Nothing save for my own idleness was to blame for any failures to update this blog or keep in touch with friends during three months of basic training. The Nachal Brigade's limited funds, so the rumors say, meant I was out of the army every other shabbat since keeping soldiers on base for the weekend comes with a cost. Every day closed with sha'pash (an acronym known everywhere except Nachal as sha'tash), the hour of free time Israeli soldiers receive before lights out. And the thirty-five minutes allocated for our meals was ample, if illicit, time for sneaking a phone call in the relative privacy of the bathroom.
My current environment is a very different story. Daily grace periods have disappeared with a dozen minutes to eat and five minutes to change and get to asleep having replaced the luxuries of basic. And cellphone use is simply prohibited. The one exception is Friday afternoons, when ten or so minutes are provided before shabbat to place a quick call to home. The first time I was informed about this pre-Shabbat amnesty, it came with a crazy twist: Cellphone time would be preceded by ten minutes of shower time. Considering that since basic training we do not shower during the week and that there are only six shower stalls on our small base, I will leave you to imagine what took place as some seventy young guys tried to wash themselves in the allotted time. Thank G-d there were no cameras around as the most uncensored of spring break videos would have a hard time competing with what took place!
Even my weekends away from the military, infrequent as they now are thanks to a more intensive schedule and the deep purse strings of the IAF, are another story. During basic training seven hours of sleep were provided the night before a shabbat at home. Thursday nights now tend to be all-nighters (Lilah Yavan), though the more intensive weekly schedule means I am worn out either way come the weekend. In Nachal a shabbat at home came with a Sunday morning return time and a rule that soldiers had to arrive home by noon on Friday. Now the deadline to be back on base is Saturday night, cutting into the late night hours I had once reserved for writing to this here blog. And noon on Friday tends to be when we leave our current base, meaning my free weekends mostly consist of a shabbat of rest. Observing shabbat, it hardly need be said, makes plugging away online or by cellphone impossible.
The restrictions of the past few weeks have not come without benefits. With fewer distractions my unit has grown closer. On the personal front, the desires I had throughout basic to remain in touch with friends and the world at large have been dulled. While losing such desires comes with a cost, the current reality makes it far easier to focus on the task at hand. In basic I found it nearly impossible to go to sleep without checking my email via my cellphone. Life is simpler now, the benefit, I suppose, of living life on the edge.
When I was in university, a glorious day arrived every spring when one bright morning every co-ed on campus replaced the frumpy sweatshirt/sweatpants she had worn during the winter months for barely-there warm weather fashion. Girls dressed in tank-tops and short skirts was the sign spring had arrived, not to mention that I was no longer in the all-male school environment of my youth!
To my surprise, the IDF has an equivalent moment. It does not involve members of the fairer sex since my past has returned with a vengeance and there is nary a female for miles on my current base. Instead groundhog day in the army came with an intense heat wave that saw everyone replace warm bedtime outfits with birthday suits. While seemingly everyone now sleeps nude to stave off the intense heat, the other big benefit is the reduced turnover time necessary to throw on uniforms during middle of the night emergency wake-ups!.
An unfortunate aside is that after an early March heat wave, the desert nights suddenly got cold again. I had made the mistake of leaving my warm weather clothes at home, an error I now know never to make even in the supposed hottest days of the coming summer.
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