The Israeli army has the responsibility of protecting the Jewish state, the only one of its kind in the world. We are surrounded by more than 20 Arab nations, and the job of protecting Israel isn’t an easy one. Today, as has happened every day for the last few weeks, rockets were shot at our civilian cities. Today a young boy died of wounds he received last week in such an attack and again thousands of people went running for shelter when the “Color Red” warning siren sounded. Civilians have all of 15 seconds to run for shelter. The army is trying to defend against these attacks, but it is not a simple matter to find these launch sites.
Soon enough, Elie will be sent out to defend. For now, we are in a “safe” period, where we worry about things like sunburn, dehydration, and perhaps a training accident. Soon enough, we’ll have other things on our minds.
Elie is almost finished with basic training. The good news is that he has learned that August will be spent not at the current base deep in the Negev desert, but up north, at another known artillery training camp. August in Israel consists of what seems like endless days of heat, so it will be nice to know he is in the north where it is, relatively, cooler.
In the meantime, Elie has grown a beard. Many religious men grow beards for religious reasons. The army is very considerate when it comes to matters of religion – all religions. At the ceremony where they hand each soldier a copy of the Bible, Muslim volunteers (Druze, Bedouin, for example) are handed the Koran. All food that is served on Elie’s base is kosher and Elie’s unit, which consists mainly of religious soldiers actually gets the “super” kosher (glatt) food that most would normally eat at home.
During basic training, soldiers must shave every day – unless they are not shaving for religious reasons. So, each soldier goes to the base rabbi and gets a “permit” to grow a beard. Elie hasn’t gotten his permit yet, but he has grown a beard. In actuality, another incentive, Elie explained, is that they are given 5 minutes to shave in the morning. By not having to shave, Elie saves those precious 5 minutes.
One thing the army has taught Elie is to be incredibly aware of time. He goes to bed early when he is home (a reflection of his getting only 6 hours of sleep a night – and often those 6 hours start at 10 p.m.). Elie gets exactly 8 minutes to accomplish one task (I don’t remember which one), 5 minutes or ten minutes or some other interval, at various times. He has 4 minutes to get into bed after standing at attention so his commanding officer can wish them all a good night. That’s after the exactly 60 minutes of “free time” he is given at the end of the day’s training. He has 20 minutes to eat breakfast, 40 minutes for the morning prayer service, etc. etc.
Another thing that I’ve learned about the army is that colors count. You can tell so much about the soldiers simply by examining their uniforms. Elie’s boots are black – artillery and several other divisions wear black boots. They sets them apart from the brown boots warn by the paratroopers and several other divisions. I find myself staring at soldiers’ feet more and more. Next comes the beret. Each division has a different color; basic training is army green.
Today was Elie’s English birthday. He was born on the 3rd day of the Jewish month of Sivan. On this day, I sent him a package (see: Happy Birthday, Elie), which 20 years ago, fell on May 31. Amazingly enough, the army released his unit today (Thurs. May 31) instead of the more typical Friday release. Elie came home in the afternoon and volunteered to do the weekly shopping. While he was out, I quickly baked a birthday cake and dinner, and he came home to a house of balloons and dinner (and dear friends/family came over later to add to the celebration).
Elie spent a week in the center of the country, at a “retreat” where they had classes and took some local trips. They ate above a restaurant and had their choice of meals. In some ways, it gives them a break, just in time for this coming week’s adventure. When Elie returns to base on Sunday, he and his unit will be “tested” under close-to-war conditions. He’ll get less sleep, be more active. The “supply” lines will be cut so they will eat their army rations and they’ll camp out again in the desert. For now, though, that is days away and as we have already learned, with the army, you take it day by day. Today, tonight, Elie is once again home and safe. He’ll spend the next two days with his family. It’s enough for now.