I am a bull in a China shop when I speak Hebrew. It’s only fitting for a Taurus to thrash through a second language, ramming by and not thinking twice about the shattered shards of grammar and correct pronunciation that suffer. Perhaps the bull doesn’t mind because it is only a bull, not responsible for the repercussions of entering a China shop. Like, the bull is in a China shop, what do you expect it to do? Linger silently without moving? It is in its nature to smash porcelain when presented the opportunity.
As the Taurus, I also cannot stand still. I must move and speak and occasionally butcher the language without much care. When the other option is silence, what do you expect me to do? I push through strings of words with confidence, self aware that I am breaking China, yes, but I am also doing what I do best: communicating, regardless of how messy the outcome.
While my Hebrew is more refined than my bull’s self restraint, I am unabashed, unfazed by my mistakes. I self correct as I speak, acknowledging my weaknesses but powering through nonetheless. Uncertainty does not inhibit me from speaking. I speak, well, and sometimes a little China breaks while I’m at it.
To the child sitting next to me on the bus from Jerusalem proper to pakmaz: I am sorry that my phone activity is so mundane. I know that you were expecting an interesting adult—especially a soldier—who browsed through newsfeeds with photos and videos. Yet you had the distinct misfortune of sitting next to me and for that I am truly sorry. Though I began by navigating through Instagram, when I realized I had an audience I shifted my attention to something less random. Words are boring, yes, I know, even if there are flashy colors and graphics a la Words with Friends, yet I couldn’t even keep to that as I now find myself creating words on WordPress and not within the confines of a game. There isn’t anything interesting about black and white foreign characters. Your best bet now is to pay attention to the dog in the cart. I promise it’s vastly more interesting than anything I’ll do on my phone.
The lady at Cofix kept responding to me in English. That hasn’t happened in a while. I also haven’t been in Jerusalem as a civilian in a while.
The bus driver waited for me and then held my espresso as I sifted through my wallet for my rav kav.
“What do you want?” he asked a frazzled soldier without the command of a uniform.
“My rav kav,” I replied.
“I also want my espresso.”
“That’s also important.”
On the way back from the Old City, after fleeing (I was thinking of a synonym for escaping until I realized it wasn’t a synonym—I was reaching for the Hebrew word) a man trying to charge 65 shekels for rosaries and subsequently discovering that I had lost my credit card (again…oops), we saw two young men approaching.
“They’re American,” I commented.
“Ya think?” said Anaelle. “Obviously. What tipped you off?”
It was the tie dye and the hubris for me. It was the haircuts for Anaelle.
The topic of my Americanness surfaced. I didn’t look overtly American. Not with my ironic Adika tee that said “toxic love” (it’s only funny to me) nor my Blundstone’s and skinny jeans. Not even my Vermont cow socks screamed American. It’s interesting to consider how I no longer feel the need to externally express my Israeliness, as if proving it to myself through my clothes. Granted, I mostly wear olive in public, which is unmistakably Israeli. But as a civilian, I don’t cling to wardrobe staples purchased in the land or ones that explicitly denote my love for the land. I just get dressed, and I am Israeli.
Today I went to the bank to ensure that I ordered the correct replacement card. I arrived before the bank opened, yet somehow I waited 25 minutes before speaking to someone because business accounts take precedent, apparently. 25 was my tipping point as another business man was called who had arrived 20 minutes after me. I approached the counter and explained, listen, I am a lone soldier and I lost my card yesterday. No, I don’t need you to give me the replacement, I know that I ordered it only yesterday. I need you to check what I ordered, when it will arrive, and give me money because I’m a lone soldier and I’m not interested in using my American card that charges 3% on international transactions. Ugh.
I recently presented a paper I wrote on the topic of military diplomacy. It was for an essay-writing competition within my unit, because unlike normal combat units, we don’t just krav maga until defeat. The prompt was vague, instructing participants to write about something military diplomacy-related, drawing on personal experiences but ensuring that the piece was unclassified. That last bit perplexed me as I mused about how to discuss my experience with military diplomacy in an unclassified way when all my experiences are classified. The irony and the ambiguity eased me into an army headspace, not to be confused by one of academia or clarity.
I wondered how I could create something so majestically vague that it would do this competition justice. There was a rubric, after all. It included nice things like organization and structure, effectiveness of argument, logic of argument, and grammar (with subcategories like an interesting opening, professional language, and transitions). From what I understood, a professor in the field would judge, so I had to think hard. I thought and I thought and I thought and then I thought of the perfect essay topic:
Fabulously vague yet with a hint of relevance that perhaps could pique attention away from the words for words’ sake.
In the past ten or so years of my writing career, when faced with developing a thesis I have mostly managed to steer clear entirely. It’s a talent, I know. But writing around a thesis is one of the things I’m best at. When the writing dazzles and tiptoes in the direction of a declarative statement, that’s when you know you’re in the clear – no thesis needed. Thus in true Sophie fashion, the closest thing that could be perceived as a thesis in this entire 9-page testament to my writing faculties whittles down to,
The definition of military diplomacy must be reexamined, yet this revision is not a delay in progress, but rather an optimistic step toward a more collaborative future.
Reexamining a definition? Like turning to a dictionary and adding slang that has pulsed its way into a collective vernacular? An optimistic step? My gosh, I outdid myself.
Though the writing of my paper entertains me to bits, I did use academic sources, all the buzzwords, and perfect punctuation. This was for a competition, after all. Nevertheless, here are some of my sentences that best question the academic soundness of the piece:
The only way is forward (and two meters apart).
expanding one’s Rolodex of contacts is strategic and essential.
the viral enemy thrives in movement.
While an active duty soldier may be perceived as biased
It is a malleable art form, being cast in the kiln again and again, each time producing something unique from its previous form.
Just remember to smile—you’re on camera!
My amusement side, the paper exists and would earn me a solid B+/A- in an Intro to International Relations course at the collegiate level.
I also created an accompanying minimalistic, professional, and pretty (if I do say so myself) presentation:
I presented my presentation in place of my paper. 5 minutes. Simple. Unclassified. Blissfully vague.
I sat through nearly 2 hours of others’ presentations that less simple and unclassified and vague. How, I wondered, could topics so specific be deemed appropriate when I can’t even talk about who I made coffee for last week*? (*Note: I was home last week, but figuratively speaking). Barthes declared the author dead, yet for some reason personal experience was still present in these presentations.
Perhaps I missed point. More than perhaps, my attention also wavered when all but two (excluding my own) presentations were in Hebrew. In retrospect, I could have also written a media analysis of military diplomacy coverage for a specific state. Regardless, my fate is sealed and the results aren’t in. I just hope my paper was vague enough to do all my past professors proud.
I welcomed in Yom Kippur with shrimp, caviar, and corona; essentially beginning the holiday by creating new sins to atone for. Dinner started at 20:00, an hour after the fast was due to start, thereby declaratively sealing my decision to eat this year.
When I arrived to dinner, I was told, “There’s corona in the freezer,” which sounded even more confusing in Hebrew, as I did the mental math, wondering why corona wasn’t also in the fridge and coming to the conclusion that it was the beer, not the pandemic, that sought refuge in the freezer. I took a corona from the freezer, more for the novelty and irony of it than for the taste. (I seldom drink beer – especially with a percentage as low as 4.5).
Food was salads and shrimp(s) pasta and buttered bread with orange caviar. It was a seemingly random assortment of dishes, albeit yummy.
There were barking dogs, dancing 8-year-old girls, hand-rolled cigarettes, fruit, sorbet, cinnamon-esque buns, all topped off with Bailey’s for dessert.
This was how my fourth Yom Kippur in Israel began, differing tremendously from the last three:
#1 – (Jerusalem, 2014) Shul hopping throughout the city, hours spent in Independence Park, and a Dutch tour group spotting with headsets and a guide. Holy, and a successful fast to my memory.
#2 (Tel Aviv, 2018) Oy. 40 minute walk to Tel Baruch beach to tan, then followed by a grueling trek back in all my sun-fried delusion. 3.5 mile walk to Rabin Square to top off the fast, almost fainting on the way. (Seeing bikers on the empty Ayalon made the journey bearable).
#3 (Erez, 2019) Spent in the same place as this year, midway through felt weak, faint, had to break the fast in the early afternoon with Oatmeal Squares. Came to the revelation that maybe I shouldn’t fast. More than shouldn’t, I couldn’t fast. I can’t fast.
#4 (Erez, 2020) Slept until noon. Ate, but not enough. Didn’t use my computer or watch Netflix. Still managed to feel gutted by the end of the day.
I certainly haven’t run the gamut of Israeli Yom Kippurs, but as my experiences have slanted secular, I question a day that was shrouded in routine, solemnity, and black patent shoes growing up. Is the day holy? Is the fast the linkage to the holiness? Or is the day merely a day, made magical by empty highways and bikes?
I didn’t see any highways or bikers, but maybe la-shana ha’baah b’Tel Aviv…
I can draw a picture. The type you draw in kindergarten, then continue on until either you’ve honed the craft or given up altogether.
It starts blank, a void of white. Like a child, I work my way from the bottom up. First is grass, but in this case there is no grass. In its place is dust and dirt and stone and pavement. The colors fade and blend blandly in comparison to the green that could have been. But there is no green in this picture.
Since there’s no grass, I can’t draw ill-proportioned flowers, complete with bright yellow centers. There are no flowers. There are brambles and thorns and more rocks, but there is nothing particularly lush about this scene.
Amid the flower-less scape of dust, there isn’t the focal point tree to take up most of the page. There’s no thick trunk with a prominent hole in the center or cotton candy foliage. If there are trees, I don’t see them. I see date groves across the asphalt highway, but they aren’t pastoral. The sweetest orchard looms ominous because it isn’t mine. It isn’t ours. With my back facing the dates, trucks speed by. Yellow. Yellow. Yellow. White! Yellow. Green! Yellow. White. White. My heart races, unsure if I fear the dates or the white! and green! or the sun.
I can draw the sun. I won’t place it in the corner of the page, rays stretching down and black shades shielding it from itself. The sun is everywhere. A steady reminder of the lack of green grass and big tree. It’s heavy, all-consuming, and present even when it breaks during the few hours of night. But it’s not in the corner. Maybe it’s in the center, where the big tree should be, its tentacles touching the bottom, top, side, and side of the picture.
Up is the sky. The shape remains a thin strip, skimming just above. The sky isn’t blue. It’s pink—not as a creative liberty, just as a selective memory to capture its loveliest form. When the sky casts pink, it glows over everything, turning the dull into beautiful at the last moments of day. Pink dust and thorns and concrete. It almost makes up for the sun’s pervasiveness. The pink completes the picture.
Why does the music always have to be deafeningly loud? This pertains mostly to within the realm of cars. There is no middle volume. It’s either there isn’t music, or the dial is turned until it can turn no more (note: the former is entirely theoretical, not anecdotal). One of my friends said that the constant barrage of music is also a sign of maturity (or lack thereof). While I am completely content with my thoughts, happy to endure a journey in silence, not everyone that I have driven with recently (I.e. my fellow soldiers) is on the same developmental plane as myself. My ears hurt. That is all.
I breathe better in Tel Aviv. It’s a difficult reality to accept, especially when my comparison point is paradise. I can breathe and I can run and I can be on my kibbutz, an Eden, but it isn’t the same as Tel Aviv.
I went to Tel Aviv for the first time since the virus hit Israel, and as I neared the city I couldn’t stop smiling. I was home, at last.
The construction, the skyscrapers, the bus routes, the beach, getting dropped off somewhere and instinctively knowing how somewhere connects to the everywhere. It’s comforting and it’s familiar. It’s where I can breathe.
DISCLAIMER: From my limited understanding of my limited rights, I am fairly sure that my only limitation to expressing my political views is that I cannot discuss Israeli politics. I’m in an army that serves under the Ministry of Defense, under the Israeli government at large, so it makes sense. What I learned recently, however, is that international politics are not off-limits. Which means that my political opinion regarding my other government is fair game.
I’m in the Golan Heights right now, on a weekend trip with my kibbutz.
We got in yesterday after doing what resulted in being a 5-hour hike. (Note: hiking with children is like trying to hike with both arms tied behind your back and a twisted ankle).
Today we traveled to Mount Hermon. I saw snow for the second time in Israel, which was my second time witnessing a surreal reality.
After we said goodbye to the slopes, we embarked on a bus tour of the Golan. While my boyfriend David and I thought that the tour guide was too loud and the path was too curvy, it was nice to visit and revisit remote locales in the Heights.
The tour was manageable until on our way back when the tour guide got on the microphone and said, “And to our right is this past year’s most famous sign in Israel!”
There, to our right, was what I can only describe as one of the most vile things I ever seen in the holy land:
Trump Heights. Ramat Trump. Unless Donald Trump (or Ivanka, Don Jr., Melania, or Eric – the sign wasn’t very specific) bought that sign and the land on which it stands, I can’t think of a single reason for that sign or those words.
“If you want to get out and take a picture, we can wait,” the tour guide told the bus of kibbutzniks.
“No,” I said loud but not loud enough to be disrespectful, “that’s really gross!”
When no one made any indication of wanting to linger by the sign, the tour guide relented and we continued on our way.
As we continued, I thought about something David had said at an earlier view: it doesn’t matter what the international community thinks, the Golan is the Golan and the people here are Israeli. Now, I feel like I’m treading into Israeli politics, but what David said rings true. The Golan was the Golan and the Israelis living there were Israeli before, during, and after Trump’s team informed him of the existence of someplace in Israel called the “Golan Heights.”
Trump didn’t do anything. His word means nothing. To my knowledge and hope, Trump has never and will never have any authority or ownership of the Golan Heights, Amen.
It is absolutely vile to consider something so integral to Israel being desecrated, even symbolically, by someone as disgusting as Donald Trump.
As an American and an Israeli, I can only request that Trump keeps his signs and his symbolism out of my Heights and my country. Amen.
I crossed my T’s, dotted my I’s. I sat up as straight as I could, never nodding off. I was quiet￼, but I asked insightful questions (and only a few kitbag ones). I was polite and formal and acknowledged that I knew I was in a military framework when I couldn’t help but tiptoe onto the line. I seeped myself in knowledge, not learning it for the test but for myself. I didn’t fail a single exam, my average just dipping below my last ever GPA (as in: REALLY nice). I waited quietly in line and didn’t push, though maybe I should have. When I panicked, I found solutions. I organized and planned and approached this month-long interview with a professionalism I didn’t know I possessed.
And I got the job.
I mentally prepared for the worst, ready to go anywhere and make the best difference I could. But I didn’t have to settle; I got the best.
While the best is perhaps uniquely appropriate for me, from a biasedly objective standpoint, I got the best job.
I could have excelled anywhere. Really, I would have been fine. But I didn’t want to be fine. I wanted to excel and be excited and be the best. So I did what I did and I got what I got and I am so happy that what I did paid off.
“You fit best in a place where you can learn quickly and work independently.” My best fit is the best.