And I’m back to write about my experiences. Sorry for the few months’ hiatus, but now I will continue to share with you what life is like as a lone soldier in the Israel Defense Force.
Though I am a lone soldier—meaning my parents do not live in Israel—I still have family here. Last summer, I reconnected with a distant cousin who lives in Tel Aviv with his wife and kids. I told him of my plans to join the IDF and his immediate response was for me to come stay with them for as long as I needed, no questions asked. From my arrival in November, I lived with him, his wife and their three young daughters.
About two months ago, I moved to a kibbutz near Hadera. For one thing, I really enjoy the privacy and quiet I have with my own apartment. Although roosters have replaced kids screaming in the morning, I can nap when I want without disturbance, sit quietly, read peacefully, or write in solitude. It’s quite a relief.
But I still have Tel Aviv as a center of familial support and a base to come back to whenever I need. For example, during our Pesach break, I was given two days off instead of the one for Israelis because, as a Diaspora Jew, I observe a two day “yontif” (Ashkenaz for “yom tov”). I quickly learned how to make use of Israel’s public transportation systems while in uniform.
I planned to spend the yontif with a friend at a yeshivah in Jerusalem. That Sunday, a day before Pesach, Tzanchanim met at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem to learn about its history and importance for our unit. After we were released, I received a phone call from a friend in Tel Aviv who wanted to go out that night. I hopped on a bus to Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station, took another one to Tel Aviv, and walked the fifteen minutes from the bus station to my cousins’ apartment. One hour and twenty minutes. Took a quick nap, changed clothes and had a great night out. The next morning, the same trip in reverse, back to the yeshivah.
There have been other times since then that I have relied heavily on my cousins’ apartment. For Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, I stayed in Tel Aviv and was able to travel, again by bus or train, to different locations in the area, seeing friends, going to the beach, etc. I have a great apartment at my kibbutz but sometimes I just miss the city, miss the beach, miss the excitement and energy of the life there, and miss my friends in Herzeliyah or Petah Tikvah who I don’t see as much anymore when I’m on my kibbutz.
I had a great experience on Yom Hazikaron. I, along with many of the newly drafted soldiers, was assigned a grave to stand next to in honor of the deceased when the siren sounded in the morning. My cousin drove me to the cemetery and helped me find the fallen soldier. He was nineteen years old when he fell in 1973. Surely none of his family would come on this day, nearly forty years later.
I stood by his grave and gradually his entire family, which included four generations, came to pay their respects. They held a brief memorial prayer service, which was difficult to follow in their heavy Yemenite accent, and then the siren sounded.
I looked around the cemetery and not a single person moved. Most people had their heads bowed, the soldiers had our berets on our heads, a few individuals looked upwards and would say a few words. I could see the streets outside the cemetery and not a single car moved. Not a single person walked down the street. There was nothing but stillness, the siren, and the thoughts of the sacrifice it takes to protect this country and this nation.