Guest writer Yoni Lebowitz is a New York native recently drafted into the paratrooper’s brigade of the Israeli Defense Forces. Before the army, Lebowitz studied in a Jerusalem yeshiva. He feels privileged to share his experiences as an IDF “serial number.”
It doesn’t bother me when they refer to me as “Rambo” or “Clint Eastwood” because, after all, I am the only American amongst forty Israelis. I also take the training exercises very seriously – so seriously that sometimes it looks as though I’m pursuing a live terrorist and not just a flimsy piece of cardboard.
“Gassy” is certainly a title I have earned. My body isn’t used to settling two kilograms of hummus per day. The Yemenite who sleeps underneath me complains each morning – with a grin – that he couldn’t sleep without his gas mask the night before.
My Hebrew is far from perfect but I try to speak as much as I can, despite the embarrassment one suffers after saying things like “I ascended downstairs” or “the toilet paper ran out (as in with its legs).”
In Hebrew, the word for “commander,” mifaked is dangerously similar to the term for “moron,” mifager. I’ve done quite a few push-ups to learn the difference. Some call me “moron” for speaking like one.
Every so often our platoon finds itself in such a desperately rough situation that no one in their right mind would choose to be there. When subzero rain saturates our uniforms and boots or we crawl over thorn bushes and rocks I occasionally wonder why I volunteered to serve – a lone soldier in the IDF, thousands of miles from my family.
Gasping for air after we sprint up a mountainside (under a combat-stretcher covered with sandbags), I hear an Israeli call me a sucker (in Hebrew friar). This guy would do anything to get out of the army and he doesn’t understand why I endured bureaucratic hell to draft-in.
This is the one title I can’t bear to hear.
After every command to run, I sprint. I run as swiftly as our ancestors did seventy years ago, desiring to to wear a uniform that represents Jewish sovereignty in the State of Israel. I sprint as quickly as someone might have sprinted out of Auschwitz or Bergen-Belsen, as quickly as one would travel toward a two thousand-year, awaited redemption.
“Why would you leave New York for this garbage?” the Israeli asks.
I left my family in New York to spend some time with the rest of my family in the Middle East and to reap the benefits of the miracles Hashem performed for us.
The sucker is the one who doesn’t realize how fortunate we are to walk through the streets of Jerusalem, Hebron or Tel-Aviv with safety. To even have the opportunity to raise a family on the very soil that our forefathers walked is not that of a sucker at all.
Ami Yisrael Chai: The nation of Israel lives