Haya masa, haya kef.
Had a masa, it was cool.
Sergeant's advice on how I should describe the masa to friends.
My very first masa, the long distance hikes with full gear that are the definitive benchmarks for training in the Israeli army, took place on just my second day. Perhaps my commanders thought it was a good chance to introduce us to the piles of old Vietnam War gear we don during the hikes. Whatever the reason, knowing that my training eventually will include a masa some hundred km long made me eagerly anticipate this four km introductory hike.
A brisk desert rain swept down in sudden spurts as we made a loop into the desolate wilderness outside the base. While the rain was a pleasant distraction, the masa was made unforgettable by the brilliant rainbow soaring from a distant dune straight to the heavens. In the Torah, the rainbow is the divine reminder "this too shall pass," that for all our troubles, tomorrow is on the horizon. The rainbow that broke through the rain of my first masa led my thoughts to a different biblical story. I thought of Jacob and his ladder, the incandescent pathway he perceived rising to the heavens at the start of his great journey into the unknown.
At the end of the masa, I raced up a final dune with my unit to receive red tags atop the shoulders of our green field uniforms Israeli soldiers, as an aside, receive two sets of uniforms, green hand-me down field uniforms only worn on base and dress uniforms only worn at ceremonies and on leave. The latter uniforms are tan or white for members of the air force and navy, blue for officers and green for the army. The red color tags I received from my commander identifies which battalion I am attached to in the Nahal Brigade. After our commanders placed a tag on each of our shoulders, the real ceremony began. Everyone formed a tight circle, shoulder to shoulder, and danced and sang to a silly chant that, our commanders confided, is a unit tradition.
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