and support. I thanked each of my 3 commanders for their wisdom and support, and said goodbye to each of my new friends in my unit. This is a decision that I will reminisce about for the rest of my life and a part of me will always regret my decision. Carrying all of my gear, I stopped at the top of the Gadsar barracks, kissed the Gadsar sign, and prepared to begin my service in the 50th Airborne Battalion.

My transition was rough. I am surrounded by quality soldiers, but I feel older, I feel 22. Discipline is not as strict, and in some sick-twisted way, I missed getting yelled for every little mistake. The roughest part of the transition was like my unit in Orev, everyone in my new unit had already bonded, and now came along a 22 year old, American, ex-Orev soldier. People looked at me differently, not knowing what to think. Breaking into a new group of friends, I have struggled to find my niche in the unit. However, as time passes and we bond through the trials and tribulations of Basic Training, I feel more at home with the group of guys that I am serving with. My commanders are tough and I have many more American friends in the platoon. I can't explain how nice it is to run into some friends and speak English for 20 minutes a day.

For 3 days two weeks ago, Nachal had Hebrew classes for all of its international soldiers. It was both a blessing and a curse. It was great to spend some time just learning Hebrew (and a nice break from the army) and spending time with Americans, but it made me more homesick than ever. Everyone talked about Chipotle, Bud Lite, IHOP pancakes, bacon, and all the little things that you cannot get in Israel. I started reminiscing about all you: family, friends, relationships and all the things I have left behind. The most amazing thing about the army is that since you have virtually NO personal time, all the little things are exponentially magnified. Reading a newspaper, checking my email, listening to music, drinking a beer, and not having to look at my watch to see if my 5 minutes are up while taking a shower or going to the bathroom mean more now than ever. I appreciate life and freedom in a completely new way.

The last two weeks have been an introduction to the M-16, how to take it apart, fire it, and take care of it. We have done several "Masot" (marches), each increasing by 2 km (4, 6, and 8 km) and had a couple classes in Krav Maga. The last Masa we did was 8 km at 4 am in the freezing cold desert wind. With the entire sky shining above us, we walked through the sunrise and up to the Tel Arad fortress where we were given our Nachal tags in a moving ceremony. The following day we packed up and boarded buses to Jerusalem for our "Tekes Hashbah" (soldier swearing in ceremony).

The Tekes Hashbah for Nachal takes place at the Kotel (Western Wall). With the entire new Nachal unit standing in formation, each soldier receives his M-16 and a Torah. The head of the base read the Oath:

"Here I am swearing and committing myself, upon my word to remain loyal to the state of Israel,
To her rules and her authoritative government and to take upon myself unconditionally and without any limit the discipline burden of the Israeli Defense Forces,
To obey all orders and instructions which are given by the qualified commanders and to devote all of my strength and even to sacrifice my life in order to protect the homeland and the liberty of Israel."

Standing in front of the Kotel with the Israeli flag waving in the wind, holding one's M-16 and the Torah, each unit screams "Ani Ashbah, Ani Ashbah, Ani Ashbah!" (I swear, I swear, I swear). With family and friends surrounding me, I realized in that moment that all of the little things that we spend so much time worrying about don't matter. There is only one Jewish homeland, one Jewish army in the entire world. We are surrounded by enemies on all boarders and fight for our existence each and everyday. As a Jew, each of us has an obligation to support and defend the most important piece of land on this earth. I proudly screamed at the top of my lungs "Ani Ashbah, Ani Ashbah, Ani Ashbah." I have taken an oath to defend this country and help it however I can. If I don't do that, who will? Ask yourself what you've done recently to help Israel. You don't need to serve in the IDF to swear an oath to defend the only Jewish homeland; I challenge you to donate time, energy, and money to Israel. If you don't, who will?

For all of us, fear is ever present. We always catch ourselves saying,I don't have enough time, enough energy. Having served in the army for only a month and a half, I have a new respect for the larger things in life. We spend too much time complaining, too much time blaming others. Stop putting off your fears and dive in already because on the other side of fear is freedom.

I have never been more proud to be Jewish, an American, and an Israeli.
I hope each of you take on your fears and duties this new year.
With much love, VDBL and h**,

Nadav E. Weinberg

Saturday, November 15, 2008

T-minus 4 Days...

Family and Friends,
I hope that all of you and your families are well.
I have tried to load pictures from my phone to my computer, but have had some problems. Pictures will hopefully be up on the website ( in due time.

In just 4 days (November 19th), I report for my service in the IDF. Currently, I will be reporting to the 50th Airborne Battalion of the Nachal Brigade. I was informed a few weeks ago that my Hebrew has reached a level of fluency that I am not required to attend Mcvayalon (the army Ulpan--Hebrew immersion course). I am thrilled to have bypassed Mkvayalon, but realize that my Hebrew is far from fluent and my frustrations and confusions with language alone in the IDF will occur hourly. Speaking with members of last year's Garin, they said the drawback of not knowing Hebrew is clear and is accompanied by hundreds of push-ups, but the benefit is that after making a mistake, you WILL learn that word or phrase and you WILL NOT make that mistake again. I laugh just thinking how difficult everyone says the army is who already speaks Hebrew, and knowing that I face a whole new set of challenges.

Two weeks ago I obtained a cello from a local Kibbutz. Although the cello has not been played in several years and after spending an hour readjusting all the different facets of the cello, I was able to play for the first time in over half a year (the longest span in my 13 year tenure). Frustrated with boredom, Kibbutz life, girls, and the anticipation of the IDF, the only release that I have had is running and working out. Cello gives me a completely different high, a different stress relief, an ability to put everything else in the world aside and just concentrate on a note, a bar, a phrase. I am able to separate myself from the frustrations of my daily life and move into a world that only exists in the four feet of wood and metal between my legs. Slowly by slowly, my form has come back and I am able to move from scales to etudes to concertos once again. When my life seems lost and confusing--especially when I struggle with a new language, culture, and people)--I am able to take an hour and escape everything and enter a world that is mathematical, flowing, and familiar; I know what comes next, I understand this language. Cello is truly a constant in my life when everything else is new and formidable.

Our Garin has had several tours of Israel over the past two weeks. Yesterday, I returned from a week-long visit to Eilat. On our way down, we stopped at a Moshav that has one of the largest herds of cows in the country. We pet the new calves, fed them through large baby bottles, and even had the opportunity to milk a few of the adult cows. It is truly amazing how the Moshav has each step of the cow's life down to a science. There is a secluded area for all of the pregnant cows, a separate pen for each calf, and computer chips strapped to each cow's leg so that it automatically registers where each cow is, how many times it has been milked that day, and when the next milking is. The cows are milked 3 times a day, and produce a tremendous amount of milk despite the fact that no hormones or steroids are used to enhance the output. After milking and petting the calves we walked through the grapefruit and orange orchards where I had the richest orange in my life. Walking to a creek, we ate an ironic yet unbelievably tasty lunch of fresh steaks.

Other stops along the path to Eilat included the Dead Sea, Ein Getti (one of Israel's wildlife preserves), and another night in a Bedouin tent. The trip in Eilat was more enjoyable than my first in August. The weather was more temperate and the 15-17 year olds were replaced with elderly couples. We enjoyed a day kayaking, boating, and tubing on the Gulf. With 3-4 people on each tube and 2 tubes attached to the boat, we were whipped around the Gulf at 20 MPH, holding on for dear life as we jumped from tube to tube and held on in different positions: one handed, upside down, hanging onto each other, and trying to pull others off all while making sure you still had a hand on the tube. The next day was a cruise on a yacht with back flips and slides off the boat with beer and music. The rest of the time we hung out on the beach and went out to clubs at night. Pictures from all of our adventures will be up as soon as I get them from others.

In other news, my cousin Dror returned from Australia and I have had a great time going out with him in Tel Aviv and spending time with the rest of my family before going to the army. Last week was the 13th memorial since Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. I attended the memorial at Rabin Square along with thousands of young and elderly peace activists waiving "Peace Now" signs. It was amazing to be apart of history, to see how strong the youth of this country are, and how badly peace is desired, even to this day.

I love hearing from so many of you and hope we continue our correspondences.
This will be my last update before joining the IDF and as so, I cannot promise when my next post will be. No matter what, know that you are all loved and missed and I appreciate your prayers.
With great anticipation, excitement, and angst,
Love and VDBL,

Nadav E. Weinberg

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A visit home and becoming a soldier

Family and Friends,
I hope that all of you are well, enjoying the Fall, and a beginning to a successful year.
As always, a reminder to check out new pictures and past posts on my blog: (Pictures will be posted in the next few days).

My most recent post described many of my recent experiences in Israel, but all along I was tempted to mention that I would be visiting Cleveland in just a few days. With a week long vacation from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur, and with the next opportunity to visit home a year away, I impulsively decided to purchase a ticket home (thank you Grandma and Grandpa for the ticket). I decided to surprise friends by showing up at their doorsteps unannounced, a shock that led many without words and in sheer elation. With two days of long travel, my 10 day trip was condensed to 8 days. Picked up at the airport by my parents and Meg, we went straight to Jack's Diner where I was able to order my craving, BACON (yes, yes, I know, I am a bad Jew). My time home was celebrated with best friend Kabir's 21st birthday, my fraternity big brother, Rick's 25th birthday, and in perfect proportion, my father's 29th birthday! In good ol' American tradition, Kabir's 21st was celebrated by bars and clubs in downtown Cleveland, and Rick and Kabir's birthdays were celebrated at my house in Shaker by a perfect Sunday Argentinean Asado: 27 lbs of chimichuria marinated meat, delicious microbrew beers, countless friends, cornhole, and my beloved Redskins dominating division rival Philadelphia Eagles. This truly was the Sunday that I had been craving: steak, beer, friends, and FOOTBALL (and not having to stay up until 2 AM to watch the games). I was just as equally enthralled to spend Yom Kippur with my parents in the comforts of my synagogue, B'nai Jeshurun. To say the least, this Yom Kippur was vastly different than any previous High Holiday, with prayers for my safety, help, and direction, as well as those for my family and Meg. The sojourn home was refreshing but exhausting trying to catch up with so many great friends one-on-one.

In just a few days home, I realized quickly how much my life has already changed. I am living two vastly different lives: one in the US, and one in Israel. I have a comfortable and much beloved life in Cleveland and a simultaneously new, exciting, and scary life in Israel. What will the army bring me? Where will it take me? Who will I be at the end of my service? How much will I have changed? These are all questions that continuously play in my head, and questions that were front and foremost while home. I will not lie, for about 2 seconds I said to myself, "let's be smart about this, let's stay home, have a cushy life, no fear, no danger." I spent much of Yom Kippur dwelling on my decisions and asking G-d for the strength to continue and complete the path that I have started. I know deep down that there is no choice in the matter, no choice for me as a person with my ideologies. No matter how badly the next few years will hurt, no matter how many times I will cry and feel that I have nothing left, no matter how many times I will curse myself that I could be drinking a beer and watching a football game at a bar, I will never regret this decision. Of course it is hard, I left a perfect girl friend, a golden job opportunity, and bright future to get yelled at by an 18 year old. But these are the experiences that define life, the experiences that shape the person one will be. It is unfair of me to sit back while the rest of my countrymen serve their country; what type of a person would that make me? I want to look my children in the face (many, many years down the road, mind you), and be able to say proudly that I defended the home of our ancestors and Jewish people. Time and time again I come back to this quote, but it truly defines me as a person and my decision to take the road less traveled:

"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."
-President Teddy Roosevelt

That being said, there's one other way that I look at my decision: this is the luckiest decision I have ever made. Few predicted the credit crisis to be this widespread and shake Wall Street to its core. Had I chosen to go the financial route in New York, I would almost certainly be without a job (let's be honest, May college graduate, Junior Analyst, and job cutting across the board, I would be first out the door). Furthermore, the expected turnaround is around 3 years, right in time for my return to financial markets. Even an atheist has to agree that someone up there is looking out for me!

My return home to Israel included a 12 hour layover in Brussels. Despite being sleep deprived, I toured the city, enjoying a traditional Belgium breakfast (Belgium waffles, Belgium hot chocolate, croissants, and cheeses). The city is gorgeous: a quaint, ancient European city that has kept its charm and mystique. I took a bus tour of the city and learned about the Belgium Royalty, the UN, and the famous "Pee-pee Boy" who is much smaller than I expected, only about a foot and a half tall. (There are several legends about the boy, but the one I was told is that in 14th Century the city of Brussels was under siege and the enemies had rigged the walls of the city with explosives. A little boy walked by and peed on the fuse, saving the city). Despite being 3 AM on my internal clock and having not slept for 30 hours, I attempted to find a local pub to try some Belgium beers, but frustrated by the service at several pubs (I speak about 3 words of French and German combined), I called it quits and headed for the airport. You can see many pictures of my experience on the blog.

My return to kibbutz life was immediately turned upside down when I found out that my roommate, Ilan, did not plan to return to Israel and continue the IDF process. Ilan was not only my roommate, but best friend. It has been rough to continue on without him, but I wish him the best in restarting his life in Boston.
Kibbutz life is a little different than usual as we have been given a project called "Hachraza Garin," translated literally as "Announcement of the Garin." We have to compile movies, skits, and songs that make fun of Garin members and explain who we are as a group. We are entering the third week of filming, editing, and singing, with the presentation this weekend. It is a great way for the Garin to become a better part of Kibbutz Yiftach. On a side note, filming was rough for a few days as Ethan, a great friend, and I stayed up for two consecutive nights until 6:30 AM to watch game 6 and 7 of the ALCS. I refuse to give up my American sports habits.

Just before I left for Cleveland, we were informed of our "Mishpacha Miametzet," or host families. Along with Hadas, a girl in my Garin, we are members of the Barak family. It is a nice break to celebrate holidays and Shabbat at the Barak home while eating delicious home cooked food. As with so many Israelis, we are told profusely to stop by at any and all times and to treat their home as my own. It is comforting to become more connected to the Kibbutz and have not only a host family but home cooked food once a week.

In a group announcement, we were informed of our destinations in the IDF. As expected, I will be going to Gdud 50 in Nachal (Gdud is a Battalion) on November 19th. Although I drafted until the 19th, this past Wednesday, I reported to Bakum, every soldier's first destination when being drafted. We received our madim (uniforms), vaccinations, army identification cards, and dog tags (called diskot). Carrying my bag of army gear and showing my IDF ID, my bags were not checked and was able to ride buses for free (or a small fee). This is the second to final step of becoming an Israeli soldier. On November 19th, I will take my final step, but for now I am immediately treated as an Israeli citizen when I show my ID, a comforting feeling.

If you read the articles on my decision to make Aliyah and join the IDF (links in first installment on the blog), you know that I have a great interest in meeting family members on my father's side that I have not be in touch with. One family member, David Shamban, is a renown cellist who currently resides in Germany. I was able to find him on the web, and sent him an email. Quickly responding to my email, David informed me of a local violin maker who I may be able to rent a cello from. Calling the violin maker, he was quite happy to hear from me and promised me that he would find me a cello. Having not touched a cello since March, I am aching to get my hands on one! I may not have only found a cello, but now have started a dialogue with someone that I have grown up hearing so much about, and one of the reasons that I chose to play cello.

It was truly amazing to see so many of you recently. Know that no matter where I am, what is going on in my life, or where we stand, you are all loved and missed greatly.
Please be in touch and tell me about your life. I want to hear from you!
Love and VDBL,

Nadav Weinberg

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bootcamp, Exams, Military Exercises, and much more, IDF style

Family and Friends,
I hope that all of you are well and enjoying a return to school and work. I wish you a very happy, healthy, and productive Shana Tova (New Year)!
My apologizes on the delay of another installment, but as you'll read, I've been quite busy.

A few reminders/updates:
- Many new pictures and past updates on my blog I have added pictures from "bootcamp," a tour of Kibbutz Yiftach, and more.
- Please note a slight change in my address. Also, shipping in Israel, please use Hebrew, otherwise use English (I don't think the USPS is up on their Hebrew):

Nadav Weinberg
Kibbutz Yiftach
Garin Tzabar 2008
D.N. Marom Galel
Israel 13840

I ended my last entry by saying that I was on my way to Gadna, Israel's mini pre-IDF bootcamp for High Schoolers. The intent of Gadna, is as simple as previously stated, a week-long course that has participants assimilate the army by waking up at 6 am, marching, being yelled at, given orders to do in unrealistic time periods, eating out of cans, and being introduced to the standard issue M-16. I was expecting a much more rigorous week that pushed our bodies physically with runs and calisthenics, but most of the time we were told to run 10 meters at a time, and then yelled at for 2 minutes on how we did it incorrectly. Another 10 meter run and one person would not be in perfect attention form and we would get yelled at again. Repeat this over and over, and over the course of 5 days and you begin to laugh at the shear ridiculous nature of Gadna. When we were not being yelled at, we were picking up trash around the base and learning about the M-16.

There are two stories that I remember with great detail. The first day we were told to fill our individual canteens, called a meymiah, paint our faces, and one lucky person (it is always the largest kid in each group; I'll let you guess who that one got to carry a 5 gallon Jerrycan on his back. After an extensive march, we went over a few other aspects of a neshek (gun) as well as crawling tactics. This was followed by fake grenade throwing and diving around like idiots while hiding in the shetach (field). The light at the end of the tunnel was lunch: a splendid feast of tuna fish, olives, peppers (all canned) and bread. The only course missing was Luf, the Kosher IDF Spam, which I'll take a pass on for as long as possible. The catch to eating our food was two-fold: we were 19 men and were given the equivalent rations of 12 girls, and the four inch can opener we were given (yes, that is singular), was broken. To say that mayhem ensued is an understatement. I have a vivid image in my mind that mirrors our primitive ancestors of 19 men screaming and ripping bread from each other while smashing cans with blunt rocks. With blood pouring from fingers, the sweet victory of opening a can of red peppers was relished for only seconds before a swarm of 5 men overtook the can, pouring its contents directly into their mouths. The goal was to allocate the resources as equally as possible, taking care of each member, a task we failed miserably at. No worries, we'll have 2+ years to figure that one out.
The second story occurred that same night as we went on another march at night and told that we would have a game of capture the flag. We were given 2 minutes to disguise ourselves while the soldiers scattered around the hill, and placed our flag, a glowstick, on the top tree. Still carrying the Jerrycan, I crawled up the hill before being tagged out halfway up (quite impossible to crawl with 5 gallons of water splashing around on your back). I took off the Jerrycan for the second attempt and got within 10 feet of the glowstick before someone in front of me moved and we were spotted. The next day we were marching past the same hill and looking at it, we were delighted to see that we had been crawling in tons of cow manure in every direction.

The two major points that I draw from Gadna are that the IDF takes a very meticulous approach to teaching every soldier to respect the power and danger of weapons and at times, taking orders from an 18 year old girl are harder than I thought. Regardless, our mefakedit (commander) was the best at the base and treated us with great respect.

On a side note, going back to the M-16, each group was required to carry 2 M-16s and we had several classes explaining in detail what each part of the weapon is, does, and how to respect the nature of the weapon. At the end of the week we got to shoot 11 rounds under strict supervision. Although it was only for a short time, I came away with a great fear and respect for the M-16. While so many 18 year olds around me were ecstatic with getting to shoot an assault rifle, I took a minute to consider the sheer force and danger that the weapon has and the realization that at the pull of the trigger I can end someone's life. For so many 18 year olds it is clear that they are living their Halo dream, I only hope that they also respect the weapon, because they are the future of the world's most ethical military.

It seems almost every week that we have another meeting with someone from the IDF, but we recently had our two most important meetings, Sav Rishon and Yaionot Shirutz. Sav Rishon is literally translated as "first calling" where to-be-soldiers take a series of tests that include an extensive hour and a half interview, a physical exam, and a psychometric exam. The interview was conducted exclusively in Hebrew and was an at-ease dialogue about my family, background, and reasons for making Aliyah and joining the IDF. The trickiest part was when I was given two sentences and asked to read them and define random words in each sentence while explaining the meaning of the sentence in whole. The best analogy I can surmise is the following: imagine that you have just come to America with a basic understanding of English, and are given two lines of Shakespeare to read. Most of us struggle to understand Shakespeare despite reading several of his works (I know I'm one of them), but try reading a paragraph without being fluent in English and you'll be firmly in my shoes. Similarly, most of the words I was given are very high Hebrew that very few Israeli's use or know. This was followed by my interviewer reading me two sentences very quickly and repeating them while I was told to write out each sentence to check my writing and spelling abilities.
The physical exam is similar to any physical you take for work or a sport's team. My blood was tested for a variety of diseases, as well as blood pressure, eye, height and weight, and a myriad of other exams. I'm happy to say that despite my very poor eyes (-4.75 in each eye), I still scored a perfect 97 which allows me to do just about any unit in the military. The psychometric exam was conducted on a computer and was a 25 minute exam testing one's visual and spacial reasoning. We were given two different exams similar to SAT word analogies (apple:carrot fruit:???) except with 2- and 3-dimensional objects. Everyone looks like a fool sitting at a computer and twisting his hands around in the air imagining what a certain object looks like rotated 90 degrees to the left, introverted, and adding a square in the middle.

Yaionot Shirutz is the "placement interview" day where we were given a 20 page questionnaire to fill out that includes every question you could ever imagine and a 40 question section with open ended sentences that you have to finish in under 20 minutes. The IDF loves the kinds of questions that force you to respond with your first instinct, it shows your true colors without having time to think. During the questionnaire we had two different interviews: the first was with a woman who asked us straightforward questions on why we came, what we want to do in the IDF, and why, and the second with a man who wanted the same information but said simply, "tell me about yourself." Again, all interviews were done in Hebrew, and the two played good cop, bad cop with the woman being very friendly and the man scouring over my answers and nodding in a slightly disapproving manner. However at the end of my interview when he asked where I wanted to go, I kept insisting Nachal (which happened to be his unit as well) and after giving my reasons, he nodded and said, "well, looks like that's where you'll go then." Although I don't have it in writing, it's looking pretty positive on me going to Nachal!

The last big activity that I have been a part of was watching a massive military exercise in the southern tip of Israel by Eilat. Led by Shirion, the tank unit, we were able to see an exercise on a makeshift terrorist village that included Merkava tanks shooting from all directions, engineers looking for mines, snipes taking out select targets, and ground troops sprinting to different spots while neutralizing terrorist targets (all with live fire). All in all it was quite the feat to watch, but frightening at the same time. Until you have stood 50 yards from a Merkava 4 tank shooting at full range, you can never really understand the brutal force of these killing machines. Again I find myself learning to respect all of these weapons in many different ways. It is quite the scary thought to think that I will be one of those soldiers in less than a month! (You can see a few pictures on the blog, but I was only able to take a couple of pictures before the IDF forced us to turn our cameras off for security purposes).

All in all not too much else is new. Days tend to blend together with a cycle of Hebrew Ulpan, running/swimming, tutoring, and group activities. I had my first breakthrough in Hebrew where things are starting to come together. Still far from fluent, I have gained the ability to speak on most subjects with some ease and words are starting to come to my tongue quicker and quicker. It's exciting, but I am all too cognizant of how much further I still have to go!

From the land of Milk and Honey, I wish you a sweet and successful New Year!
Love and VDBL,

Nadav Weinberg

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Finally Home: Kibbutz Yiftach!

Family and friends,
I hope that you are all having a great end to the summer. I have been in contact with many of you and appreciate your thoughts and prayers while I'm over here. Please continue to correspond, it is great to hear from all of you.

As I said at the end of my last entry, several members of my Garin planned a trip to Eilat, Israel's "resort." Famous for its diving and snorkeling, Eilat is located at the southern most tip of Israel along the Red Sea. Following a 5 hour bus ride from Tel Aviv, we were greeted by 110 degree heat; it's dry, so you actually don't sweat as it evaporates right away, very dangerous. As we were only there for 5 days and snorkeling courses are at least 5 days, we opted to sit seaside, snorkel, ATV in the desert, and go out to the bars at night. Although a nice vacation, Eilat would have been much more fun in the winter and if I was 15-17 years old (the vast majority of the people fit that age range). This was the first vacation I've taken where I preferred to not leave the comfort of my air conditioned room and when we did leave the room, we looked for the closest store with A/C. Waiting for the bus back to Tel Aviv, there was a bomb scare at the bus station (it happens all the time as people get on a bus and forget a piece of luggage behind. We were all told to evacuate the perimeter and watched from a distance as the bomb squad pulled out their robot and actually shot the bag. Meanwhile my shoes were melting into the concrete in the 115 degree heat.

The last weekend before my move to Kibbutz Yiftach, I went to Jerusalem to meet with good family friends, the Cook's, before Shabbat dinner with John Medved and his family. The Cook's are one of the sweetest families you will find in Israel, and I had the pleasure of meeting their daughter Lia and Mrs. Cook's mother, in town for a granddaughter's Bat Mitzvah. After spending the day with the Cook's, I met John Medved, his family, and good friends in the Germany Colony of Jerusalem for services and one of the best meals I have had in Israel. It was my first time in an Orthodox synagogue (the women sit in the back) but it was a wonderful service and enjoyed davening on Tisha Ba-av (commemoration of the destruction of the Jewish Temples). The Medved family is from the US and made Aliyah in the late 80's, so it was a pleasure to be with American-Israeli's who enjoy a 6-course exquisite meal and a fine single-malt whiskey for dessert: a page out of my playbook. Mrs. Medved made sure I helped serving dessert and cleaning afterwards, a sign from Mr. Medved that I am invited back. The Medved sons and daughter are very mature and well versed in the Torah and Tanach; stories and explanations of the weekly Torah reading were topics of discussion by the siblings. Hoping to meet with the Medved's in the near future and getting to talk a little business with Mr. Medved who is a successful business man in Israel with a history in Venture Capital and is currently CEO of Vringo.

Rabbi Weiss (one of my Rabbi's from Bnai Jeshurun Congregation, my synagogue in Cleveland) led a tour of Israel with about 30 synagogue members and Clevelanders. I had the opportunity of meeting up with the group at the Palmach Museum (Palmach was one of the first fighting forces of Israel in the 1940's) and spoke about my decision to move to Israel, join the IDF, and my experiences over the past two months. It was a rewarding experience to share my philosophies and ideologies in patriotism and duty. I have previously mentioned how soldiers are treated specially in Israel and I had my first direct experience. While speaking to the Cleveland group, I was explaining my decision to join the IDF and the man working the snack shop gave me a free ice coffee and said, "this is for you, soldier." Although I have not received my uniform and am not officially a soldier, it was a small moment that made me realize that this is actually happening. It been so easy to talk about this over the past few years, rough to say good bye, and even living here it hasn't seemed real. At that moment I realized I was integrated and accepted in Israel, and even more, appreciated.

Of the family I have in Israel, I have become closest with the Samban family (my father's mother's family). Samulito and Cha'i are the parents with three daughters: Rivka, Michal, and Ruti. Rivka is married to Chemi and have 4 daughters. The oldest, Noga, just had her wedding, and the second oldest, Roni, is getting married in a few weeks, and the third daughter, Gili, is engaged. Last week, I went down to the Northern Negev for Noga's wedding with Michal and Ruti and their children. It was a beautiful and cozy wedding with about 150 people. Noga's husband is an aspiring musician and his band performed at the wedding. Check the blog post for pictures and videos of the wedding: Apparently a very famous musician is a friend of Noga's husband and performed a few songs at the wedding; don't know who he is, but his music was amazing and everyone rushed to the dance floor immediately. As if I haven't learned by now, I brought a tie with me to the wedding. Everyone laughed at me, and when I saw that even the groom wasn't wearing a tie, I opted against it. First of three weddings, I'll be prepared for the next two.

The same day of the wedding was the official opening ceremony for Garin Tzabar. All 160 or so of us attended and were supported by thousands of family members and previous Garin members from years past. Again you can see the pictures on the blog. There were several speakers, ranging from high ranking generals to past shaliachs (Israelis who live in different cities around the world to help strengthen the bond between the Jewish communities and Israel). One of the speakers was the Director of the Ministry of the Interior (he looks like a South American dictator), who was surrounded by two personal Mossad agents, and gave a heart warming speech where he elucidated his pride for our decision and its importance to the State of Israel. If my previous coffee-soldier moment wasn't enough of a wake up, I sat in my seat almost dumbfounded as it dawned on me that my decision was officially coming to fruition. I was proud to have both Michal and Ruti there to support me.

The following day, I met up with the rest of my Garin at our Kibbutz, Yiftach, following a short 4 hour bus ride from Tel Aviv. I was greeted warmly by staff on the Kibbutz who insisted that I eat immediately. I unpacked all of my suitcases; a great feeling knowing that I will not have to repack and move somewhere in the next two years! The following days were filled with poolside games, relaxation, eating, basketball, running, and group activities. We have recently started an Ulpan and I am taking every opportunity to speak and think in Hebrew. It continues to be a frustrating process but as the Israeli's say, "לאט,לאט", "slowly, slowly." There is a Garin from 2007 at Yiftach and they have all been extremely helpful with army stories, recommendations, and tips for the Kibbutz. The best part for me is meeting them and hearing stories about how for some, their Hebrew was worse than mine, but after diligent work, they all speak fluently now.

Kibbutz life is great. I am taking an Ulpan in the morning, swimming and relaxing by the pool in the afternoon, studying, and participating in group activities. My bed almost fits me (I actually have metal bars at each end), and my room was 90 degrees. Ilan, my best friend here and roommate, bought two fans, and after opening the door, opening the one window, and maximizing the cross-breeze potential of the room, we have been able to hit a consistent 86 degrees in the room! We've been leaving the door open at night because it is simply too hot otherwise, so we have both been woken up by flies. On a less sarcastic and more positive note (I actually love it here, don't get me wrong), the food is amazing and healthy; we help with the cooking, but we have an "Eema and Abba" (mother and father) who do most of the cooking. My dream of having a dog has partially come true as there are several kibbutz dogs who roam the campus and stop by my room every night.

I am leaving tomorrow for Gadna, a pre-army 5-day exercise that gives us an idea of what it's like to wake up at 5 AM and run, crawl, and carry a gun. Although it is meant for high schoolers, this is a special experience for those of us in Garin Tzabar. Can't wait to get yelled at and have no idea what my commander is telling me!

I finally have a permanent address. In English:

Nadav Weinberg
Kibbutz Yiftach
D.N. Marom Galel
Israel 13840

In Hebrew (preferred):

נדב ויינברג
קיבוץ יפתח
ד.נ. מרום גליל
ישראל 13840

I wish those of you returning to school a successful year, and to everyone my warmest regards from my sub-6' bed.
Love and VDBL,

Nadav Weinberg

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Double check your IDF Slang!

Family and friends,
I hope that you and your families are having a relaxing and enjoyable summer.

I'd like to call your attention to the Cleveland Jewish News which as added my blog to its website at:
Not sure if there will be any differences between what is listed there and what you will receive, but it is exciting nonetheless. Currently, there are technical difficulties in viewing the blog, but I've been assured that it is being addressed.

Now on to the highlights of my past month in Israel:

Around the time of the last entry I was in Tel Aviv for "Lila Lavan" which translates to "White Night." Much like Kaboom in San Francisco or Bumbershoots in Seattle, it's a citywide festival where thousands upon thousands of people come out for live music, concerts, and drinks. The meaning behind Lila Lavan is that the city never sleeps, it's alive all night and the beach becomes a stage for some of Israel's top singers.
The following night I went out with my roommate, Matthew, from the Ulpan, and taking a cab into the city I had my first extensive conversation in Hebrew with our driver. For the entire 10 minute ride, I spoke to him in Hebrew about making Aliyah and joining the IDF. He asked me where I wanted to go in the IDF and when I replied Nachal, his face lit up like a kid in a candy store and he started screaming about how he was in Nachal and telling me stories about how "Nachal is family" and "all the Nachal soldiers look out for each other." He explained that as a mechanic, he was required to work on the machinery when everyone returned from the field, usually around dinner, and as a result he usually missed the dinner rush. He told me that while his mechanic friends in other units such as Golani and Givati would miss all the food, the Nachal cooks and soldiers always rationed out his dinner ahead of time and set it aside so he would never miss dinner. That was truly a special night: it made me believe that all the hard work I've been putting into Hebrew is coming to fruition and that my decision to join Nachal is a smart one.

One of the reasons that I am serving in the IDF is to give back to the State of Israel. This is a stance that I hope to live my life by and continue to give back to the State throughout my life. As such, I have begun networking with Venture Capitalists to see what exactly they do, how they do it, and what their perceptions on Israel and working with Israel are. I had my first meeting with Jacob Ner-David, Founder and Managing Partner of Jerusalem Capital, several weeks ago. The story itself is quite entertaining so let's begin there. I was supposed to meet with him the previous week, but since the first bulldozer attack was about 2 hours before my meeting, it was canceled. On the bus to my rescheduled meeting, I met two Hebrew University students who after asking me about myself and why I was here, promptly invited me to Shabbat dinner the next evening (more on that dinner to come). The one hour bus ride took an extra 30 minutes to cross Jerusalem thanks to traffic and after updating the receptionist on my status, was told that Mr. Ner-David had to leave earlier than expected and that I would only have 15 minutes to talk with him. Getting off the bus, I sprinted to his office. Mind you, it's 90 degrees, and I'm wearing a light sweater, dress shirt, and slacks--no iron so I had to hide the wrinkles somehow, a sweater seemed like a great idea at the time. Arriving at his office drenched in sweat, I was greeted by Mr. Ner-David who was wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and sandals. After a short yet fruitful discussion on Venture Capital and his take on the opportunities in helping Israel through financial markets, I headed back to my dorm, happy to get out of my dress clothes. The dress code here is a nice change from last summer's suit and tie in New York's humidity, but I still cannot bring myself to show up in a t-shirt and sandals for a meeting with a Venture Capital firm.
As for the Shabbat dinner, it was a wonderful spread of Israeli and Venezuelan staples. There were about 15 people at dinner, of which 10 were Israeli students, a few of us from the Ulpan, and a few Venezuelan students who are studying at Hebrew University. After dinner we were sitting around talking and I looked out the window and saw a tree on fire. Before you know it, then entire area around the tree caught fire, and it grew to about a quarter-acre. We sat in awe as underbrush caught fire and it continued to grow. After 10 minutes the firemen came and put out the brush fire. I've been looking in the newspaper and online for the cause of the fire but cannot find anything. Nothing like a burning bush on Shabbat though!

I have no intent on making my blog a political commentary; my intent is to provide you with vivid accounts of my experiences in Israel. However, following the recent terrorist attacks and prisoner swap, I do have a few words to echo. For those who do not know, there have been several terrorist attacks since I've been here: two separate bulldozer attacks where terrorists have hijacked bulldozers and run over cars and into buses, and one or two other minor attacks. Most recently, Israel came to terms with Hezbollah to exchange five convicted terrorist--including one man, Samir Kuntar, who was serving 542 years in prison after killing 4 Israelis including a 4-year old girl--for two soldiers, Ehud "Udi" Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. It was hoped that the two Israeli soldiers were alive, and the families of each did not know the status of their sons until they saw the coffins unloaded from the plane. To say the least, this was an extremely emotional period for Israel, and signifies the fundamental difference between the terrorists in the region and Israel. The Israel Defense Force's main goal is to maintain the safety of Israeli citizens and to remain defensive at all costs. The soldiers of the IDF are the 18-22 year old citizens of Israel who are required by law to serve and as such are embraced by every family in Israel. PM Olmert explained why Israel paid such a high cost for two of its dead soldiers, "A stranger will not understand what every Israeli understands very well. The fate of every one of our soldiers is the glue that binds us together as a society and allows us to survive in an area that is surrounded by enemies and terror organizations." The following Shabbat, I had dinner with family friends, the Steinberg's, at the father's parent's house. Situated on top of the tallest "hill" in Jerusalem and on the 10th floor of the building, we were able to see Jordanian lights to our left and the flicker of Tel Aviv to our right. In between the Jewish neighborhoods lay dormant, sanctifying Shabbat, while the Arab neighborhoods shot off fireworks to celebrate the return to freedom of one of the most despised men in the world. To live in Israel with hope is a fragile ideology, we always hope for peace but when one sees the dynamic differences in philosophies between many Arabs and the Israeli's it is all too easy to be filled with pessimism. The President of Israel elucidates my sentiments "...if the heavens asked me to which people I would rather belong, the people in mourning over the deaths of two of its soldiers or the people rejoicing in the return of a craven murderer whose mark of Cain can never be erased, the answer is clear."

On a more positive note, the Jerusalem Film Festival was this past month. I went to a viewing of "Mongul," the life of Ghengis Khan. The Jerusalem Film Festival is a surprisingly large and well respected film festival that lasts about two weeks. The catch to the movie I went to, was that it was in Mongolian with Hebrew subtitles. I surprised myself with some proficiency in understanding the story, but needless to say, most of it was over my head.

It was brought to my attention that I have a distant relative, Drew, on my mother's father's side of the family who began Garin Tzabar two years ago! I was in contact with her before I arrived in Israel and since I've been here, I have had the delight of meeting her twice for dinner in Jerusalem. A very determined and outgoing girl, Drew has been a great resource for not only my program, but the IDF (she is also a member of Nachal, and insists that it's where "all the good boys" go). Regardless, it's a delight--and quite the small world--to have a family member my age from the US in Israel.

In my last entry I detailed some of my experiences with the excitement that is bureaucracy in Israel. Well, as it turns out, I was required to return to Beer Sheva last week to sign three identical pieces of paper. The department refused to fax or email it to me and insisted that I come down to sign the paper in person during their convenient times of 3-5 pm Monday and Wednesday. Taking a 40 minute bus ride to the central bus station in Jerusalem, I then took a 1 hour 45 minute bus to Beer Sheva. When I arrived my cousin's fiance, Ayal, met me to help me with the process. Arriving at the office at 2:40, the security guard informed us that I would need to come back the following day at 8 am to sign the papers. Insisting that I called down and they instructed me to come at 3 pm, the guard repeated his stance. When we showed him the letter that was mailed to me, he suddenly decided to inform us of another office that we could go to. Walking to the second office we took a number and waited for an hour. When we were helped, the woman informed us that"this is really simple," and took out three identical pieces of paper and had me sign the bottom of each. That was it. Another two buses back, and my day trip was a simple 9 hour adventure.

Before I tell the next story, I want to preface it by saying that some of the Hebrew I have learned is slang, of which a fair amount is army slang, which has original connotations that I am unaware of. That being said, we have a test every Thursday in my Ulpan and recently one of the sections was to write two paragraphs in Hebrew on how we feel after being in Jerusalem for one month. I explained that it has been a drastic change for me, leaving most of my culture and comforts in Cleveland. I discussed how hard I have been working to learn Hebrew and that I often get frustrated in my studies. Now the word that I learned for frustrated is "shavuz," which is army slang. When I received my test, I had a large red circle around the word and my teacher had written "slang" above it, with a hearty deduction of my grade. After reviewing the test, I asked one of my good friends why she took off for it. He explained that shavuz is actually a contraction of two words, "zayin" and "shavur." Unbeknown to me, these two words literally translate to, "broken penis." One can only imagine how frustrating that can be, and so the crude slang implies such. Note to self: double check the original meaning of slang before you write them on a test.

The Via Dolorosa is the path that Jesus walked from his conviction to his crucifixion and grave. Every Friday there is a pilgrimage of the 14 steps by four monks who chant in Latin, Italian, English, and Spanish. I had the pleasure of joining the large tour a couple of weeks ago. As you can see from my pictures, there is a marking of each of the 14 steps where Jesus fell for the first time, consoled the lamenting women on Jerusalem, etc. You can read about each of steps here:
It was a very interesting and enlightening experience that only comes with the open mind of other's cultures and religions. The last 5 steps (10-14) are in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus was hung, cleansed, and then buried. You can see in my pictures that it is a tradition to crawl inside the podium and kiss the place where Jesus was crucified, kiss or touch the slate that he was cleansed on, and then enter the tomb where he was buried.

I mentioned in my last post that I was hoping to go to Turkey, but after the recent terrorist attacks, my friends and I decided it would be smarter to travel to Eilat (Israel's resort city) and spend a few days relaxing. I'm hoping to do some hiking up north around the Golan Heights before I am rushed off to my Kibbutz on the 15th.

That is all for now. I will try to update the blog in smaller segments in the future, but I have no idea what my computer accessibility will be. I reiterate my previous sentiments and ask you to download Skype so we can talk for free online. I have already done so with many friends and family and it is a pleasure. You can download Skype for free here:

Closing in on two months in Israel, I am confident that this will be a truly life changing experience that I will treasure forever. Regardless it has been difficult to leave so much behind, and when I was in a bar in Tel Aviv a few weeks ago, Plush by Stone Temple Pilots (my fraternity's song) came on, and a rush of emotions swept over me. Know that you are all missed.

I wish you all health, happiness, and safety. And don't forget, when you're frustrated, try not to use the word "shavuz!"

Love and VDBL,

Nadav Weinberg

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Lost in Translation: Israel

Family and friends,
I hope that each of you and your families are having a relaxing summer and wish you a happy July 4th.
I realize that this post is long overdue, and apologize for its tardiness, but the past 3 weeks have been quite remarkable.
A few people have asked what my itinerary over the next few months and during my tenure in Israel will be, so here it is:
  • June 24-July 31: Jerusalem, Hebrew University Ulpan (Hebrew immersion course)
  • August 1-14: ??? Hoping to travel with army friends to Istanbul, Turkey, or Jordan or Egypt. If you've been to any of these countries and have some recommendations, please let me know!
  • August 14-early November: Moving to Kibbutz Yiftach in northern Israel, just across from Lebanon; working on the kibbutz and more Ulpan
  • September: Psychometric and other army examinations; start the countdown of 2 years of army service...
  • early November-May (?): Rumors say that basic training for Kravi (fighting) Units is 6 months.
  • May (?)-2010: Deployment around Israel for the rest of my 1.5 years of army service
Others have asked about my reasons for serving and about my preparation, both mentally and physically, over the past few months. There were a few articles written about me that answer these questions in depth:

With that all said, here's a recap of the past three weeks:
I departed Cleveland at 6 AM on June 11th and arrived in Tel Aviv on the 12th. The first 10 days I traveled in a compact car around the country with my father living out of a suitcase. As you can imagine, tensions rose on occasion (you do the math: living out of a suitcase and a different city each day with your father), but all in all it was a treat to be (re)introduced to family who I have never seen or have not seen since, as everyone likes to demonstrate by pointing to two feet off the ground and reiterating, "you were this tall!"

The first few days were spent at my father's cousin Rivka and Chemi Cohen's house in the northern Negev at Moshav En Habsour. (A moshav is a farm co-op where each family has its own house and land to conduct agriculture on and sell the agriculture products either collectively or independently). I was re-acquainted with the Cohen daughters (Shlomit, 21, Gili, 25, Roni, 28, and Noga, 30). Tensions with Gaza were surfacing again during our sojourn as a Kassam missile was shot from nearby Gaza and landed just a few miles from En Habsour (the moshav is at most 5 miles from Gaza). As Chemi explained to me, residents of the northern Negev are at odds with the Israeli government as Kassam missiles have continued to pour into the country but Olmert has yet to forcibly retaliate. The kicker is that Israel sends in truck loads of supplies ranging from food to phosphorous daily to aid the Palestinians. However, Hamas and other militant groups have used the phosphorous and Israeli aid to build the Kassam missiles that they then shoot right back into Israel. (Kassam missiles have no guidance systems and are shot randomly with pellets to kill as many people as possible). You can watch CNN day and night, but until you see ashy craters and smell the rancid odor of burnt sand, you do not realize the true day to day fear that Israelis live with.

Just down from the missile attack is Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, where my father's aunt and uncle Samulito and Chi'a Samban live. From there we traveled north to Tel Aviv to meet Rivka's two sisters, Michal and Ruti, along with their children and significant others (children is a loose term, they are all 25-30 years old). What Jerusalem is to religion, Tel Aviv is to everything else: pubs, restaurants, night life, technology, etc. The Mediterranean Sea is unbelievably warm and an afternoon is not complete without sitting at a cafe and sipping on a mojito or two. In Tel Aviv we visited more family members, one of which, Paul Kebar, was a pilot at 18 in the RAF during WWII and was one of Israels first pilots in 1948. Touring Tel Aviv we stopped by the oldest part of the city where my father spent part of his childhood. Much like in the US, the oldest, most worn parts of cities have become prime real estate for renovations and trendy shopping (including $300 Italian shorts).

Our next stop in Jerusalem took us to family friends, the Steinbergs and Ganchrows, whose American backgrounds were a nice change of pace. My father met with colleagues at Hebrew University and Hadassa Hospital to look into collaborating on future research projects, and I spent the day relaxing, happy to be out of the car. Many more family members later, we stopped by my father's parents' graves in Ashdod, a very emotional experience for both my father and me; it was the first time that I had visited in close to 10 years. At some point I am going to rent a cello and visit their graves to play for my grandparents who provided me the opportunity to take lessons for 10 years but never heard me play; it is the least I owe them.

Changing gears, I want to clarify that although my Garin (army group from the US) does not meet until August 14th, I came early to work on my Hebrew and visit family. That was the good news, the bad news was that instead of waiting for my Garin to help me with my paperwork, my father and I had to handle my Teduat Zeheut (ID card), Teduat Zechaut (essentially returning minor paperwork, I was born in Israel), open a bank account, Ministry of Absorption/Immigration, Aliyah forms, scholarship forms, health care registration, army deferral (they wanted me to join right away), and a few other odds and ends to tie up. I won't go into too much detail regarding the absurdity of where we had to go and what we had to do, but my commentary is reserved to the observation that the Israel bureaucracy is in a league of its own. Patience is the cardinal virtue as each and every stop takes a minimum of 2-3 hours and the hours of operations might as well be on a roulette wheel (banks are open until only 1pm Sunday, Tues, Thurs, but reopen again from 4-6 pm on Mon and Wed....I think...). Regardless, without my father's persistent personality and fluency in Hebrew, I would be as the Israeli's say, "achalt oti," "I'm screwed." To this I owe him a nice bottle of merlot. By coincidence--scratch that, good karma--over Shabbat dinner at the Cohen's house, we were discussing my plans and how I was going to get everything done in just two days, when Roni's fiance, Ayal, mentioned that his mother, Becky, works at the Ministry of Absorption/Immigration, and would help me with the army (a meeting that I spent 20 minutes being interviewed and 2 hours waiting, with only 2 other people in the waiting room), Aliyah, and half of my other paperwork. Bless Becky, because without her, we would still be in line. My roommate on Kibbutz Yiftach has said it best, "Wow, I got my bank account today in just 4 hours, that was a breeze!"

I have just about finished all the paperwork and am now at Hebrew University at Mt. Scopus (Har Hatofim) in Jerusalem, located next to Hadassa Hospital where I was born--22 years and I've made a complete circle! I find it ironic that after four years of college without a class before 10 AM, I have class from 8:30-1:15 five days a week, where English is forbidden in the classroom, and 1-2 hours of homework a night. There are few things more humbling than learning a language after graduating from college; the little grammar nuances that I never learned are torture to imprint in my mind. Regardless, the teachers are unbelievable and in just a week and a half, my Hebrew has improved by leaps and bounds. Being immersed in the language is truly the best way to learn--that being said, the first thing I do after class to clear my mind is plug the iPod in and turn on the country music.

I was watching the movie Lost in Translation a few nights ago to compare my experiences with those of Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray's characters who feel out of place in Japan and with Japanese culture. In one of my favorite scenes, Bill Murray, playing a famous actor, is sitting on a set in a tuxedo, making a commercial for a Japanese whiskey. As he is sitting there, the director goes into several passionate speeches that last a few minutes and the translator reiterates to Bill Murray that the director would like him to use more emotion and turn slower towards the camera. Stunned, Bill Murray asks the translator if that is all the director said considering he spoke for several minutes, and she replies, yes. Similarly, I've discovered that learning Hebrew is not only as frustrating, but the way in which one communicates with others is extremely different than English. What can be said in one minute in English can take two minutes in Hebrew, and furthermore, the way in which one simply wants to express his emotions are completely different. What we would say in English often makes no sense in Hebrew, and vice versa. Therefore, when I think of what I want to say in English and then translate it to Hebrew, I often get blank stares in return. The trick is to learn how to express yourself in Hebrew and not translate from English...a trick that will take just a little bit more work.

I have had the opportunity to go out a few times since I've been here. The first was a moshav party for several of the neighboring moshim and kibbutzim. The party was directly next to all of the cows, but after a few beers everyone seemed to zone out the smell. The party was called "Shira ve-beera," translated directly as "singing and beer." I had the pleasure of teaching Israelis a few drinking games (very unpopular in Israel) which seemed to catch on, but once the singing started, everyone was up, singing and dancing. This was followed by another scene from Lost in Translation where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are out in Japan at a club with blaring techno music. Everyone is dancing and quite immersed in the music while Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are taken back, out of their comfort zone. As you have guessed, the "Shira ve-beera" was followed with techno music, a far cry from my comfort zone of country and hip-hop. I guess that's just something that will take time to get used to...maybe.

I would like to end this first dialogue with something that I have noticed about Israeli culture. Israelis are "salt of the earth" people: people who often have very little, but have the biggest hearts. Each and everyone of my family members and friends insisted that I take their contact info and told me a minimum of three times that their home is my home, and anytime I need anything or a place to stay, I am more than welcome in their house. I have built up a Rolodex of who's who in Israel and at no point will I ever be without a loving family member or friend. For someone who has left his family and friends half way around the world, it is very comforting to know how loved I am.

For contacting me, the best way is usually email:
However, I have subscribed to Skype (a free computer-to-computer calling software) where you can have video conferences with the other person. To download Skype, visit:
Add me as a "contact." You can search for me by either Nadav Weinberg or my contact name, nadav.weinberg

With a sunburn on my shoulders and Hebrew on my tongue, wishing you the best,
Love and VDBL,

Nadav Weinberg