As each soldier leaves the Israeli army, the division and the unit do something for them. They get monetary benefits to see them into the next phase of their lives (more on that when Elie actually gets out and I learn what they are); they get courses that help them learn skills, they get backpacks and hats and scarves and gloves, shampoo and personal hygienic kits, and they get honors in society. Forever, God willing, Elie will be labeled as an artillery soldier, a commander at that.
They go through life, these soldiers of Israel, meeting others and with a word “artillery”, “paratroopers”, “pilot”, “Navy”, “tanks”…with a single word they tell something about themselves. That is for the future, to a place we haven’t yet gotten, so I’ll focus on now, on this week, when Elie received a gift from the army.
I can’t say what other divisions do; I can barely say what artillery does or will do. They gave him the gift of a vacation with several other artillery soldiers who will also be leaving in the coming months. Elie had the itinerary, kept “secret” from the others. It was to begin on Sunday morning in the northern city of Afula. Meet the bus, surrender yourself for fun.
Don’t come in army uniforms – this is about you. They had (all but Elie and another commander) checked their guns back into the army. It isn’t hard to look at Elie, even when he isn’t in uniform, to know that he is a soldier. It’s in the short hair, the body toned by years of exercise. But it’s also there in the way he walks, the way he listens, the way he watches. Security is always an issue for Israel, even when you are on vacation. Elie would go armed, magazine in the gun, ready. It is another reality he lives with.
It was to be two days of hiking, bowling, going on tours of local points of interest, going to some historical sites. Sunday was fine, even great. They bowled Sunday night. I have to remember to ask Elie how he did.
Monday dawned incredibly cold and nasty. Record rainfall. In Jerusalem, I watched as the rain fell steadily in Israel, something it rarely does. All day, sometimes harder, sometimes less. Sometimes thunder, always wet. In Israel, winter and summer come with a vengeance and Monday was a fine example. There was even talk of snow on the highest levels of Mr. Hermon.
They made it to the first historical site and had a tour before the rains reached way up north, but then the skies opened. There would be no touring, no hiking for the rest of this second day. And this is where the “Israeli” comes into “Israeli army”. They called the battalion commander to inform him that there was not much they could do. The battalion commander made a single phone call and within minutes, Elie and the others were off to a local country club, there to swim in heated waters, use the gym, and relax.
It was a gift, a break, a wonderful day. It was a thank you from a land so grateful to soldiers so loved.