Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I Am Now the Property of the State of Israel

Today was by turns the most hilarious, morbid and tedious day I have had as a soldier in the Israeli army. Granted, today was also my very first day as a soldier. Nevertheless the process of becoming a soldier at Bakum, army shorthand (בסיס קליטה ומיון, Basis Klita UMiyun, lit. Reception and Sorting Base) for the sprawling induction segment of the Tel HaShomer army base outside of Tel Aviv, marks the decisive step in my enlistment in the IDF.

As of today I am a soldiers in the IDF, albeit a non active duty member designated in army slang as having ShaLaT status (Sherut Lilo Tashlum, service without payment). While I do not actually receive a uniform and start training until late November, my two year service commitment starts counting down from today. Plus I now receive a discount on buses and trains, only having to pay ten NIS ($3) when I travel across Israel.

I led with a promise of amusement and melancholy and do not intend to disappoint. The hilarity began when I arrived at Tel HaShomer on Tuesday afternoon with the other two hundred plus members of Garin Tzabar. Four of the guys in my garin, myself included, had decided to salute the significance of the day by dressing to impress. We each wore a white dress shirt and tie, standing out like a pack of waiguoren amid our disheveled peers. We were also thinking it would be cute to have a shirt and tie in the official army portrait we would be taking as part of the induction process. The photo on most soldiers' army ID cards is nothing special so the chance to jazz it up was not something we wanted to miss.

My shirt and tie was reason to smile. The rest of the induction process, if one considered the significance of what we were doing, was far less pleasant. In organized fashion, my teeth and fingerprints were scanned and photographed from every angle. After signing three forms to the effect that I am now the property of the State of Israel and will face prosecution for revealing military secrets, I affirmed that if anything untoward happens I want my family to receive my military life-insurance money. Two quick shots (Tetanus & something else) and a DNA check later and I received my army ID card and the dog-tags that will accompany me around my neck and in my boots for the next two years.

Had I had not almost collapsed during the DNA check, I would probably have failed to appreciate that the whole induction process was devoted to providing the army with a score of ways to identify the remains of fallen soldiers. So I suppose I should be thankful for what happened when a medic cut my left index finger and smeared my blood across two pieces of paper. Despite my attempts to file the experience away in the farthest reaches of my mental cabinet, the world quickly turned upside down. My face and neck covered in sweat, my breath stuck in quicksand, everything around me had a parched yellow hue. The only part of me I still had any semblance of control over was my mind and even that was resisting my efforts to rein things in, insisting instead that retching out who knows what was necessary. Awful. The army medics quickly came to my aid, providing me with a few cups of water and a quiet corner to sit and catch my breath. Everything had happened so fast--and my mental efforts to resist fainting had nearly failed--that my brain suddenly woke up and realized what was really going on. The x-rays and photos may have seemed fun but the implications are anything but.

New soldiers normally come to Bakum the week before they start basic training. In addition to all the fingerprinting, they receive their uniforms and basic gear. As a service to Garin Tzabar, the army allowed garin members to do everything now save for getting uniforms and gear.

We received another, almost unfairly hilarious, service from the army as all two hundred plus members of Garin Tzabar sat around waiting to leave. Someone had screwed up and it would take nearly two hours of waiting before my garin left Bakum. Tedious. And yet also great fun thanks to an endearing base official's awful yet earnest English (no doubt my own comments in Hebrew will be grounds for hilarity in the months to come!). Some excerpts, all of which were said with the most earnest of expressions and zero idea how funny he sounded:

You are now soldiers in the Tzahal (IDF), do you know what this is, this Tzahal?

You are very speaking today, do more whisper talk!

This is Bachbash (logistical mess). You do not know Bachbash? I will example you. Everyone lets say BachBash. Bach. Bash. Now, all girls say Bach, all boys say Bash...


  1. I'll bet your mom actually fainted when she read this. I almost did. Sometimes having a creative imagination can be a very bad thing. It's a good thing I am going out fo drinks with friends tonight. Hopefully that will mean I can fall asleep without having nightmares about this post.

  2. Tzahal? What the hell is that? I thought I signed up for a hike?

    Jen: BACH!
    Alexander: BASH!
    Jen: BACH!
    Alexander BASH!