The bus dropped me off at 7:34 in the morning, in some nondescript area between Ramat Aviv and Ramat Hasharon. I walked toward a building, which looked more like a high school than an army base. I found my fellow Garin member and we approached the curious structure, entering a lobby of Israeli twelfth graders, nervously chatting and staring down at their Stan Smith’s/Fila’s/Air Force 1’s/Puma’s. I hadn’t gotten the memo that the dress code for the day was a white T-shirt (but not the type meant to be sweat in), black leggings, and a variation of the four interchangeable sneakers that currently the only socially acceptable footwear option among the youth. If it weren’t for this Day of the 100, how would I have ever known how to dress for future army-related testing?
We waited in the lobby, me sipping my barrel of tiramisu Master Café. Then, the mob of eager and nervous Israeli high school girls morphed into two lines, TZ’s at the ready. We entered two at time, and when it was my time to show my ID and my zimun, I told the non-soldiers running this affair that the army had not sent me an official summons.
“How can that be? How can you be here?” was the gist of what I was asked.
“Garin Tzabar,” I explained, to which they told me to take a seat.
So I sat, and then my friend sat, and then four Russian girls from the Russian Garin also sat. The Russian girls were young, but they were also nice, from what I could gather with our exchanged broken Hebrew.
Then I was called up, given back my TZ and handed a sticker with my name, a letter, and a number on it, in addition to the instructions to sit outside.
So I sat again, until what I recognized to be my group was called, ushered into a room. We sat down in chairs, our backpacks in a corner as an explanation of the day was shot out in rapid-fire Hebrew. I gleaned what I could, presuming that the thesis was to try your best and don’t stress (the former of which I decided to focus on).
Then it was time for the first test of many. We were given a list of topics, told to choose one and teach the group something that related to that topic. I narrowed my options down to teaching the group how to cook something or talking about some type of fashion. There was another option to teach the group something language related, but that seemed too obvious. Resorting to an English lesson wasn’t interesting and would likely have labeled me as “concrete” or “uncreative” to our observers.
So I selected the cooking.
I waited to jump in until four or so girls had taught the room how to do squats, thankful that I avoided what appeared to be the easy option of going for a physical activity lesson. With my inability to use all my words eloquently due to the early hour and my nerves, I attempted to engage the group and review how to make biscuits. It was bad. Very bad. But not as bad as the one Russian girl who chose to teach a few Russian words to the room. Or maybe it was worse than that. At least they couldn’t label me “concrete.”
We went back to the waiting area, and then my group was split, spliced with another group. With my new, seemingly temporary group, I went to another room, where we stacked the chairs out of their ח and sat down on the group. We chatted amongst ourselves, trying to guess what mind game was up next.
The moderators walked into the room and instructed us to identify an Israeli demographic with a social problem. Then, as a group, we had to choose the best example to proceed with. Mine was עולים חדשים, which I shared with another girl. Yet the population that we ended up with was יתומים, which I could not for the life of me figure out for the first eight minutes of the activity.
We had to create a solution, plan it out, and then build it with a box of blocks that suddenly materialized.
As we planned and began to build a structure of sorts, I realized that we were building a home for children. But not just regular children – no, we were building a home for children without הורים aka ORPHANS! It clicked. I built. We were told to be silent, save for the two selected as the engineers who could only direct but not build. By the end, we had a house of sorts, complete with an outdoor playground.
Then came my time to thrive. To present this orphan home, we had to come up with a פרסומת. Having my handy degree in writing emails and social media captions, coming up with a slogan (in Hebrew) for this orphan home was no problem.
“אין הורים, אבל יש חיים,” said I, the new immigrant.
The high school girls were floored.
“Yes, that’s good!” one exclaimed in Hebrew.
“And we can call it בית חיים,” I suggested.
Those two comments were it. I had contributed in a seemingly constructive way, which I was hoping the moderators noted as they scrawled away in their observations.
We presented and I spoke more than some of the shyer Israeli girls. I couldn’t teach a group how to make biscuits, but I could do pithy advertisements, no problem.
Then came the cog. In another room, with my OG group, at individual desks, backs to each other, with an object covered by a cloth, we were given time constraints and instructions: uncover the object, observe it, take it apart, put the parts into a box, and then rebuild it.
There was a cog in the middle that caused the mechanism to move. When it was go time, I demolished and then recreated the machine, with nearly three minutes left on the clock.
When time was called and I glanced over at my peers, I was surprised to find that not all of them had completed the task. The girl next to me had come close, but there were a few pieces out of place. There was even one girl that had all of her materials still in the box with an empty board in front of her.
The observer came up to me and asked, “How does it work?”
I demonstrated and told her that the circle part moved the other parts. I built it, but as I looked around the room I noticed that other girls in my group were left with full boxes and empty boards.
The expression and application of different types of knowledge is quite a curious thing.
What was also curious was when we were given black and white T-shirts to put over our own shirts, in addition to new name tags with numbers, placed on our backs. We followed the instructors down to the basement of the building, into what looked like a concrete bomb shelter with an assortment of sand and what I can only describe as כלי-team building scattered throughout the space.
This was a timed activity. We were meant to work together to complete the tasks, one individual holding a water jug all the whole. So we began, crawling (a weakness of mine I have discovered since moving to Israel) on mats and dug marbles out of sand and packed sacks with sand and arranged them on the ground according to a map and used wooden planks to cross between the planks. We finished in 14 minutes, which was apparently okay.
When we were done, we stripped off our black and white tees and put them in a laundry bin. Then it was lunch time.
I sat in the waiting area, on my phone, with my fruit and rice cakes. The Russians emerged. My garin member emerged. We figured out there were sandwiches provided, so I grabbed a Bulgarian cheese one before I followed my group in a tundraic computer room.
As we sat in the room, freezing, I thought, “Yes, it is finally time for the computer test!”
But alas, I was incorrect.
Instead of being set up on a computer for the infamous 2-hour test, we were instead given sheets of paper at random to read. There were two perspectives of the topic presented and our main task was to convey the information to the group.
I was so unbelievably lucky with my piece of paper, as it wasn’t something theoretical or complicated like some of the other girls got. The immigrant was granted the argument for and against homework. Ahhhhhh. The bliss of comprehension.
Then began the presentations. I went in the middle, strategic to not go first or last and hopefully blend in as the stream of girls went on.
Most girls did better than me, despite my best efforts at engaging the room with the simple questions, “Who gets homework? Who likes homework?”
The one standout girl was the Russian, who waited until the end to explain that she didn’t understand her topic. She opted out of presenting. This undoubtedly only reflected positively on the other new immigrant in the room, namely me. I felt bad for the Russian, but glad that I had tried.
Then some of the girls left to do the building activity, while I remained in the icebox computer room with some other girls and the observers. We sat opposite an observer as she handed us a scenario and told us to pacify her, as she would be the plaintiff in the scene.
My first situation was to calm an enraged gym member who was upset that the gym was closed. This was another lucky break, as I told the observer after the scenario paralleled my last job that consisted heavily of consoling distraught gym goers.
The second situation was trying to tactfully tell a student that the volleyball captainship had been given to another girl. This one was slightly harder, but I think I did okay.
After both rounds I was asked if I would have changed anything about my reaction.
I returned to the waiting room, where instructions for the computer test were finally given.
After eating my Bulgarian cheese sandwich, I was ready.
I entered a different computer room with carousels and girls staring intently at screens. Then began a 2-hour blur. I took tests with charts and finding mistakes and answering questions and some simulation related to weather or an earthquake and I even had to troubleshoot a mock computer program. All of these were terribly difficult, as the instructions and the questions were all in Hebrew. Even the computer programming that involved English words and letters (and a manual) was still presented in Hebrew. Yet one of the hardest tests was staring at a black screen as it blinked different colored shapes. I was supposed to only press the space bar when the red square flashed across the screen. In my fatigue I thought that the word for square referred to all shapes, so I began clicking for every flicker of red. About two minutes in I had a hunch I was doing the activity incorrectly. I reread the instructions. Then it was just squares until the end.
The computer test killed me. The entire day killed me. My brain was fried and I realize as I conclude this post that even my memory was fried. This event happened over a month ago, yet I’m not writing about it until now because even thinking about the day of one hundred gives me a headache. But it’s over. I got my scores. I didn’t do well, but I didn’t do terribly. I’ll take it. I’ll also take my job, which I recently received. Foreign relations, y’all. And to think, I got that without knowing what a square was.