I quit the army the other day.
That is, earlier this week the army quit on me.
Or at least that is how I felt when I handed in my military ID card and entered suspended service. Known as dachash (shorthand for d'chiyat sherut, suspended service), the status applies to soldiers whose pay and service time are suspended while on extended leave. Dachash means transportation is no longer free (soldiers with military ID cards ride buses and trains for free) and that the time you take off will be added on at the end of your service (i.e. you still serve your full three years, with the time on dachash not counting towards the time).
For a lone soldier like myself, dachash also means that all the perks we receive--like double salary, housing and grocery stipends, a one-time free flight overseas--disappear. In plain terms that meant I would have to pay out of pocket to remain on my kibbutz (since my kibbutz rent is normally covered by the army housing stipend), not to mention hemorrhage all kinds of money for daily living expenses. And so while entering dachash felt like the IDF had given up on me, far worse was realizing I had just signed up for financial purgatory.
The next day I re-enlisted in the IDF, tearing up my dachash form as I did so. Reenlisting has not made my status in the army any clearer. Because all the other guys waiting to be reassigned in mid-November are on dachash, my position is fairly unusual. I am not in any unit and have no commanders or support staff to speak of. The army, in fact, really has nothing to do with me for the next six weeks. And so with nothing else to do, I was tasked to a local cleanup crew.
Like all elite units in these relatively peaceful times, Tel Hashomer's cleaning squad rarely sees action. My first and only assignment was plenty memorable. Tasked with cleaning up a high-security zone nearby the entrance to Bakum, I was shocked to discover a row of jail cells locked within two rows of barbed wire fencing. The small stone rooms were dark, dismal and decaying dungeons. Peering through a two inch window carved into the heavy door, I asked the solitary jailer why these were here. "Tel Hashomer is an old base," he began by way of explanation. "You may know it was a base for the British in the thirties and forties. You probably do not know that even the Roman Legion once camped out here. Anyways, these cell were built by the (Ottoman) Turks. And then used by the Brits. And today, by us." How bizarre, I mused, that rooms once used to lock up Jewish debtors and freedom fighters now host young Jewish soldiers, recalcitrants imprisoned by a Jewish state.
My cleanup crew was disbanded the following day. And so for the foreseeable future, my army service consists of waiting around for hours in order to sign in and head home. Worse than any jobnik, the derogatory army slang for soldiers with desk jobs, I am essentially a kloomnik (kloom, hebrew for nothing), doing nothing at all. The lack of direction and physical drudgery is mentally taxing. The mental angst has even taken a physical manifestation, burdening me with a persistent migraine that nags me day and night. Ironically, for all the free time and long weekends, my current service often seems harder than anything I have yet faced in the army.
Today brought a rare ray of light. While waiting around Tel Hashomer per usual, I spotted this year's Garin Tzabar arriving for their induction. Speaking with them as they navigated their first day in the army, I was reminded of how far I have come since first visiting Tel Hashomer a year ago. And how, despite all the mountains I have climbed, I am back in line at the base where it all begin, waiting for a fresh start in the IDF.
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