My weekend on base began as it generally does: in the kitchen.
Eastern pop music blared as I dance-mopped the dining room floor. My hands were prune-y from washing mountains of dishes and my lower back screamed for a break. But there was no break to be had. There was too much work to do, and I wanted to get out of there before sunset.
Leora, why are you smiling? Do you even realize where you are?!
Nobody seemed to understand my positive attitude during kitchen duty. I told them that it’s the only way to survive – and frankly, enjoy - 4 consecutive days of picking soggy army food out of the sink drain.
I have become the Kitchen Queen, the Mopping Maiden, Dishes Diana, and sometimes they even call me the Master Dessert Chef. Because I’m there so often, the soldiers think I’m one of the permanent cooks. (I don’t generally cook, but sometimes I offer to help make the “dessert”).
People now come to me with questions about the kitchen. I’ve started giving commands and doling out tasks to increase efficiency and maximize worker potential.
Call me “Kitchen Commander”…. I’ll probably reply.
Now, back to my weekend:
By 10:00 in the morning I was released for my post-breakfast break. The Paramedic of my Battalion (and also one of my closest friends) and I decided to go for a “light jog” in the area.
Little did I know I would be running uphill through feet-deep mud, dodging cows and puddles in my way. It was the most “combat” I’ve felt in the army. I hopped from rock to rock, over streams and through flower fields as my sneakers grew heavy with mud. 3 Kilometers later, when we finally reached the road, I was heavy breathing, and we weren’t even halfway there.
It was my first time running in months. During the course, I suffered from pretty serious shin splints, so I couldn’t put any pressure on my right leg. Any light jog would send a shooting, sharp pain down my shin. So after a few months of resting, getting back into cardio exercise felt INCREDIBLE. I even survived the jog back to the base because we took the road instead of the “scenic” route.
I made it back just in time to shower and head to the kitchen. Where else does a Mashakit Chincuh belong at 12:30 in the afternoon on a Friday?
Four hours later, during my second break, I went to the infirmary (my second home on base) to find popcorn, brownies, and the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” ready waiting for me. I plopped my tired self on the couch and reality began to set in – closing on base really isn’t so bad. It’s actually quite fun. And it only got increasingly fun from Shabbat dinner through Saturday night.
Friday dinner on base is an interesting juxtaposition of Jewish tradition and army grunge. For instance, before the Kiddush is said, the soldiers place their turquoise berets on their heads (functioning as yarmulke) and stand tall, embracing the Shabbat tradition. (I can’t imagine what the non-Jewish soldiers must feel at this moment. Perhaps they are used to it, but it still must be uncomfortable. Although the IDF accommodates for all religions, it is a Jewish state, so there is of course a strong emphasis placed on Judaism.)
Probably more than most on the base, I so appreciate the little things are army does to honor the Sabbath. That being said, I understand why most Israelis take this for granted. They are used to the smell of baking Challah on every street corner. They are used to everyone hurrying Friday mornings to get shopping and cooking done before sundown. They are used to everything looking a bit nicer from Friday night to Saturday night. But this born-and-raised American still gets excited and emotional from the little things. I really hope it stays this way, even when the little things become routine.
After a crazy chant-filled dinner, I journeyed down to “solelah aleph” (platoon א) to schmooze with some of my friends there. I requested that my friend whip out his guitar and of course, after that, the hours flew by signing the Beatles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, and Israeli tunes. When the guitar appears, Leora is happy.
At around midnight, a few soldiers and I somehow got on the topic of Yoga. One high-ranked officer questioned me rather skeptically: “What’s there to learn in yoga anyway? Isn’t it just sitting and saying OMMMMMMMM…” Of course, I explained that Yoga is more challenging than it appears, and that it is a way of living, not just an isolated “exercise.”
Five minutes later, the high ranked officer and his two soldiers were in downward dog, asking me to correct their positioning. First, we talked about the importance of the breath, of self-acceptance, of "relishing the process" and relinquishing the ego. I gave about a 30-minute lesson in total; I covered basic sun salutations, some balancing poses, and a bit of theory, too.
They loved it.
In fact, the high-ranked officer asked me to lead a lesson to the platoon sometime soon. I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of the situation. My imagination ran wild: is my yoga going to turn these soldiers into hippies? What if they start refusing to use their weapons?
It’s a crazy thought.
That night I went to bed quite satisfied with how the day turned out, and I felt empowered to mold my army experience into exactly what I want.
The next day I headed back to the kitchen as per routine, but what awaited me there was less predictable. I ended up speaking with a fellow kitchen-worker, and quickly discovered that he and I are on strangely similar spiritual paths. By 9:30 am we had already delved into conversation on Jewish philosophy, religiosity, and Israeli secularism. Turns out we’ve read the same books and seen the same Ted Talks. We both appreciate Chabad but don’t feel that we belong there. We’re both social floaters and care deeply about spirituality.
Later that afternoon, while sitting on a grassy spot that overlooks the Hermon mountain, my new friend (from above^) and I read excerpts from a book by Rabbi Leybovitch. (I will most certainly buy one of his books soon.) After a few good conversations, I sat and meditated with another friend, who happens to be a commander. Perhaps it’s hard to imagine – two soldiers in uniform, sitting in lotus position, speaking casually about energy. Ironically, right after the meditation, my commander-friend gave me a tour of the Autuomat, a tank-like vehicle that shoots cannons.
Two hours later and I’m back in the kitchen (de ja vu at this point?). By 10:30 pm I’m released and I head back to the Infirmary for another movie. This time it’s Mulan, and I can’t help but identify with her all throughout the Disney classic:
- "Rebellious" daughter who leaves the house to join the army: ✓
- Intense training period involving weapons: ✓
- Crush on my commander: ✓ (A girl-crush counts, right?)
- Motivated and unstoppable: ✓
- An awesome pocket-sized fire-breathing dragon friend named Mushu: still working on that one.
Besides that last point, Mulan and I are basically the same. Let’s just hope I have better luck at the matchmaker.
Until next time,