Krav Maga instructors are trained to instill aggression and a quick jab into their military charges. So I was quite bemused on Sunday night when my instructor in the no-holds barred Israeli fighting style fussed with my collar. After asking me to check that his uniform was picture perfect, he announced we were ready. "We are going in on my command," he instructed in a voice of barely concealed menace. "Everyone stay calm and remember, you are paratroopers in the IDF."
I had little idea what I was doing outside an old stone Moroccan style house. Last night my commander had informed me to meet our Krav Maga instructor by the bus station in Jerusalem. I arrived to find the instructor, a twenty-five year old South African lone soldier, waiting with two other American lone soldiers from Sayeret Tzanchanim. The instructor knew why we were here. But he was not very interested in talking, seemingly concerned that his professional mask of grim detachment may slip in the company of fellow native English speakers.
When the instructor gave the word, I entered to find three dozen American Jews gathered to celebrate the Bat-Mitzvah of one of their own. They had wanted to include soldiers, particularly lone soldiers, in the festivities. One call led to another and the special forces of the Paratroopers were assigned this challenging mission. A few drunken uncles and a zesty Sfardi dance number (yes, the Krav Maga instructor got down with it as well!) were the highlights of an evening of unbridled joy I will not soon forget.
Fueled by our commander's words, the guys in my unit have become obsessed with how we can collect contributions to purchase better equipment. I find the ceaseless discussions excessive, especially since there is a limit to what we actually need (flashlights, hiking boots, and some winter wear) and what guys insist we can not do without (Swiss army knives, hiking backpacks, even laptops!). Nevertheless I agreed to serve as the English language go between when one of the guy's told us a wealthy friend of his grandmother would consider providing us with a generous contribution.
Soon I was speaking to this old American lady almost everyday. She was a tough character and was not willing to contribute unless her demands were met. Her final request was to come and speak with my unit. When she explained that she wanted to share with my peers why Americans support Israel, I promised to do everything to ensure her request would be approved. Any attempt at removing the web of myth that clouds Israelis' understanding of the American Jewish community is a good idea.
Or so I thought. I was not sure whether to laugh or cry when the old lady addressed my unit. Speaking in English with the help of a translator, she explained to my credulous peers that American support of Israel is based on the work that her and her fellow post Holocaust donors/lobbyists do to pay off American political leaders. When I tried to ask what she thought about Peter Beinart's recent take on the widening gulf between the present and future leaders of the American Jewish community, she dismissed young Americans Jews as politically naive and hopelessly misguided. After she left, I assured my dumbstruck peers (who were still wrestling with her detailed description of how payoffs work in the US Senate) that her words reflect a particular perspective within the American Jewish community, one whose cold realpolitik is forever shaped by the stunning devastation they experienced in the Holocaust. There are many other narratives, I insisted. After all, yours truly did not leave the go-go life of Washington behind because of any political payoff.
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