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