I finished my first stint in the IDF reserves about a week ago. It was good to be back in uniform, serving my country again. Israel relies on a large force of reserve soldiers to augment our standing army - after our three mandatory years of army service, Israeli citizens can be called up at any time for training and at time of war of course.
I’m attending my first reserve duty call-up this week.
Most Israelis who complete their army service return to the military for three to four weeks a year to maintain their combat readiness and to supplement the IDF’s defensive presence throughout Israel.
Tu B’Av is one of the ‘unknown holidays’ of the Jewish calendar, at least to the average Jew living in the Diaspora, where it passes virtually unmarked. In Israel however, Tu B’Av has seen a resurgence and one can literally crisscross this tiny country for 24 hours visiting Tu B'Av events and festivals. You could hang out at the "Night of Love by the Sea of Galilee Festival" or perhaps mingle with the crowds at the "Between the Vineyards Festival"? My personal favorite is the "Night of Love in the Desert Ashram Festival"!
For those of you who think that the only day of love in the calendar is 'Valentines' – think again! We Jews have had Tu B’Av as our day of love predating Valentines by a few thousand years!
This time a year ago, I was fighting alongside my soldiers in Operation Protective Edge.
This time a year ago, I lost my commander and my two friends Yuval and Nadav.
The first weekend after the war ended I was sent home on leave. I hadn’t been home for over two months. Anyone who knows Israeli soldiers knows that going home for Shabbat is what keeps us going.
The worst punishment that you can give a soldier is to keep them in for Shabbat but this Shabbat was the first time that I would have rather stayed on base. I wanted to be with the people who had gone through what I just experienced—people who understood.
I got home and showered. Then I ate my first home-cooked meal in a month. Afterward, while sitting in my
room, it hit me. My commander and my friends would never be eatingFriday night with their families again. They’ll never get discharged from the army, get a new job or get married.
I broke down. Out of nowhere, the walls fell and everything came pouring out. I cried for a long time.
Then came the second-guessing - the "survivor guilt". Could I have done something to help? Could I have done something to save them—something to help them be here today?
I couldn’t sleep. I played and replayed it in my head. Things like my last conversation with my commander, when he told me to get a haircut. I was incredulous. A haircut in the middle of a war? But he explained himself, (and these are the last words he would ever say to me):
It's been a year since I fought in operation Protective Edge in Gaza. Things have changed a lot for me since then for a number of reasons, but I think the biggest one is because I lost several friends and my commander during the fighting.
During the months right after the war, I was an active duty soldier. I didn't have time to think about anything because I was too busy with the responsibilities of being a commander.
But as a civilian, things are different. Now I have time to think. Thoughts and memories come to me all the time. Not a day goes by that I don't look back and remember.
It hits me at different times, when I’m having a beer, eating an ice cream or walking down the street. What would my friends be doing if they were alive? What would my commander say if he saw me now?
I remember the day my commander, Dolev Keidar, and my friends, Yoav and Nadav, died. It all seemed surreal. The fact that they were dead didn’t really penetrate, even though I saw their bodies and saw the TV coverage and the pictures.
Since coming back from my speaking tour in the United States, I’ve spent my time speaking at programs here in Israel. I showed Beneath the Helmet to many year-abroad programs in the Technion, Hebrew University, IDC and Bar Ilan, among others.
Overall, it was a positive experience. The students were very interested in the movie and gave positive feedback. They wanted to understand my personal story and how serving as a combat soldier and grappling with complex issues here affects my life.
Mekonen graduates from officer’s school this week.
For those of you who know his story, this is truly amazing. Mekonen emigrated from Ethiopia with his family when he was 12 years old, and his father died hours before they boarded the plane.
He spoke only broken Hebrew when he enlisted, and during his basic training he nearly dropped out of the army because of financial difficulties he and his family were experiencing. As documented in Beneath the Helmet, we were able to raise the funds to help him pay back his debts and stay in the army.
(Group picture of the male soldiers)
I just got back from a one week trip to the United States. I learned a lot, enjoyed it a ton, and really grew from the experience.
This past Monday, I was privileged to speak with several hundred shlichim – Jewish Agency volunteers – who are about to fly to the States to be counselors at Jewish summer camps across America.
Today is Jerusalem Day. Forty-eight years ago the IDF reunited Jerusalem under Israeli rule after being divided for 19 years following Israel’s War of Independence.
I had visited Jerusalem before I joined the army, but its importance only became clear to me when I become a soldier.
Around 30% of soldiers have never been to Jerusalem in their life, and the army does a great job connecting them to the city. It exposes them to the history, culture, and religious significance of this city through tours, weekend retreats, and ceremonies.