I’ve learned all the parts of an M-16 (M-shesh-esrei) in Hebrew. But I don’t think knowing the very specific pin name (pin petzil) that you need to extract in order to further deconstruct the weapon is going to help me after my army career. What will serve useful is the new tones I’ve been cultivating, using the words I already have and the new ones I have adopted. This new form of Hebrew is the difference between how Israelis use the language and how I was taught to use it in Jewish Day School.
In the middle of a storm, I throw my mattress on top of two friends’ cots. My cot is the focal point of a rain faucet. I watch as the ground beneath the metal frame of my bed fills with water from a hole in the sky of my tent that has yet to be mended.
Suddenly, amid this mild hysteria, a commander enters our tent. In his hand are two squeegees and in his eyes, annoyance.
“You wanted a squeegee?” he asks, harshly.
“No, but since you’re here…” is the general sentiment.
“If you want a squeegee, you can get up and come to the staff offices to get one.” He isn’t being helpful. He’s calling us lazy.
So I double down.
“Sorry, but there is a MASSIVE hole in our tent,” I tell him. “It was supposed to get fixed before the rain, but that obviously didn’t happen, and now I don’t have a BED. Everything is wet and there is a GAS LEAK in the tent. We need help. When are you going to help us?”
“Did you go to the staff office to ask for help?”
“We each went there MULTIPLE times and called and no one answered! That’s not okay. Living like this is not okay,” I told him.
He left with the squeegees, but I had the last word.
I needed my gun. I had put it away to contribute to the Zionist project at hand, which meant kitchen duty. My time was up and I was ready to go. So I asked for my gun back, lest I leave the kitchen without it.
“One sec,” I was told and then left to wait. After three minutes, I was told, “Your gun is locked. We don’t have the key.”
“What do you meant you don’t have the key?” I said.
“Do you have a note on your gun with your name on it?”
“No,” I said, pointing to the singular note-less gun with a green strap on the locked gun rack, “but that’s my gun.”
Again, I was left to wait. And wait. And wait. Until finally I was done waiting, on my own accord.
I asked when I would get my gun back.
“You need to come back with a note with your name and put it on your gun.”
I shook my head, “Okay, sure.”
I wasn’t going back to put a note on the gun that I knew was mine. I even knew the serial number. I instead asked for help elsewhere, where I was told not to worry – I’d get my gun back. The person with the key to the kitchen gun rack had just left base for a moment. My gun was in safe and sensible hands.
On the way back from Jerusalem, the platoon my immediate unit was traveling with had spread out. In the morning, my unit was told to squish, squeeze, and squirm to the back of the bus. But these girls weren’t told anything. They were scattered about, lounging and taking up rows of seats without any disregard for the eight of us from my unit who had earlier been voluntold to accommodate their platoon.
This wasn’t going to work for me.
“Hi, yeah, excuse me,” I smiled wide to a girl sitting next to my friend, “can I sit there? Thanks.”
I smiled extra wide.
Then, when the bus rules were read, I stood up from my seat and went over to inquire about this peculiar circumstance.
“Why is it that when we got on the bus this morning, we were told to squeeze, to leave no empty seat left behind. Yet now it seems like the other platoon wasn’t told the same thing. It seems like we’re not operating on the same level – like we don’t have the same standards.”
“Discipline is different in each platoon, Sophie,” I was told, “we can discuss this back on base.”
I nodded my head and sat back down.
My unit, and the two other units in my platoon, filled out feedback forms. For every point, we had to single out the pros and cons. For example: facilities, pro – hot water most of the time, con – muddy, other platoons were not as keen on cleanliness as us.
Once each individual unit had completed its form, we were given the opportunity to present our thoughts to a panel of higher-ups.
In the most Israeli way I didn’t even know was imaginable, when we had finished our feedback, the staff responded with defense, which is what I suppose the IDF does best.
Instead of hearing and really listening to our feedback, the panel essentially said, “Thank for your feedback, but here’s where YOU’RE wrong.”
It was incredible.
I got back from two weeks on base at 7 a.m. and the only thing on my mind was laundry. Yet when I arrived at my building, there was a golf cart-esque vehicle with a large wagon parked in the entrance to my home, RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE LAUNDRY MACHINES.
I couldn’t pass by. I could barely access the laundry machine. The outdoor couches had been arranged so that I couldn’t even enter the storage closet with the dryers.
Two hours later, when planning where and how to get hummus with friends (who were also peeved about the blocked laundry machines) the culprit of the scene arrived.
Friendly, he asked how we were doing.
I didn’t waste any time or tact and got straight to business: “Is that yours?” I pointed to the glaringly indiscreet vehicle.
“Yeah, I hope it’s okay with you guys – you know, with the rain, it’s a good place.”
“It’s not okay with us,” I began. “There’s no entrance to our homes or to the laundry machine.”
“So I’ll move it a bit away from the laundry. There is plenty of space.”
“No,” I said, “it needs to go. There’s no space – the couches and the entrance are OUR space and you need to move it.”
I was firm. Unfaltering. I had learned from the best. If you’re going to get into an argument, you double down. Beginning to master that in Hebrew might be a bigger take away than the pin petzil.