Tribute to the Military

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Travels with Abe, an Israeli’s Perspective: Between 1963 and 1967

Welcome back with another article from an Israeli friend, Abe. Abe is a guest contributor with history to tell. Perhaps you will begin to see an Israeli's perspective of this world that we live in and what we are up against. Respectfully, Bosun

Between 1963 and 1967:

Between 1963 and 1967 Israel's security situation was stable. Stable meant that we were not in daily danger of annihilation. There were terrorist attacks. The army carried out retaliation raids. There was quiet for a few months, and then the cycle was renewed. I had lived in East Africa from 1956 to 1963. I had become fluent in English and Swahili. I had attended, in turn, Anglican, Catholic and Muslim schools. I had obtained a well-rounded education. I had formed a capacity to understand other cultures.

I returned to Israel with my Hebrew grown very rusty. I brushed up on it and was fluent again within a matter of weeks. I had returned just in time for my Bar Mitzvah. It was celebrated at the Central Synagogue in Haifa and I sang my Haphtarah with pride.

I returned to school to finish my elementary education. Life was good. We met solders on the street. We knew that they were the reason we could live a normal life, but we were 13 and there were more important things in life.

High School. Ninth grade was exciting. We were going to start Gadna' classes. Teenagers, the world over, like to play "war." We were about to be taught the real thing. While in Eighth Grade, I had sometimes watched the high school kids in Gadna' classes. They used military terminology which, in and of itself, was cool. They climbed ropes, jumped from roofs and went on marches. I soon found out that, as cool as it may have seemed to my watching eyes, it wasn't all that cool when my chest was heaving and trying to inhale, while the instructor, recently discharged from active service as a paratroop sergeant, hollered back, "pick up your feet there, you're holding us up."

It didn't seem strange to us. To an Israeli, life has stages: you go to kindergarten. Then you go to elementary school followed by high school, military and college. Military could be delayed for those going to college to study professions that were needed by the military. The best example was Medicine. A student bound for the long process leading to MD did his basic and advanced training. He was trained as a tank crewman, artillery or infantryman, and then went to college. He would serve as a reservist during his college years. Upon graduating as an MD, he would serve full time for an extended term as an army doctor. Then there was the Hesder. Hesder means Arrangement. This was for Yeshiva students. Most Yeshiva students don't serve. This was an agreement Ben Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister, made with the religious political parties when the state was born in 1948. The Hesdernicks are a different breed. They do a similar thing to what the "doctors" do. After basic and advanced training, they go to study Talmud, and serve as reserves. Upon completing their studies, they serve full time.

These are realities of life in Israel. We were put face to face with these realities in Gadna' training. Spoiled girls discovered that they were going to have to do that climb anyway. They were as breathless and aching as everyone else after that march. The class tough guy was embarrassed when the class dork outdid him at the shooting range. We learned teamwork and night work. We learned how to work as an individual and as a squad.

I don't want to make the impression that all we did in high school was military training, but I don't want the Bo 'sun to fire me. Seriously though, Gadna' was only four hours per week. This was four hours for every week for every year of high school. It's just that we enjoyed it, and felt that it was one of the differences between us and those "kids" at elementary school. Israel has one of the highest quality school systems in the world, and we got an excellent education.

In the ninth grade, I met Hassan. Hassan was a Muslim Arab from Um-el-Fahem, an Arab town. This was a boarding school and we were to room together. We hit it off right from the start. His Hebrew was pretty good for someone whose first language was Arabic. I had already picked up some Arabic, and Hassan helped me some more. We were inseparable.

On holidays, I would go to my grandfather, my parents still being out of the country. Hassan invited me to his village. I would come and stay for days at a time. I got to know the whole family. Hassan did not have to take Gadna' at school. Like military service, Arabs have a choice of whether to do it or not. He decided to take it, and was very good. He still didn't know whether or not he would serve, but he liked Gadna', and he was good.

Throughout the 60s, there was terrorism. Hassan and I would read the news, and hope for peace. We both knew that the time was drawing near, when we would go our separate ways and we were in denial. Hassan decided, in 1966 that he would not serve. There was pressure from his family, and he couldn't fight it. We would experience life in different ways, and we knew that the closeness we shared was about to change. During the Six Day War, Hassan helped dig trenches. I volunteered to go to the Lebanese border. Hassan stayed behind. We remained friends…but it had changed forever.

 Be well,


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