Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lessons From the Blue

January was the watershed in my service in the IDF. Unless a war breaks out before I am released at the end of this year, this past month will be the dividing line when I look back at my service. Before January; After January.

For the first time, I began looking to the end.

For the first time, I lost touch with my ideals.

For the first time, I really came to terms with the remarkable tragicomedy that is the lone soldier.

Now I really understand that this is a terribly lonely, frustrating and unstable life decision with precious little romanticism after the swearing in ceremony one month in. There are few moments that live up to expectation and even less that can genuinely be described as memories that were as pleasurable at the time as they will be in retelling in the years to come.

This month also made me understand how distant nearly every English language portrayal of the lone soldier experience is from the reality. The closest text I know is the letters of Alex Singer, though even those are too haphazard to provide an accurate glimpse of the daily grind that lies at the heart of army life. The real story is also far richer, a tremendous drama in the vein of A Soldier of the Great War, a tragicomedy of epic proportions in the lives of every individual who serves as a volunteer far from home in a land and language he must wrestle to make his own.

As I was muddling through this month in a perpetually sour mood about the army, several friends asked why I do not simply quit. You volunteered, they would say, and quite frankly, you are twenty-five years old and have already served for a year and a half. If your service no longer has meaning, why continue?

My answer is twofold. First, because if I had one tangible goal in my service it was to become a loham, a combat soldier. Until I finish training, a date that is now scheduled for this Pessah, I remain short of my goal. And achieving that goal means enough to me to put up with continued frustrations and the occasional self-doubt.

The second reason for remaining in uniform is that the values that drew me to the IDF, the commitment and sacrifice symbolized by Hannah Senesh and Alex Singer, remain central to my self-understanding. Who I am and who I wish to become have not changed in the army. And so even if I fail to appreciate the value of my service on any given day, I remain deeply attached to the values that compel me to serve.

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