Saturday, January 3, 2015

One Step Forward; Two Steps Back

Fact #1: I’ve been in the army for nearly two months now.
Fact #2: I’m finishing my course on January 29.
Fact #3: I’ve made close friends, taken countless classes, spent hours on guard duty, passed many exams…
Fact #4: I feel completely unprepared to join a unit as a Mashakit Chinuch.

What was the IDF thinking, accepting an American with mediocre Hebrew to a unit that’s all about teaching Israeli identity – IN HEBREW – to Israelis themselves?

I ask myself that question all the time. Which is why I was surprised to get mitztayenet (excellent) soldier of the week two weeks ago. It’s not because I’m super humble or anything. It’s because I constantly feel like I’m letting myself down. I try so hard to remember all the material, to write new words down in my little notebook and use them immediately, to participate in the discussions and share deep thoughts, to be a leader in my own way. But I never feel like I’m capable enough, quick enough, or Israeli enough for the job. There’s a constant debate in my head; one side accepts my obstacles and sees them as opportunities for growth—this side helps me stay positive, helps me smile when I want to shrink into myself, and helps me remain a “light” in dark moments. The other side tells me I came into the course unprepared, I don’t fit in with Israelis, that I won’t be good at my job.

The mental debate is exhausting.

It pulls me away from whatever I’m learning or experiencing at any given moment. It’s hard enough to read 20 textbook pages in Hebrew for a test (that’s one hour later) while running on 3 hours of sleep. Then the frustrating “you’re not good enough” conversation pops into my mind and I really can’t study.

Then comes this thought process: Leora. What the heck. You have a college degree in International Relations from a prestigious university. You graduated Magna Cum Laude. You’re 22 years old and you’ve lived away from home for 4 years now. You just moved to a new country on your own. You’re here to inspire others, contribute to Israel, and you are totally motivated and capable of doing so. Yalla.

Suddenly I get a boost of energy. I try my hardest to be inquisitive, to be a good friend, to further strengthen my strengths and try to be really present. Perhaps my fellow soldiers saw that in me when they nominated me “soldier of the week.” Regardless, I was shocked and excited to get the honor. At the end of the day, it helps knowing that people believe in me.

But almost immediately after I do something I’m proud of, I manage to do a fedicha (something embarrassing). It’s a constant one step forward, two steps back process that I’m starting to find rather humorous.

For example: Two weeks ago we had our monthly baror fitness test, which is something that every soldier needs to pass to continue on in the course . For the girls, the test was 3 Kilometers in under 20 minutes and 11 pushups. I thought to myself finally, something I can succeed in! No Hebrew required!

I surprisingly came in 1st place in the running test, completing it in 15 minutes, and did extra pushups for fun. I really missed exercise, and running is a nice way to release tension/get a rush of much-needed endorphins.

Later that day, one of the commanders complemented me for coming in first in the fitness test. While responding “thank you so much!” I heard my fellow soldiers shouting times to accept our commander (something we do at the end of each break). I looked at my watch and thought: That couldn’t be my group. It’s at least 10 minutes too soon. Then my palm hit my forehead when I realized I wasn’t looking at the time…I was looking at the stopper. I was late to formation.

Some more funny/embarrassing moments from the past month:
  • Mouthing all of the complicated Hebrew sentences of the call-and-response during the swearing in ceremony (basically I didn’t swear into the army).
  • Realizing that I’m older than the commander of my commanders’ commander and that it doesn’t matter…I’m still scared of them. 
  • Making my commander laugh and thinking this is my biggest accomplishment of the day. 
  • Hearing a loud sound while praying for peace and realizing that my magazine fell out of my pocket. Sweet, sweet irony. 
  • Falling asleep while standing up. 
  • Standing in a trash bin, sorting out recycling, and my friend saying, THIS IS HOW YOU’RE DEFENDING OUR COUNTRY. 
  • Spending 20 minutes of my day scaring away cats.
  • Having 30 seconds to run from place to place, and then waiting 10 minutes for the commander to arrive. Hurry up and wait. It’s a known concept in the IDF.
  • Constantly breaking shiluv ra-ooey, which is a rule that translates to “no mingling” and really means “no touching.” My friends and I hold hands, hug, and skip when no one is looking.
  • Realizing that literally nothing grosses me out anymore. Eating cottage cheese for breakfast every day: check. Pulling a fist-sized hairball out of the drain with my bear hands: check. Wearing the same outfit for 5 days straight: check.
  • Not knowing a word in class, then asking the commander what the word means, and then also not knowing the synonym word she used to help me. Oy. 
  • Lighting Hannukah candles right next to the gunroom. Not sure who thought that was a good idea.
  •  Hearing American tourists when I’m outside the base (in uniform) and surprising them with my English. Then feeling unsure with whom I identify more. (My fellow soldiers or the Americans..hmmm)
  • Being the token American…always. 
Some recent meaningful moments:
  • Singing Chanukkah songs with my army group and finally saying “nes gadol haya po” instead of “nes gadol haya sham.” (A great miracle happened here, instead of there). 
  • When a guest speaker came to base from the organization Gesher, a nonprofit that bridges secular and religious Jews across the country. I had just read about that organization before my draft and was inspired by them. 
  • Leading a Havdalah service for my course, for many of whom it was their first Havdalah experience. Later that week, many of them came to me and said that they loved the melody and want to make Havdalah a ritual in their week.
  • Telling one of my friends why I appreciate her while sitting in a candle-lit room during an activity…in the army…then thinking to myself: how is this the army? Then having the same thought during an activity with my commander, during which we sat in silence and wrote (stream of consciousness style) about our strengths, insecurities, goals, dilemmas, and people who influence us. It was the perfect way to bring in the New Year. 
  • Getting our Hitnasut, which is a leadership assignment. In a few weeks, our course will embark on a 5-day masa (journey/ trip) from the north to the south. The goal of the trip is to teach us how to guide our future soldiers on trips, so we’ve all been given tasks for the trip. My task is to guide my tzevet (team) and lead activities at Ein Gedi, which is a waterfall oasis in the desert, adjacent to the Dead Sea. My other leadership assignment is to plan the closing ceremony (as a part of a team) for the end of the trip. I’m really looking forward to this leadership experience, but it involves a lot of work and planning. 
  • Last update: I handed in my preferences sheet for my placement! I put cheyl hayam first (navy), then gdud (any combat unit) and last chatmar (working with combat-support soldiers). I won't find out where I'm placed until January 29...keeping my fingers crossed for something good.  

Until next time, 


At the Rabin center in TLV

Secret selfies with my partner in crime
On our "yom sidurim" aka trip to the Aliyah Office

Running into an Army friend out in TLV

I get to come home to these goons