To all of our friends:
James Goldberg was both a Camp Monroe camper and counselor. In the summer of 2013, after his senior year in high school, he joined a program in the Israel. James was a star at Camp Monroe and we are so proud of him. He wrote this piece which is so appropriate for Israel Independence Day. It moved me to heartfelt pride and tears. James gave me permission to share it with our Camp Monroe Family.
May 5, 2014
It’s tough to imagine experiencing Israel with just 2 free shabbatot a month. I haven’t gone on a tiyul or yam l’yam. I haven’t lost myself in halakhic texts or even on the way to a club in Tel Aviv. I haven’t found spiritual enlightenment or the perfect falafel joint. Most of the time I’m in or around my base and when I’m not, I’m usually walking. We walk for days, sometimes weeks, with minimal sleep, meager combat rations, no phones, and no showers or “facilities.” We walk over mountains, through deserts, across streams. We schlep and schlep for miles and miles. We sleep in bushes, unable to take off our vests or helmets. We don’t undress, take off our boots or gear, or change our undergarments. Not very glamorous. Truth is, I could not imagine a better way to experience what it means to be part of Am Yisrael.
After graduating Ramaz, I enlisted in the IDF and was selected for the Paratroopers Brigade. After enlistment, but before tryouts and selection, all olim chadashim are placed on an absorption base for 3 weeks. I remember my first Shabbat there with the other newly enlisted soldiers: singing zmirot with our guns slung over our shoulders, berets on our heads, dress uniforms still stiff and creased from the enlistment office packaging. We sang with our arms around each other –American, Ethiopian, French, British, Brazilian; we barely knew each other but we were brothers. Israeli Soldiers. The unity felt here is indescribable.
Basic training in the IDF is a uniquely Israeli experience. Only in the Israeli army is calling your mother at least 3 times a week a command. Only here, the officers are young enough to have been in high school with you. And certainly only here do days of backbreaking drills pause for 25 magical hours of Shabbat.
But it’s not always so easy to appreciate the work; it’s not romantic, it’s grueling. And that, in itself, is part of the Israeli experience. It’s difficult to keep high morale on 20-hour workdays. It’s tough to love the land while carrying over 60lbs on your back across her mountains. In the IDF, you have two choices to get through it; you can see how little you can get away with or how much you can contribute. Last week I finished a 40km (25 mile) march carrying 30% body weight. I could have simply pushed myself and held through it. But what about the machine gunner in front of me carrying 40% body weight? The only thing to do? Run up front, grab his hand and pull him forward.
My position in the machlaka (34 soldiers) is lead marksman. This designation includes small-scale reconnaissance, navigation, and most important, the ability to neutralize distant targets with high precision and accuracy. If I go on through Snipers’ Course, I will likely be required to add to my time commitment here. Even as I want it to end, I find ways to extend it.
I find the best way to deal with the work is to take on more, find a way to be a better soldier, a better Jew, a better Zionist. People always ask me if I’m enjoying it here. The truth is: not really. Enjoyment isn’t the right context for it and it surely isn’t why I came here but I know I couldn’t be happier anywhere else.
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