The Essence of Time
The concept of the IDF had always been such an incredibly large one that I couldn’t wrap my head around and I was curious to try and find out for myself what it is all about. Now, by no means am going to pretend that I joined the IDF and completed the two or three years of service that Israeli’s are required to do however, I did something that was so far out of my comfort zone that I considered to be the next best thing, Marva.
Marva is a program for non-Israeli citizens to experience the first two months of basic IDF training. It’s a program designed to allow people from the Diaspora to experience the physical and emotional challenges of the country and its people. Each week was spent focusing on a different topic, with different related activities. Through hiking the land and learning its history, navigating through the desert, living in field conditions, and meeting various soldiers and learning from their experience, I got a glimpse into the everyday life of a soldier.
At the same time that Montrealers go through the stages of deciding what they are going to wear to grad or what they are going to do for the summer, Israelis are deciding which unit they will serve in, and while we wait for our acceptances into CEGEP, they wait for their IDF draft date.
When I got off the bus in Sde Boker, the commanders began to shout out instructions in Hebrew (which I didn’t understand) and my only choice was to follow the crowd. The Mefakdim (commanders) began to ramble on about something that I figured was important but being completely overwhelmed, I tuned out and my mind wandered off. I was thinking of contingency plans for the summer; I was certain there was no way I was making it past the first day. Little did I know, this “rambling” was in fact directives specifically for the girls. In translation they were saying, “remove your sunglasses, take off your nail polish, tie your hair back with only a black elastic, get your uniforms and you have exactly 7 minutes to do this.” Were they nuts?!! I can barely see in daylight without my sunglasses, where was I going to find nail polish remover in seven minutes, my only elastic which was on my wrist was purple and more importantly how long would it be till I was able to get out of there?! Two months later, I graduated Marva K”T with a sense of accomplishment and pride greater than I had ever expected.
After spending the first week of the course trying to figure out how I was going to tell my parents that I wanted to come home and they were right for telling me that this was a stupid idea, I quickly realized that leaving was not an option. Something had clicked. I am not sure how, or why for that matter, but I am so incredibly grateful that it did. If Israelis can do this for two or three years, I can do this for two months… or at least try!
The truth is, when I look back at my eight weeks pretending to be a soldier, I realize that the activities were not that difficult (with the exception of climbing Masada the ‘army’ route where I thought I would literally never make it up until my greatest support turned to me and joked “we never leave a man behind” and helped me every step of the way), it was the difficulty of being so far removed from what I had always known. It was my surroundings, my comfort, and my emotions that were all new and challenging. It became a mind game. I had a choice; I could quit at every moment I felt the urge to (which was arguably every 10 minutes) and never know what I missed, or I could put the saying “mind over matter” into action and finish the program which is exactly what I did.
“No,” “I don’t want to,” and “I can’t do this” became foreign concepts to me and the idea of team work, support, and determination developed entirely new meanings. I spent four days in the field sleeping in a tent (and by tent I mean, the desert sand with just two flaps over me). The running became easier, my cot began to feel as if it was a king size bed with a duvet and I learned to eat tuna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner…and love it. I developed the skills of being able to navigate with topography maps through the desert, and I learned to love using my M-16 as a pillow. I learned to push myself more than I ever thought possible and I learned to truly appreciate the concept of time and the concept of togetherness (a word they often used in Hebrew- beyachad).
When I marched at my graduation ceremony, I felt an overwhelming amount of emotions. I felt such a sense of accomplishment and also felt so empowered that I had developed skills that I would have never otherwise had the opportunity to develop.
I have always had an incredible amount of respect for Israeli soldiers and the sacrifice that they make by giving two or three years of their life to defend their country, but after going through just the basic training, the amount of respect grew to a whole new level. Every time I lead a Birthright trip and develop relationships with soldiers I am reminded of my short army experience and I remember how important it is to recognize the sacrifices they make. These young adults who spend critical years serving our country value us in the Diaspora and appreciate any commitment we make to them and to Israel, as a whole. For those of you who haven’t yet had the privilege of meeting soldiers, I encourage you to make the effort to do so next time you are in Israel. For those of you who have, I encourage you to take the time to contact them, just say hello and send regards, I promise they will be happy to hear from you because as much as we can learn from them, they in turn can learn from you!