During my months at Mikveh Alon, one of the greatest feelings was when I got up at 3:45am, did two hours of mindless work, then boarded the bus at 6:00 to go home. I always like to wear my Aleph uniform; donning it brings tidings of good things to come. But the euphoria of surviving another week at Mikveh paled in comparison to how I feel when I button the Tzanchanim Aleph uniform, leave it untucked, wrap the belt around the lower pockets to hug against my waist, and roll up my sleeves to complete the kravi look. As I gaze outside the bus window on Friday morning, watching the landscape of southern Israel pass by, seeing it for the first time, listening to new Israeli music on my iPod, I feel as I’ve never felt before: prideful, determined, alive! My personal struggles that come with living 6,000 miles from family and friends barely make a ripple in the sea of thoughts that race through my mind. The conviction in my decisions and actions are rectified and reinforced. Second thoughts are pushed away and I join other lone soldiers in a few moments of ecstasy, as we are truly realizing a dream. Unfortunately, truth be told, these grand and glorious thoughts were far and removed during my first week at the Tzanchanim base. Because I elected not to go out for the gibbush to get into one of Tzanchanim’s sayerets or other elite units such as Duvdevan, I spent my first official week as a paratrooper picking weeds and doing other manual labor. But still, I tried to make it interesting. Even as I bent down to swing my military shovel into the soft, damp earth, uprooting the two hundred and forty-eighth weed, I tried to envision myself as one of the early Jewish, Zionist settlers, building this country literally from the ground up; turning a sparsely populated and barren land into a fruitful place flowing with milk and honey. I was a father, toiling amidst the difficult terrain of Gush Etzion, battling earthen mounds filled with rocks and boulders, intense winters and Arab bandits, willing and working for a future for my family. I was a son, learning the principles of Judaism and the meaning of this land for my people, going outside to play during a break and wanting to get my hands dirty, to feel the ground, hold a fistful in my hand and let it sprinkle through my fingertips, creating a waterfall of holy soil, beginning to understand my people’s connection to this country. I was a brother, defending this land that my family had worked for generations, feeling it incumbent upon myself to beat my sword into a plowshare, setting aside the arms of iron and steel for the arms of wood and human muscle and sinew, working by the sweat of my brow and not by the blood of my enemy. The rockets raining down on southern Israel; the isolated packages that explode in Jerusalem; the families murdered as they honor the Sabbath, are all reminders of the dangers people in Israel—Jews, Arabs, Israelis, tourists—face. The Grad rocket fired indiscriminately from Gaza chooses targets indiscriminately in Israel. But the rapid response to Haiti, the open arm extended to Japan, the free heart treatments offered to children in the Arab world, are all reminders of the true beauty of all that is Israel. I received my own introduction into the multiple dimensions of the Israeli spirit. One evening this week after dinner, a few of us were in our room on break when we heard the news of the rocket attacks. I’ve asked Israelis before of their views on these terrorist tactics. But this time, I’m in the military and any hawkish response bears with it the assumption that it will be me on the front lines in the next conflict. I asked my eighteen-year old Sabra friends if, when a rocket falls on their homes, they want to go to Gaza and break someone’s door down and shove a gun in their face. The responses were mixed: “Yes, every time;” “No, I don’t want conflict, but will serve as needed;” and everything in between. But the most clear-headed and agreed-upon response was as follows: “Of course we want to defend our homes and fight back, but not right now. Now we need to be trained so in eight months we’ll be the best fighters we can be.”If what you read here piques your interest, you have questions about the IDF or how to join, or you simply just want to know more, please visit my blog at fromUSAtoIDF.blogspot.com, where I write weekly updates on my experiences.