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