Ben ~ An Interesting Day in Israel
I opened my eyes with a sigh of relief: we had survived the cockroach invasion of our tents from the night before. Mission accomplished, Adam. After a breakfast that was as ethnic and tasty as last night’s feast, Rabbi Tessler segway-ed the topic of conversation to Operation Embrace and stories of horror that brought those suffering souls into the program. Although their tales were grim, their attitudes proved otherwise as we met a bus full of kids around our age that pulled up to the main building. These children were all medically diagnosed trauma victims of missile attacks that devastated their homes, leaving them unable to fully ever feel safe. As far as I could tell, there was an 12 year old cowboy and a kid a few years younger than me that would keep faking me out with handshakes. They had their social quirks, but one would never know just by hanging with these kids what they had been through. Our group and their joined forces as we went through ice breaker warmups and fun gymnast activities involving those cloth rope things you see in cirque du soliel. When the festivities were over, we had a few minutes to mingle with the Israelis while the finishing touches of lunch were added. I had my cheat sheet of basic conversational Israeli phrases in hand, prepared for me by our tour guide, although I soon found out that it would be unnecessary once I met a girl that not only spoke fluent english but also loves a lot of the same tv shows and music that I do. We swapped stories and laughs over lunch, the kid who was faking me out with handshakes continuously challenged Adam or I to fight him and the cowboy showed me a picture of a beautiful girl he probably has in line behind 15 others for that week and then had me talk to her and his other friends on the phone, even though they only spoke hebrew. You can imagine where those conversations went. We said our goodbyes to the kids for then and loaded the bus for our drive over to Sde Boker, the final resting place of Ben Gurion. Greeted by Ibex that were hardly afraid of our presence on what felt like a desert oasis resort, I marveled at the beauty of the lush landscape contrasting the oceanic canyons of desert rock filling our panoramic view. A history lesson followed by an ice cream break took us to an Israeli defense force shooting range where we watched recruits and veterans alike practice their aim. The girls moved about the soldiers looking for a future husband while I got some pretty sweet pictures with the troops holding assault rifles and a grenade launcher. From there we moved over to the actual army base near Be’er Sheva, where a military style bootcamp workout was waiting for our already starving and exhausted bodies. Sike! We threw our bags on the solid metal grids that were our mattress frames and stood at attention in three lines of probably the sorriest set of soldiers I have ever seen. The “drill sergeant” had us performing rigorous exercises like sets of 3 pushups at a time and forming the Hebrew letter ‘chet’. Demoralized and dubious of our survival past it all, we were relieved by one of the heavy machine gun specialists showing us how quickly he could take apart and reassemble his weapon of choice. He had us race to a humvee across the yard and back to see who could try and do it themselves first. Since I was under the impression that I would also get to shoot the gun, I got there and back before he said go and without any help, managed to not even be able to shove off the first part. Everyone else got a crack at it, some more successful than others, and once our hunger for weapons was satisfied, our thirst for blood had to be quenched. So one of the medics had the machine gun specialist lay down while he drew blood from his left arm, just for our sick pleasure. I swear they do this kinda stuff for fun around the base. At long last it was dinner time, which was particularly special because we took a bunch of the soldiers out to Be’er Sheva’s food court in a shopping mall for pizza pies or shwarma (not both at once, of course). I’m pretty sure the ones that got pizza pies literally ate the whole pie themselves. When we asked them what they wanted, talking about food, one of the guys responded saying he wanted to go home. That one stuck with me. I sat with Adam and this soldier also named Ben for the bus ride to and from, learning that he’s really a musician that plays reggae style music with his bands and loves listening to Jack Johnson. He’s also quite the beat boxer. The men and one woman in military apparel were belting out Avril Lavigne songs and goofing off, elated with some time away from army life. the night out had me realize that these soldiers are really just people, kids actually like us that want to go home and live normal lives when their service is finally over. As I sit on this mattress about as thick as a hamburger seasoned with delousing powder, I reflect on this experience as a learning one, beyond all the fun we had with these good people. P.S. On a completely unrelated note, I still haven’t tried a Magnum Gold. I’ve heard legendary folklore about them so I’d like to taste the myth myself.