Two guys in my platoon were lying spread-eagled on the ground, nude save for their underwear with blood dripping from needles stuck in their veins. Not the usual sight one sees after returning from mincha prayers. There save for the grace of G-d go I, providing one more reason to appreciate observing my faith in the army of Israel.
Outside of Hesder units, where religious soldiers from yeshiva serve together, staying religious in the army is challenging. Regulations designed to respect religious observance, such as stipulated prayer breaks, do not whitewash a secular and stressful army culture that often slowly poisons vibrant faith.
Nevertheless, after one month in the army I have only had reasons to appreciate life as a religious soldier. Serving in a decidedly secular platoon allows me to learn from my peers while providing them with a very different example of a religious Jew. I am a very different kippa wearer than the settler youth and ultra-orthodox fundamentalists that largely define my fellow soldiers understanding of religious Judaism. While not broadcasting my differences, I have no problem sharing a Judaism whose truths are not overcome by politics.
Prayer rather than politics is why I really value keeping the faith. The three daily breaks religious soldiers receive for prayers are lifesavers, chances to float above the relentless sea of army stress and contemplate timeless questions. Morning prayers are particularly valuable. Wrenched out of bed every morning without a chance to think, the respite to don tefillin and pray is as much about preparing my mind as it is about my spirit for the coming day. I am not the only one who takes advantage of the morning prayer to recharge. The prayer room is also home to electric outlets, a rare commodity on base that allows cellphones to recharge along with body and soul.
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