Sunday, October 23, 2011

Theology and Sand Dune Sprints: a Yom Sayarot Postscript

Notes and thoughts on יום סיירות/Yom Sayarot...

First of all, for those who don't know what Yom Sayarot is, here is a great post from another blogger who did it last year. I definitely suggest you read it to get an idea of the hellish day of testing I went through 13 days ago to see if I was fit for elite army units.  There are other blogs out there with similar explanations of the day, but I think the first one provides the most realistic picture based on where I stood going in (compared to these other guys who were clearly in much much better shape than I).  So choose one, read it, and then continue below...

I can definitely say that it was incredibly hard. And physical. And a really good barometer of where I stood after nearly two months in Israel.  People there had been training for 6, 8, 10, 14 months, and I went in after a month and a half of honest exercise.  My goal was to never give up and finish the day (not a given at all, some 90-100 kids out of 290 dropped out over the course of the day+).  The first 15 minutes of the sprints on the sand dunes were mentally some of the toughest minutes of my life.  It was 5:15 am, kids were throwing up left and right, others panting and saying screw it and throwing in the towel, I was being pushed to the ground and tripped up in the fracas for first place, and all I wanted to do was join those who had given up.  But I started out by saying, "I will not be the first one to drop out."  And as my body began to warm up, I reminded myself why I was there.  To test myself, to prove myself, to succeed in my goals, and to see how far I could push.  I decided that regardless of how I was placing compared to the rest of my group, I would not give up.   -- And over 3 hours later, I finished! 

Of my group (we started with 18 and ended with 16; by all counts a strong group), I consistently came in somewhere between 7-10th in every exercise/sprint.  In other words, this told me that I was coming along fine in my own personal 'Jonah needs to be getting in shape for the army' regiment, but also told me that though I finished the day, there was a clear line between the top kids in my group and me.  All that said, I finished the day, maintained a positive attitude throughout (and perhaps more importantly was able to convey my positivity to the vets who tested us), and I think proved that I was a worthy person to have in a group.  I say this last part because at the end, every one of the 16 kids in my group ranked each other and I am assuming that they saw something in me.  Again, I say this because although I never came in the top 5 in any of the exercises of the whole morning, I still got an invite to an elite unit tryout!  As ID numbers were called off for the top two groups (Matkal aka Delta Force and Shayetet aka Navy Seals), my number wasn't called.  Buuuut my number was called for Chovlim, or a unit that trains people to become Sea Captains.  Along with about 25 other guys, we went off to a tent where we were explained the next step, i.e. a day of mental testing in Tel Aviv where officers would determine whether we would be appropriate for Chovlim, Tzolelot (submarines), or nothing at all.   

Chovlim is a 7 year commitment that I wasn't so fancy about, but I was thrilled to get an invite and I decided to at least go to the day of testing and see what happened from there.  Well, it turns out, Chovilim was not the right place for me.  I was at that base for literally a full day (8am to 5pm) of waiting around, testing, waiting, and more testing, only for them to tell me -- and the other 4 new immigrants from Garin Tzabar as well as a Druze guy, that we weren't going to get anything after all.  The common thread with the 6 of us is that Hebrew is not any of our native tongues.  Indeed, all the testing was in Hebrew (some 450-500 questions, with Hebrew instructions, much of it timed), and it was really hard.  If we had done them in English or Arabic, respectively, it probably would have been a different story.  The point is the Chovlim course is super long and, along with being physically challenging (think 4 months of throwing up every night in the middle of the night in the ocean), also includes heavy and intensive learning loads, in highly technical and advanced Hebrew.  I guess it made us an easy out.  Oh well.  As I've been saying all along, I will be happy and highly motivated in whichever unit I end up in, and it's only a matter of time until I am placed in the correct spot.

But forget about all of that, because the most interesting part of my Yom Sayarot experience revolved around a friend I made during tryout.  I had just completed the first test of the tryout, a 2k free for all of a run, and was sitting some nearly 300 hungry young men waiting to eat.  Naturally I started up a convo with the guy sitting next to me.  His name was Saker and he was from the village of Yarka, near Akko.  I said oh nice I'm from Moshav Regba, I'm new in the country but that's also near Akko so we must live close to each other.  Indeed, Yarka is a Druze village around 20 minutes away from me.  Saker is young (then again, most everybody there is across the board somewhere between 1-5 years younger than I am), graduated high school in May, works for his father's independent construction group and is trying to decide whether he should serve in a combat unit in the army or do something called Ahtoodahee, where the army pays for your university degree and then you use it in the army.   Think ROTC but you don't go combat afterwards.  I had a buddy in Haifa from my gap year who was studying law, and is serving as a lawyer for the army now.  Another friend from my grade in high school, Reuven Kawesch, studied engineering (I think) at the Technion and is either finishing now or is already using his degree in the army.  Saker said he was leaning toward Ahtoodahee but since he got the Yom Sayarot invite he thought he'd try it out.  [Notice, in all of this, that Saker was deciding where to serve in the army, not whether he should serve or not.  Indeed, a fact that is rarely stressed is that there is a significant number of Israeli Arabs (Christians and Druze) and Israeli Muslim Arabs (primarily Bedouins) who proudly serve in all sectors of Israel's military, including the most elite and prestigious of the units.] 

Anyway, within minutes I was cutting through to the interesting stuff, i.e. the highly secretive nature of the Druze religion.  I asked Saker if he was religious, to which he promptly replied no.  If he was religious he would be wearing the garb of religious folk and his life would be spent in a much different manner -- religious Druze for the most part don't serve in the army (Haredi comparison, anyone?).  If the Druze religion was a 12th century offshoot of Islam, does that mean he was forbidden to drink alcohol as per Islam, or was he allowed?  With a wry smile, he said he shouldn't, but since he wasn't religious..well..
I interrupted and said, "Perfect!  After all of this, no matter what happens tomorrow, we should drink in Akko."  Whiskey shots were agreed upon.  Saker then asked me if I was religious, to which I gave my reply (for all those from Temple Israel of Natick, sorry you already know my answer) רוחני, spiritual.  We talked for several minutes about faith in God, theology and religion in general, and how that translates for us each in a day to day basis.  What I loved about this conversation was that in the middle of a cutthroat competition for elite Israeli army units, I was talking to a man of a different faith about God.  You can take me out of JTS, but you can't take the JTS out of me.  And honestly, anyone who knows anything about the Israeli army knows that it is a melting pot for all socio economic strata of Israeli Jews.  I learned that it can also easily be a melting pot for different religions, too, something that should not be taken lightly or for granted.    Our chat was interrupted as we were called for dinner, and I didn't see Saker at all for the duration of Yom Sayarot.

I did, however, see him again.  At the very end of the testing, as I kind of described above, the people who finished the day successfully were split up into four groups, one for Matkal, one for Shayetet, one for Chovlim, and one for people who finished the day but didn't get an invite.  Lo and behold, Saker also received an invite for Chovlim.  And as you  might have guessed by now, he was the Druze from the day of testing in Tel Aviv who, along with us 5 Garin Tzabar kids, completed the testing but did not get an invite to the actual 4 day tryout.  Pretty wild that we ended up in such similar tracks this far, I'm interested to see where he ends up!  And of course those whiskey shots still await us...

No comments:

Post a Comment