Friday, September 4, 2009

Shmuel b'Shabbat

Shmuel b'Shabbat started the night I arrived on kibbutz. Each member of my garin--the sixteen folks I will be living with on kibbutz as we prepare to enlist in the Israeli army-- was introducing themselves, sharing their name, age and other background bits with the four folks that serve as our staff.

There is Dalia, the overall coordinator whose no-nonsense organizational chops cannot conceal how much she cares for all of us.

Dyna, the grandma with the soul of a child and a scattered story-telling style to rival my own.

Chovav, our ever smiling master of logistics whose four rowdy boys are never far from sight.

And finally, there is Michal, our twenty-one year old soldier-lady (chayelet), tasked with teaching Hebrew and otherwise ensuring that the sixteen members of my garin are ready to enlist come November.

To return to the first night of kibbutz and the bit about my name. So the girl to my left introduces herself as Yael, three months removed from high school in San Diego and ready to defend the state her mother once called home.

And then it was my turn.

Everyone's eyes turn to me. Save for the staff, everyone in the room already knows me from a past seminar or the day they arrived at the airport. Nevertheless, this is the first time I will formally introduce myself to the entire group. And while I have my age and hometown down pat, I do not want to introduce myself as Sammy and forfeit the opportunity to be known by my proper Hebrew name, Shmuel, now that I live in Israel. Sammy is what I have always been called by family and friends. But in the Middle East, Sami is also a popular Arab name. More to the point, I have waited twenty-four years to hear others call me Shmuel, the name my parents gave me when I was eight days old. Now I am in Israel, Hebrew is no longer confined to the synagogue, and my name can become what it was meant to be.

"My name is Shmuel," I said, "and yet also is Sammy."


"That is, both mean something and yet..."

Stop, I told myself, and keep things simple.

"That is, my name is Sammy during the week and Shmuel on Shabbat (Shmuel b'Shabbat)."

Everyone laughed that first time.

And the next time, when we were at attention at Gadna--a five day military preparation program--and I introduced myself to a senior officer as Shmuel b'Shabbat.

And the most recent time, when the guys in my group reviewed what had happened at a simulated gibush (the intensive day/week long tests that screen for admittance into elite units) that the kibbutz organized for us the night of Thursday September 3. We met with the gibush organizers shortly before shabbat. And so to the laughter of my peers, I introduced myself to the two men that had had run us ragged over the previous night as "Shmuel b'od sha'ah v'chetzi" (Shmuel in an hour and a half.) Even Avi, the tougher of the two gibush organizers, cracked a smile.

Silly name games aside, my first shabbat (August 7-8) at Tirat Zvi confirmed my decision to prepare for the army by living together on kibbutz with fifteen of my peers. The benefit of living with a group of similarly motivated volunteers was something I expected. But the strong individuality within our garin comes as a pleasant surprise. There are people I can and do turn to for different needs. Plus, there are opinions I will and do hear that force me to defend and reconsider my own views. And then there are the domesticated peacocks, a story for another time.

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