You’re in the army now

July 17, 2012 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Israeliness, Life, War 

Merav about to enter Ammunition Hill

If you had told me when I was growing up in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s that I’d have children in the army, I’d have said, “no way – get out of here!” Those were the years of Vietnam and the army didn’t exactly figure into our suburban lifestyle.

And yet, here I am, with our son just four months away from his release while our daughter was inducted this morning.

It’s been an emotional week, with a farewell family dinner (steak sandwiches at Rosa), a date with Abba (sushi) and another with Imma (ice coffee and smoothies), and a house overwhelmed for days with Merav’s friends, all of them wishing her good luck and goodbye.

Goodbye? Not really. Barring any military surprises, she’ll be home again this weekend, as new recruits usually are, before beginning three weeks of basic training, followed by a six week course to prepare her for the army position she’ll hold for the next two years (she’ll be working as a liaison to foreign forces who come to visit Israel, or at least that what the army tells her).

“This is the last time you’ll see me as civilian,” Merav said, as if to summon up that burgeoning prick of parental pride…or is that anxiety, it’s hard to tell as you watch your daughter walk through the doors of the meeting hall at Jerusalem’s Ammunition Hill and onto a waiting bus that will take her to the “bakum” in Tel Aviv. The next time we’ll see her, she’ll be in greens.

I remember when her brother came sauntering down the street for the first time in uniform – for a moment I didn’t even recognize him. I also recall Merav’s reaction. I wrote at the time about:

…the look on Amir’s 16-year-old sister’s face as he walked in the front door in uniform – a buoyant sense of awe and appreciation mixed with a dash of apprehension and followed by a hug that reflected the faint trickle in her eyes.

There’s another difference between civilian and soldier, I realized, and it goes beyond her vital role in protecting the country. For the parents, it means we can’t help her get out of a jam the way we could when she was pre-army. Especially when they’re younger, if your child has trouble with a teacher at school or needs a ride to the doctor or is mired in bureaucracy, we could step in and assist.

Not so in the army. We can’t call her commander and say, “Stop being so mean to our daughter,” or navigate the military medical system. And we know nothing about the inner workings of the army’s rules and regulations – heck, we’re still learning the acronyms that our son is teaching us, like what’s a “chamshush?” (It’s a Thursday – Yom Chamishi – through Shabbat off the base.

On Friday night, it is traditional to give your children a blessing. There is a specific formula in the siddur, but I usually add my own words. This Shabbat, I wished for Merav that her army service be meaningful, challenging (but not too challenging), exciting, a time of personal growth and strength, and even fun.

Most of all, I blessed her that she serve her country wholeheartedly and with eminent pride. This is not Vietnam after all. It’s Israel – our country and our only homeland.

All’s equal in Israeli hospitals

Jewish and Arab families share the same concerns at Hadassah Hospital in Ein Karem.

It’s a cliché that proves itself true time and time again. And it goes, ‘the best way to experience Israeli coexistence is to spend some time at a hospital.’

I had that opportunity recently when a family medical crisis granted me about 15 hours in the emergency ward of Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Karem, Jerusalem.
After eventually ascertaining that the patient in question seemed fine and needed to stick around only for observation, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief and turn my attention to my surroundings.

And there you can see, no matter whether you’re Jewish or Arab, religious or secular, Ashkenazi or Sephardi, everyone’s created equal when it comes to getting sick. To our right, an extended Jerusalem Arab family was hovered around an adult daughter who seemed to lapsing in and out of consciousness.

On the other side was a man who appeared to be in his late 70s who was being diagnosed with having suffered a minor stroke. The patient was attended by mixed staff of Jewish and Arab personnel – nurses, orderlies and doctors. While most Israelis pride themselves on being able to distinguish between Jews and Arabs, here among the staff, it was sometimes virtually impossible until you heard their name.

The elderly man’s diagnosis was made by an engaging doctor named Dr. Basri, who told him and his two neighbors who had brought him to the hospital, something like: “The bad news is you had a stroke, the good news is that was minor and you should fully recover. But you’re going to have to give up smoking cigarettes.”

I think that this septuagenarian actually had to ponder that decision for a few minutes, but hopefully Dr. Basri got through to him. At that moment, we were moved out of the ward to a quieter observation ward by Zaki, an Arab orderly who looked as urbane and hip as any Tel Aviv party animal.

“How do you maintain your sanity in such a crazy environment?” I asked.

He responded, “I like it here, it’s like its own little country, where nobody’s discriminated against. I can put up with the commotion to have someone look at me like a human without labeling me.”

It’s too bad we have to go to the hospital to find that kind of situation.

Nostalgia Sunday – Origins of the Status Quo

The Latin phrase status quo means “the existing state of affairs”. Well, that is alright for the rest of the world but here in Israel, we have our own special definition. The Israeli phrase status quo refers to the existing state of affairs between the secular and religious populations and — as Wikipedia has it — “the political understanding between religious and secular political parties not to alter the communal arrangement in relation to religious matters… The status quo preserves the established religious relations in Israel, and only small changes are usually made.”

Except that recent weeks have seen demand for a seismic change in the existing state of affairs, namely the issue of army and/or national service by ultra-orthodox yeshiva students.

A brief explanation — again courtesy of Wikipedia — of how we got to where we are today. The origins of the status quo are attributed to a letter “sent by David Ben-Gurion, then-chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive, on 19 June 1947, to the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Israel, in order to form a united policy to present to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), which had commenced its fact-finding tour four days earlier.”

“The letter was meant to address their [Agudat Israel's] concerns that the emerging State of Israel would be a secular one, which might hurt the status of religion and religious institutions, as well as the values of their followers.”

“Despite the fact that Ben-Gurion’s letter referred only to few basic issues [keeping the Jewish Sabbath as a day of rest; family laws such as marriage, divorce, etc.; full autonomy in education and keeping kosher in the official institutions of the Jewish state -- R.N.], it has become the basis of regulating the relation between religion and State in Israel.”

Therein lies beginning of our secular-religious hot potato — those so-called “few basic issues” which are actually the fundamentals of life – birth, marriage, death and everything you put in your mouth. Also, education, the area in which the divide over army service lies.

Last week, as a matter of historical record, the Israel State Archives released four documents from the personal collection of Israel’s first chief rabbi, Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, “which shed light on how the arrangement allowing [yeshiva] students to postpone military service came about.” Read more

Holy holyland Batman, Olmert is innocent!

Ehud Olmert celebrates the verdict yesterday (Pool photo)

I wish I would put my money where my mouth is sometimes. Around the time Ehud Olmert was indicted in the Holyland case – only the most recent in a string of high-profile charges against him from his days when he was mayor of Jerusalem, and later Industry and Trade minister – I remember telling someone (if it’s you, please come forward and corroborate) that Olmert would never go to jail for any of the offenses he was being accused of.

Of course, I wasn’t willing to bet on it. Which is too bad, because it looks like I’d be cleaning up. The former prime minister was acquitted Tuesday on two of three cases against him – alleged double-billing with the Rishon Tours travel agency, accepting thousands of dollars in cash envelopes from New York businessman Morris Talansky and granting illegal favors to his former associate, attorney Uri Messer.

He was convicted in the latter of breach of trust, for which it would be highly unlikely that he would be sentenced to jail time.

I didn’t have any inside information, just the hunch that Olmert, a shrewd attorney himself before entering politics, would never put himself in a position in which a court of law would beyond reasonable doubt would find him guilty of such charges. I’m not saying there wasn’t any wrongdoing on his part, but if there was, it was once or two removed by the time it got to him.

Now, the only case remaining against the person who clearly has some teflon in his DNA is the Holyland affair, in which real estate developers allegedly paid tens of millions of shekels to public employees and elected officials including Olmert to advance the Holyland building project in Jerusalem.

This time, I may be ready to go out on a limb and say Olmert will once again walk free. Any takers?

Riki Gal rocks out at metal show in Tel Aviv

Glenn Hughes got the Tel Aviv crowd, including Riki Gal (below) on their feet.

You never know who you¹re going to end up sitting next to when you go to a concert in Israel. Last night, my son and I went to the Tel Aviv Performing Arts center for a show by visiting British hard rock survivor Glenn Hughes and his young, crack band of Norwegian metal mavens.

The nearly sold-out audience consisted of a relatively older crowd than you would see at most rock shows, with lots of 50-year-old men in Deep Purple and Black Sabbath t-shirts, two groups with whom Hughes made his name as bassist and vocalist in the 1970s.

Many of the oldsters were of Russian descent, testimony to the pedestal Western hard rock – especially Deep Purple – was elevated to in the pre-perestroika days when albums used to be smuggled in and distributed in an underground, clandestine manner.

But just before the lights went down, two well-dressed women sidled down the aisle to the two vacant seats next to us. When I looked over, I was surprised to see that one of them was Riki Gal, the classy singer/actress who has been a staple on the Israeli arts scene for decades.

Evidently, Gal is a closet metalhead, as she knew all the words to the old war horses and clearly enjoyed herself during the show with thrusting fists and hand claps accentuating her between song whistles. You haven¹t lived until you¹re at a show and the singer calls out “Everyone sing along” and the person beside you can actually sing!

We didn’t bother her with a request for a photo or autograph – it was better to let her enjoy her time out of the spotlight, watching another master showman at work.

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