Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Big News... to Some

As you know, in April I became an Israeli citizen. At the time I wasn’t telling everyone, and certainly not in such a public forum, one of the main reasons for my making aliyah and becoming a citizen now. One of my main motivations in making aliyah now was my desire to serve in the Israeli army.
For as long as I can recall, I have planned on living in and raiding my family in Israel. Israel has a mandatory army service for all citizens. With the exception of a slew of special programs and exemptions, all 18 year old males are required to serve in the army for three years. Girls have the choice of national service of army duty. From one year after completing their initial 3 years of service until about the age of 40-45 (somewhere in that range), all male citizens (some females as well) perform miluim (reserve duty). Generally up to 21 days a year, citizens serve in the army, either serving in their designated positions or other places the army needs help. Almost everyone in mainstream society has served the country in some capacity. As someone who wants to live here and enjoy all the freedoms and security provided by the army and government, I too need to do my part. I do not want to forever live in Israel as an outsider, listening to other’s army stories and feel that I am freeloading off their efforts. I too want to serve the country. Furthermore, I hope to one day have children who will serve the country. I feel it unfair to one day tell my children that they need to serve the very country that I will not have served.
My decision is very personal and not the right one for everyone. However, I do absolutely stand by it. The response I have received from Israelis has varied greatly. Some have told me “Yashar koach” (literally “straight job” – a saying told to someone when they have done something good or well), good luck, or thank you. Others have straight out laughed at me. While everyone knows the army is important, many view it, as it is, as a very bureaucratic, somewhat backwards organization that is run by 18 year olds. They ask me “why do you want to serve? That’s ridiculous. What are you going to do in the army?” I have taken the laughter and taunting in good stride. Once I speak frankly with the naysayers, they understand my rationale and appreciate my idealism, although they still laugh at the idea.
The question of “What are you going to do in the army?” is a good one. Another question I get is “How long will you serve for?” At my age – 26, I am technically exempt from serving in the army. However, single, new immigrants age 22-25 are required to serve for 6 months. They may elect to serve for more time. As a volunteer, I will likely be serving for 6 months – it may be closer to 8 for reasons I will explain below. You may be asking – “What can you do in 6 months? Why even go to the army at that rate?” Valid questions. In 6 months, I will complete basic training, a course training me in my designation in te army and a few months of service in my designation. My main rational to enlisting is to serve the country for the next 20 years in miluim (reserve duty). Again, everyone serves, and I want to do my part.
Several of my friends here have served for 6 months. Most of them became tank or APC (armored personnel carrier) mechanics. Another friend served in the Rabbinate, one was assigned to the army’s budgeting office to work on financial planning, while another ended up writing parking tickets on the country’s main army base for several months. While I recognize the later as a possibility, I am hoping to have a more engaging post. I have been looking into the possibility of becoming a medic in the army, or possibly serving in artillery or becoming a mechanic.
The process for enlisting in the army has not been the easiest, but what in Israel is easy? It started days after I made aliyah. I went to the Lishkat Hagiyus (the draft office) office in Jerusalem to request my Tzav Rishon (first order – the day each soldier is tested for fitness to serve and is profiled for designation). I went to the offices a few days before Passover after having been advised by Ellie, the army coordinator at Nefesh B’Nefesh that the office would be closing for a month to upgrade its systems.
Unfortunately, since I had only recently made aliyah, I had not yet made my way into the army’s system, a problem I was assured was not fixable by anyone in the office. I’d have to wait for the system upgrade to be rolled out, at which point I would be able to come back to the office and request a Tzav Rishon (since I am over 25, I needed to be granted permission to serve). After Passover, I waited for a month and got in touch with Ellie only to discover, unsurprisingly, that the system upgrade had not been completed on time. This meant that I would not be able to have my Tzav Rishon until after my trip to America and my Birthright trip.
With no other option but to wait, I returned to America for my weeklong visit, and led Birthright, all the while eager to get back to the draft office to move things along. The day after Birthright, Thursday, I returned to the office only to discover that it was closed! After over a month of system upgrades and limited work, the office was given a day of vacation… I should have called before I showed up.
So on Sunday, I set out again to the office and this time met with Matan, one of the two guys who worked in the office I was told to go to. The rest of the workers in the office were girls, who mostly appeared to do nothing. To be fair, you need to understand what the draft office looks like to appreciate the scene.
The entire office is basically run by 18 year olds, mostly girls. All the soldiers in the office sit at desks, wear uniforms and look like children. Picture the administrative offices of Never Never Land – there are a few adults, but they are for the most part not around. Everyone does a job (to some capacity), but all in all it appears that very little work gets done. Behind everyone’s desk is a plethora of cards with pictures from other soldiers in the office with puffy paint or glitter writing saying things like “Happy Birthday Cutie” or “You are the funniest guy in the office. – Tamara”. So in this setting, it seems more popular to gather around a desk and take turns playing ring tones of iPhones than doing work. I can’t really criticize much, because let’s be honest, most of my friends and I had very little responsibility at 18 – wake up for class, do well on exams. They have office jobs with responsibility – thus at an age where responsibility is not so quickly accepted, you have the Draft Office.
So after speaking to Matan, I am told that he will put in a request to get my army service approved from is commander, and that I should be hearing from him soon. To my delight I did in fact hear from Matan. He told me that my case had been passed on to the other guy in their office, Amos. Amos is a tricky one – I am certain that both he and Matan actually get a fair amount of work done – however, Amos is never in his office – especially not in the mornings. I went back to the office the following Sunday– a week after meeting with Matan. I waited about an hour for Amos to show up, and when he did, I discovered that my file was sitting on his desk. I’m not sure what it was waiting for, but I am certain that as everyone had told me, it was a good thing I went to the office to see what was up. Without doing so, I could have been waiting a while. I spoke with Amos about why I wanted to serve in the army (literally repeated the conversation I had with Matan a few days earlier). Amos then told me he’d be in touch with me in a few days for set my Tzav Rishon (testing day) as he had received approval for me to get drafted from his commander and now had to run it by his commanders commander.
I waited till Wednesday and then started the phone harassment. This is where you call an office and make the phone ring so much that one of the under enthusiastic girls gets up and answers the phone. For a day and a half, I had the same conversation again and again:
Girl (in slightly annoyed tone): Halo
Me: Hi can I please speak to Amos?
Girl: He isn’t in the office.
Me Do you know when he will return?
Girl: [one of two responses]:
(1) In [picks a time later] minutes/hours
(2) It’s probably better for you to just call back tomorrow.
Conclusion: No one knows where Amos is – he gets his work taken care of, but very much on his own schedule. Finally on Thursday after a day and a half of phone tag – I called him probably in excess of 20 times and missed two of his calls, we connected. He told me final approval had been granted and that my testing date was set for July 7th. That didn’t sit well by me. I wanted this thing done ASAP. I asked him if it could be moved to sooner. He asked one the of the girls in the office (I guess they do something), and I was told to show up Monday – a true lesson in ask or you shall not receive. So there it was set, Monday June 20, 2011 would be my Tzav Rishon testing day for me to join the Israeli Army.

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