Today I asked a girl which אוגדה* she was in because I recognized her tag as a northern command.
Today I asked a girl which אוגדה* she was in because I recognized her tag as a northern command.
I think I figured it out: to be Israeli is to go out of your way to help strangers. It’s other things too, like yelling and saying nuuuuuuuu when someone in front of you doesn’t move up a millimeter in line at the grocery store. It’s using capitalism as a vehicle to live life, rather than as a goal. But more than that, it’s to yell and to push and to consume in order to help.
I’ve been misplacing things lately. And by that I of course mean that I’ve been losing things. Sometimes temporarily, and sometimes permanently. Most notably of my recent misplacements has been my wallet. My wallet, containing my credit card, perhaps a state and/or military ID, and rav-kav (aka my access to public transportation when I am without a military ID). To say that losing something like this is a “big deal” seems like an understatement. Losing this is the deal of the century.
Thankfully, I didn’t lose my wallet. I just misplaced it. On my way to base, Sunday morning, as I entered the train station and began searching for my wallet to flash as my fast pass through train security, I became acutely aware of my wallet deficiency.
I had to flash my dog tag and recite my ID number in order to enter the station, and then began the calls. First to my commander, who told me that I couldn’t come to base without my wallet. Then to half my kibbutz. Then to the bus company, which oversaw the particular bus on which I had evidently left my wallet.
I left the train station and retraced my steps. I checked the crosswalk and the sidewalk and every place I had walked in the 20 meters from the bus stop to the train station.
It was nowhere. I began to desperately depart for the bus company’s lost & found hub with my duffle packed for two weeks (the duffle I use to travel across the Atlantic).
Then it happened. My phone rang.
“Hello?” I said, not caring that it was an unfamiliar number.
“To whom am I speaking?” said the person on the other line.
“Sophie,” I told the man.
“Sophie, I have your wallet.”
Great, only my wallet was at a yeshiva on the other side of Sderot. So I began to walk, with my duffle (wheels, no worries) until I reached the Sderot library. (I didn’t even know that Sderot had a library until this experience).
I got my wallet back, ultimately because a stranger had found it on the bus and instead of entrusting the driver with it, he had taken responsibility for returning it to its owner. Luckily I had also taken responsibility and written my name and number on it, making his job slightly easier, but regardless I was touched that a stranger possessed the kindness to give me back my identity.
I may or may not have also misplaced my beret days after reuniting with my wallet. I wasn’t as lucky with the beret, but my boyfriend bought me a new one, which was just as kind as the stranger, yet also an obligated kindness.
In this karmatic world, things come in threes. (The third could be me misplacing my army bucket hat on my first day of my course, but I’m not counting that right now).
I went to Haifa* today for a doctor’s appointment (medical bureaucracy is also a topic I’m not exhuming right now). On my way out of the train station, I saw a beret. It was on the sidewalk, by a parking lot, dotted with pins. I picked it up, wondering what to do with it. Should I leave it and let the owner retrace their steps? Or should I take it to a secondary location (John Mulaney would not approve) and hope the owner checks? As a soldier who also recently misplaced her beret, I felt a certain responsibility.
Inside the beret was a smudged name. All I could make out was Eden. Eden lost their beret. I found Eden’s beret, and I wanted nothing more than to return it to Eden. The best I could do is ask multiple windows in the Haifa train station where their lost & found was located. I ended up giving the beret to a man with an important-looking lanyard, hoping that Eden retraces their steps and gets it back. I felt like I had to get the beret back to Eden, a stranger. I felt Israeli.
*Every time I go to Haifa, I hate it more. This time I went to the Azrieli Mall of Haifa. It was terrible.
A few summers ago I drank grapefruit juice, convinced it was lemonade because of the picture on the bottle. Had I read the label, I would have known that eshkoliot is in no way lemonada. Similarly, on my last day of basic training I realized that I had been eating PLUM jam for the past four weeks, contrary to the picture on the jar depicting what I thought to be cherries. Moral of the story: read labels because Israeli food manufacturers are terrible at choosing appropriate graphics.
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.
Dog tag* – on.
Shirt – tucked.
Pants – buttoned.
Pant legs – rubber banded.
Socks – hidden.
Boots – laced.
Choger** – pocketed.
Phone – charged.
Jacket – zipped.
Bucket hat*** – folded.
Gun – slung.
Neck warmer – warmed.
Pills – taken.
Chet**** – formed.
Commander – answered.
Breakfast – eaten.
Day – started.
*diskit **army ID ***kova tembel ****rectangle without one side, standard (and constant) formation
There was a girl at the bakum, before we even put away our bags, who began arguing with a man who had a falafel on his shoulder. They were arguing about her job, because she was upset she hadn’t gotten magav. The falafel man was telling her that jobs were decided way before the bakum – there was nothing for her to do now. I was in shock at her chutzpah, to so openly oppose a high ranking officer before she even put her bag down. But this is Israel.
I lost my new water bottle in the bakum. When I asked a soldier at the end of the sharsheret, while waiting for my bus to be called, if I could get it, he asked: “Is it critical?” I shook my head and answered, “No chance?” He shook his head, “No chance.”
I got pricked and shot and X-rayed and photographed and interviewed and swabbed and confused.
Then on a bus, I drove down to a base of tents.
There are a lot of small things I hadn’t put much thought into prior to my two and half days in the army. Such as: how bad shoe polish smells; how to properly secure your pants with rubber bands; how to correctly fold a hat; how to shave said hat so that it isn’t as fuzzy and therefore as overtly green, in both senses of the word; the immediacy of needing to get a uniform tailored, so that it can fit and reduce your greenness, without taking away from its deep olive hue.
Shower review: Rating 6/10. The pressure was certainly present, yet perhaps its presence was too present. It felt like I was being pelted with an automatic water gun. The temperature wavered between boiling and freezing, though a warm balance was easily attainable. Single stall. Curtain. Benches and hooks outside. Preferably not a daily venture.
I ate a lot of yogurt this week. Some vegetables, too.
I played a game of follow the leader, mixed with הרצל אמר, then when I got home, I learned the rhyme: אבן, נייר, ומספריים, אם נצח בין השתים.
I was just asked if I want to speak English for possibly the first time in months.
א. My necklace broke. My necklace has broken before, and each time I have fixed it. This time, I didn’t fix it. In a battle with a mosquito, it tore off my neck and into a silver heap on the table.
I’ve been wearing (and breaking and fixing) this necklace since I was sixteen, right before I went to Israel for the first time. Sue gave it to me (though Jayme claimed it was her gift at the time), as a farewell token. It was a compass. Or it was a sunburst. Or it was the sun. It was on my neck, always. I cycled through two or three different chains, not wanting to part from the charm or find a suitable replacement. It was small and special and silver and Sophie.
Days before I enlist in an army for the same country in which I first began wearing my sunburst/compass, the necklace broke. I can’t help but contemplate the symbolism that the necklace breaking represents. A new stage in life. A new adventure. The official removal of my visitor status.
Yet, the necklace breaking also signified a decision I had been struggling with: do I keep my silver necklace on, or do I keep my gold one?
In the army, women can only wear one necklace. For the past few months, I have been wearing two: my weathered sunburst and my new golden heart, given to me by my friend. My boyfriend, if you will. I didn’t want to take off either necklace because they were both connected to my outward expression of self. Thankfully, I didn’t have to choose. The mosquito chose for me.
ב. I arrived at the intersection of my kibbutz at night, beginning my kilometer-long jaunt to gate. As I began my journey, someone called over to me. It was a man outside of a car with all the doors open. I didn’t recognize him. He offered me a ride in the direction I was going. I declined.
Seconds later, a car pulled up beside.
“Garin Tzabar?” the kibbutznik asked.
I nodded and got in.
It was one of those moments in my life that I wavered agnostic. Hashem had definitely sent the stranger I knew, after I declined the stranger I didn’t know, saving me from a kidnapping or who knows what. Baruch Hashem.
ג. I was making granola bars in our moadon, listening to a podcast when I overheard kibbutz kiddos in the room over. I paused my pod because they were being loud. As I continued sifting through oats and almonds, I heard the teacher ask the children what language people spoke before they came to Israel. The dominant answer was Hebrew, but as the teacher explained, Hebrew didn’t exist – so people had to speak German and English and Arabic and Russian before they got to Israel. Overhearing preschoolers learn about their land before it was country made me smile.
I stood on a ladder and painted a rose on the water tower as the sun’s heat waxed, until all that was left was a chill and red. The red was everywhere. On the ladder. On my hands. (ALL OVER my hands, as if Lady Macbeth had suddenly taken up a predilection for paint). On the ground. On my clothes. There was also green, but it wasn’t as prominent as the red, echoing its lesser (though lasting) surface area on the tower.
On a backdrop of gray concrete and fading signs and symbols and spirits, the rose bloomed, bud from bouts of indecision. The only reason there was a rose was because a cactus was too banal. As was borrowing Erez, though it was the only unanimous vote. Alas, it was vetoed, as were others, until on one brisk Jerusalem morning someone suggested, “שושנת ארז,” Erez’s Rose. There was no deep significance behind the name; the only trace of import was in its ability to garner consensus.
Roses could represent prickliness and beauty in a similar way to Sabras, yet its Hebrew resonance is what resonated with a group of 19 new עולים who could have cared more about naming their גרעין.
So we went with roses, despite never once spotting one since moving to Israel, let alone the kibbutz. There were peacocks and there were dogs (so many dogs) and bomb shelters and abandoned buildings and watch towers and a nearby army and rockets and honey and cows and the off-limits avocado fields and gates and rabbits and community and kids and space, but there were no roses. It’s almost ironic to consider that amid all the consequential symbols, we settled on one that lacked any and seemingly all connection not only to us as a גרעין, but also to our home. To our kibbutz.
I painted the rose on the water tower as so many others had done before me, marking their groups and their existence. Now we existed. We were part of this kibbutz’s story whether they regretted it or not, now cemented on an Erez landmark that is almost unavoidable when touring the roads.
With one hand on a paint brush and the other on the side of the tower, my feet planted as securely as possible on the ladder, I felt like a kibbutznik(it). The cows mooed (and smelled) in the distance, and from my height I could see lots. Not everything (there are better viewpoints for everything), but enough. I had paint and cows and a ladder and a water tower and in that moment as I recorded our history (a time bias), I was the dream. I was a chalutz and I was proud.
I am proud to be a kibbutznik(it).
I am proud to be a chalutzah.