Dear Family and Friends, I hope you and your families are enjoying a wonderful holiday season.
On October 21, 2010, I was officially released from active duty in the IDF, ending two years of service. Since then, I spent 5 weeks traveling in the US, rejoicing in cousin Matt and Shannon’s wedding, relaxing in San Diego and Newport Beach, and reconnecting with family and friends. It was the beginning of my recovery from the army, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I am back in Tel Aviv resting and enjoying Israel as a civilian for the first time in years.
I wanted to write one more entry to pull together sporadic thoughts and feelings about my service that have been marinating in my mind for several months. During my posting in the West Bank I had considerably more time to think about my service: what it means to me, how I have changed, and where it is taking me.
When you are “in the moment” of month after month after month of training (18 months in all), you quickly lose track of why you are here. When you haven’t showered in days, crawled over boulders and cacti, and marched all night, you begin to ask yourself, why am I here? Why I am not in a comfy New York City office, or at a bar with friends? WHY on earth did I think this was a good idea?! This question ran through my mind on repeat, sometimes pushing itself to the forefront of my thoughts a hundred times in a day.
Week after week after week I took the bus back to base, often fearful of what pain and suffering lay ahead. Saturday nights were always sleepless nights; I’d toss and turn, too nervous to sleep. Sunday morning I’d coast on auto pilot: uniform, gun, bus, train, base. Even when I gave myself eight hours to sleep, I never slept for more than five. Each bus ride I’d sit in my seat, looking down at my uniform and gun, repeating under my breath, this is what you wanted.
Day after day after day you were woken up by a commander screaming at you, “Two minutes dressed and outside!” You shiver in your tent, hearing the footsteps of soldiers running by, knowing that in just a few seconds, you too will be scampering around. Every soldier knows that feeling. Holding your sleeping bag tight, hoping your commander forgot. As you’re sprinting to formation, you can’t stop thinking, WHY? How is this going to make me a better soldier? Why did I sign up for this?
During Krav Maga and counter-terrorism exercises, you were holding pushups for 2, 5, even 10 minutes at a time. As you collapse to the ground, your arms no longer capable of holding your body’s weight, you’re thrust into a scenario where you have to survive five minutes against 23 men in a free-for-all. As you receive the first blow in your chest, the second from behind, and the third and fourth in perfect harmony from each side, WHY surfaces for a split second before you begin instinctual survival. How much more can my body take? Why did I do this?
I knew the answer all along: because without me, and my fellow soldiers, Israel does not exist. Because it is the right thing to do. Because if we don’t train harder than Hezbollah and Hamas, we lose. Because all of this training pushes your body to new limits, making you a better soldier and a better person. Because this is not for me, this is for our Jewish people. Because this is for the 6 million who are unable to fight back.
It is much easier for me to say this from the comfort of my Tel Aviv apartment than from the cold of the Negev, but what I have written above were my daily thoughts for two years. It is all too easy for us soldiers to become egotistical: when do I go home? when do I get switched from guard duty? why did he get extra time off and I didn’t?
I am guilty of all the above. When you are caught in the moment, your mind wanders to the easy out: why me? I deserve better. Although I repeated the “because” answers, it’s hard to really understand them. Only eight months ago did I finally grasp these answers.
While visiting my grandparents in San Diego this past April, I stayed with good college friend Dave Loomis. Dave presented me with a book, titled Hagakura: The Book of the Samurai. Fluent in Japanese and with a love for Japan, its culture, and especially the Samurai, Dave believed this book would provide me with a new perspective on my service by treatises written by some of the greatest warriors to walk this planet, some dating back nearly 1,000 years. After reading the book Dave was spot on: the philosophies, dedication, and culture of the Samurai helped me to refresh my service.
The Samurai believe in a complete devotion to their trait; they dedicate their lives to being the best swordsman or archer they can be. They are entirely faithful to their masters, often making seppuku, a noble suicide, once their master has been killed or passed. One treatise defines the balance of a Samurai:
Fit oneself inwardly with intelligence, humanity and courage—[the Three Virtues of Confucius]…Intelligence is nothing more than discussing things with others, limitless wisdom comes from this. Humanity is something done for the sake of others, simply compare oneself and put yourself in their shoes. Courage is gritting one’s teeth and pushing ahead. (66)
I have been thinking about the Samurai philosophy and believe that there is much to be gained from their devotion. By trying to be the absolute best you can be, it helps to overcome the temporary pain and frustration of a situation, such as sleepless nights, hours of guarding, or grueling training. Simply put, one treatise states that it is “spiritless to think you cannot attain to that which you have seen and heard the masters attain. The masters are men. You are also a man. If you think that you will be inferior in doing something, you will be on that road very soon. ‘Confucius was a sage because he had the will to become a scholar when he was 15 years old. He was not a sage because he studied later on’” (46).
The “because” answers are easy to say, even easier to type but to truly believe them you need to distance yourself from the situation and fully believe in what you are doing. It was after reading this book, and in the final six months of my service that I truly “grew up,” taking less and giving more. You realize that these two years of service were not for me; they were for helping my teammates, to give back to Israel, and to stand for what is right no matter how painful it is.
When I asked a dear friend of mine why he was going into officer’s course and signing an extra two years of service, he said it’s his truma—his donation—to Israel. This is the core of true soldiering, donating yourself to your country.
As I look over the last two years, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. My training was tough, but it made me tougher. My training was demanding, but it taught me how to give. My training was impossible, but I learned that word doesn’t exist. My training took away years 22, 23, and 24 of my life, but it gave me everything, it was my truma.
As many of you have already seen, I have begun my next truma for Israel. I have spoken at several college campuses across the US and for Israel Bonds. I have been attacked by protesters, received hate mail, and called a racist and a Nazi. I have watched people misquote me, YouTube videos lambast me, and seen websites defile me.
I welcome this. I refuse to back down. Israel is fighting from the corner, a small country surrounded by hate. Not everyone will agree with me or Israel. I do not always agree with Israel’s actions, but that is the beauty of democracy. The same democracy that allows the 70 Arizona State University students who protested my speech (watch it HERE) is the same democracy that permits gay Arabs to seek refuge in Tel Aviv, away from the death penalties of their native countries.
This is why I will continue to give presentations on the supreme level of ethics of the IDF as defined by Ruach Tzahal, The Spirit of the IDF. This is why I openly encourage rational and civilized debate with those that oppose my views. As the protesters walked out in the middle of my speech at ASU, I stopped my presentation and addressed the protesters saying, “I truly wish that you would stay and have a rational and factual discussion with me on the Middle East. Ironically you continue to ask where there is no peace. How can there be when you walk out?”
This is why after the presentation I had a rational dialogue with several protesters who did return. This is why one Palestinian came to me and said that he was “pleasantly surprised by [my] presentation and has the utmost respect for [me].” He said that he refused to join the protesters because he wanted to have a dialogue and that he wanted to hear my side. He did not want to show up closed minded.
I hope to continue these presentations. If you know of an organization (JCC, synagogue, youth movement, university, etc) that would be interested in hosting me, please contact me at: email@example.com.
Thank you for your continued support and reading through all of my posts (I know they’re not short!)
Wishing you the happiest of holidays,
With love and VDBL,
Nadav E. Weinberg