Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Notes from the Front

Natan has been inducted into the IDF. Actually, he's in basic training, I'm not sure the induction is official until after they've mustered him into shape for a few weeks.

Day One - Oct 22nd. We deliver Natan to Givat Hatachmoshet/Ammunition Hill in French Hill. After checking in and shouldering heavy backpack laden with all sorts of things from freshly baked cookies from local female friend to toiletries and stuff that seems critical to sustain life (i.e. copy of Anne of Avonlea, retainer - thank you Joy Hudecz, notebook to note experiences), we're told that Natan is missing some of his 'mismachim rifu'im'/doctor related papers. We know this because the holidays made it hard to get this kind of stuff done. Nobody was around, nobody was covering. Do not get sick during the holidays if at all possible.

We take Natan to the Induction Office in J'lem. He waits inside while we wait outside wondering what's next. He sees the Head Doctor. She shuffles through his papers, musing over his most recent asthma test which wasn't as great as the one's previously. She doesn't know what to do and the doctor who saw him (this was the 3rd doctor but who's counting) is away until the end of the month. She comments that it's not his fault that nobody's been around and after a few more head-scratching moments, says, 'okay, we'll lower the profile.' It's been a long haul of trying to work this all out and have Natan be at the 64 level based on vision and asthma issues. Now, he's a 'jobnik' with no 'kravi'/combat status. More jobs that might be of interest to him and that would offer better ways for the army to use Natan (in my opinion) are now open to him. Question is, can he get to them this late in the game? Don't know. May not know until after basic training. One huge step for us though.

Texts from Natan
1. Processing...bounced around some offices. Waiting to hear what I have to do. Told them that doctor is away, etc. Seems like I'm seeing head doctor, where are you?

We hug him again and leave him there for the next part of his journey, the trip to Tel Ha'shomer and 'Bakum'/בסיס קליטה ומיון. Natan later reported that he was escorted by an army guy, along with some other strays such as himself to Bakum and I'll leave him to one day tell the story of his walk through the various stations - you stop here, go there, get x-rayed here, sized up there. Arlo Guthrie puts it best...'you walk in, you get injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected.'

Some text messages from the day:
1. Moving through. At vaccinations. (Yes, yes, they shot him up. Let's not talk about it).
2. Ok, so I think I have 3 weeks in some course for olim and THEN basic training. I'll be in touch, phone off. (This order ended up being changed by the next 'קצין מיון'/Interview Officer that Natan saw who decided that his Hebrew was fine enough for him to go straight on to basic training.)
3. Done being processed. Wearing uniform. Waiting for something. I think a bus to a base. (In the end, he came home that night - the 2 lower indoor pics of him - and went back and finished processing on Thursday, came home again and hung around the house through Shabbat and went officially back in on Sunday.)
From Thursday, Day #2 at Bakum.
1. Been waiting all day, ugh.
2. Waiting for bus.
3. Still waiting for **** bus. (The life of a soldier.)

Sunday AM, he hauled himself out of bed early and nervously left the house. He met up with this nice Argentinean guy whom he had met the previous week at Bakum and they traveled together back to Bakum. Natan would otherwise still be lost looking for where he's going. He joined a group of guys at Bakum - 'פלוגת ממתינים,' translation, 'waiting group' and waited for some hourse (we're told this is normal for Bakum) until being put on a bus to his new base, Nitzanim, down near Ashkelon, right near the beach - one of our favorites, site of a lovely campfire and potato roast that Akiva still speaks of fondly, last fall.

Text Message.
1. Yes, but I won't need it. (In response to Ira's query if he had $. You ride for free in green in these parts.)
2. Haven't gone anywhere yet. Waiting.
3. Done waiting. On bus to Nitzanim. Phone off. Love you.

We continued to hear from him in bits and pieces over the week when he had a minute and permission to use the phone. He was kvetchy at the beginning of the week - the weather had turned cold and rainy and life in the tent was somewhat damp, to say the least. Natan is not in the 'asthmatics tent' as he said that it's too close to the smoking area and that wouldn't be fun. He does have a 'פטור/exemption from certain physical activities. He can be made to run around stupidly but not too quickly. They all stand very long periods of time in various formations, the favorite being in the shape of the letter 'ח'/U shape. He received his gun - no, Robert Henoch told us it's not a gun, it's a weapon or an M16. Regardless, it's just too big and too much 'gun' for me. He's had some firing practice which remarkably he's been good at. Thank you to Iris and Steve and target practice up in the country.

We find out he's not coming home for his first Shabbat. A blow. Friday at 10:40AM, he calls. He's allowed visitors today. Not sure when. He thinks in the afternoon. 'Natan,' we say gently, 'Shabbat starts in the afteroon.' He'll find out. He calls back and tells us that he's allowed visitors on Friday because we can't come on Shabbat - never mind the 1.25 hours it takes to drive back and forth and making Shabbat. The army isn't so mindful of these matters. Then it turns out he has guard duty from 12-2pm. That means about 30 minutes with him after 2. We run out and do our errands in record time. Buy food for the soldier - bagels (we are Americans after all, can't just buy bourekas), spreads, fruit, cookies (no time to home bake something). Cancel my Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat davening gig at Shira Hadasha. Leave Gabe in charge of Friday afternoon prep, Akiva and setting up shul (his week to do so). Drive to Ashkelon with Ira. A lovely drive starting with the West Bank Tunnels and out through Beitar Ilit but then back through the roadblock and past Tzur Hadassah and down through the Lachish valley, past the Beit Guvrin Caves and further, heading towards Kiryat Gat. We call Michael and get the most up-to-date directions - the fastest and most direct method. We cross over various roads and eventually approach the beach, passing a new community for evacuees from Gush Katif communities in 2007 - many still living in temporary communities. We find the base and park. Inquire how to enter - we can't. Must wait for our guy to come and get us. Our guy doesn't answer his phone. We wait in the shockingly delightful non-Jerusalem heat. We drink our water, chew our fingernails and read The New Yorker. Finally, he calls. He was delayed. We're escorted in to the 'פינת ביקור'/visiting area. We wait. Suddenly, we see him trotting towards us. Huzzah!
We hug - ah....sit and eat, laugh, take a few pics (the images outside) as he regales us with stories and tells us what the yells that we hear in the background are essentially all variations on Yessir/כן, המפקד!

Much like visiting someone in camp, within a short amount of time the visitee is done - ready to return to their life on the inside and you the outsider go wistfully away. In our case, we rushed home at a breakneak pace, making it home...barely.

As for observance in the army. It's a good thing. Allowed 45 min davening time in the AM, which all say is good for charging your phone in the shul building - no plugs in tent - and dozing off during ישתבח. Then there's the moments you get pulled into מנחה - Natan said everyone was a higher rank than he.

Natan's report on Shabbat.
5. Shabbat was nice. Going up north tomorrow. Will be in touch. (Gosh, we think, a trip. You always see recruits out and about, especially on Sundays which appears to be travel day. A little treat after being on the base during the weekend, Benjy tell us. Also, they do try to make Shabbat restful, with more pleasant meals, time for shul and a bit of rest time in between guard duties. No standing in formation.)
6. So, after being a guy who couldn't move his legs, I'm not lying on a stretcher in the middle of a hospital tent. Some targil/exercise up here. (Turns out Natan is part of a huge military exercise and being the raw newbie that he is, as well as being a good size, he's immediately useful as faux injured person. He claims that Gabe Ashkenazi, the רמתכ"ל/head of the army is there but hasn't seen him yet. He asks around for his coz Adam, as he sees lots of Tzanchanim/Paratroopers but nobody knows Adam. Then he remembers that if they're in basic training like him, they may not know the name of their מפקד - 'he who must not be named.')
7. Was just taken in helicopter. Really cool. ttyl. (Wow! Definitely fun.)

Haven't heard from him since but texted him about the election. He at least had moved on from his initial Libertarian stance and support of Ron Paul.

There you have it. Natan in the army. He'll be home this week. Let the cooking and laundry begin.

1 comment:

Jay Brodsky said...

Hi Beth,

Just catching up on a few recent posts. Lotsa good stuff, can't decide which is more shocking, Natan with a "weapon" slung over his shoulder or how big Akiva's gotten (I forget that we haven't seen him in 2+ years). All in all though, I'm glad you've resumed your posts, which help us stay connected...