I Hang Out With Fire Walkers And Those Who Are Just Learning How To Breathe Smoke

NCO/Specialists Course
The course was six weeks in length and incredibly, incredibly intense. Due to the nature of the course we’re not allowed to discuss what we learned or the learning process, so there’s not much I can write about it here. After having been in the Foreign Relations Branch for the past year and three months (and the IDF for the past year and a half) I mostly learned things about myself. I grew as both a soldier, a teacher and as a person.

It was an amazing experience. I walked away with my Hebrew at a totally new level, with thirty seven new friends and six new brothers to add to my extended family.

This is the first weekend since finishing the course where I’ve had the time to just think about everything that I saw, everything that I learned…where I’ve had the time to decompress and to get things just sorted out in my mind.

I lost a lot of weight on the course and I’ve been actively working on my overall health and wellness since I finished (I recommend joining SparkPeople – totally free, too…no gimmick…I’m a member). My goal is to be where I want to be by my 27th birthday.

A בלגן (pronounced “bal-agan”…no, I’m not typing out the IPA…I haven’t installed the IPA Keyboard software on my new laptop since the death of my Mac) is Hebrew slang for a giant mess. Examples are like when everything explodes, papers are everywhere, or things are made overly complicated for next to no reason.

I returned home from the course to find a few problems. First and foremost was that some mice moved into my room and destroyed a good deal of what little I own. Also, there was a bit of water damage. The kibbutz has had a terrible (historically speaking) track record of maintaining their rooms. Their viewpoint is that they should do one or two rooms at once, as part of a major overhaul. Being the son of a master carpenter and remodeler I’ve learned a few things working with my dad over the years.

One of the things I’ve learned is that you have to maintain all of the small problems as soon as they arise…as soon as something happens, as soon as a small coat of paint is needed…do it! You’ll save yourself thousands of dollars in the long run…now that I think about it, the same can be said for cars and the human body…take care of things as soon as they come up!

Anyway, the concrete with the cracking linoleum that covers it (also known as my floor) isn’t waterproofed…which means that when it rains, water seeps up through the floor. Admittedly, it rarely rains in Southern Israel, but when it does, it pours.

I take loosing everything once again (or almost everything, more accurately put) as a sign that I need to keep things light and use this as an opportunity to move forward and move on.

The problem with coming off of any course where there’s even the remotest shred of distance (something I haven’t operated with in over a year since I finished Basic Training and my first army course) is that after you come off of the course you’re in what Israelis refer to as shock. This has meant that I refuse to believe that I’ll ever receive any papers back, that I don’t think any of my forms are going to go through, that I’m positive everything is going to be an uphill battle and that no one is going to do their job correctly the first time…I’m almost out of shock, though I’ve been right about most of my feelings since returning to my regular army base.

The army still hasn’t entered my military profession properly into the computer…I did manage to get them to put the right grade in (finally) and I also managed to hunt down the poor guy who’s responsible for making sure that the right profession is entered into the computer. I feel sort of bad for him, considering he just took over the position for the person who made the mistake in the first place. After some preliminary research I also know that that he’s signed on for at least a year in his current position, his cell phone number, and his army serial number (I minored in professional stalking). I don’t need Miss Cleo to tell me that we’re going to become the best of friends.

Anyway, other things I’ve been in the process of working through;
+ My network isn’t working which means that I can’t work at my desk yet.
+ I’m on my last dress uniform…and Logistics for some reason doesn’t have any…
+ I still haven’t been able to get my referral to go through for the hairline fracture in my scapula…though at this point, It’s pretty much healed so I don’t see the point in pressing the matter.

Signing Keva
I approached my commander and asked him when he was going to offer me a contract (‘Keva’). We didn’t get the budget line item last year to make me an Academic Officer (which would have also seen me receive a promotion in rank and would have better fit in with my long term goals). While I originally wanted to go to the Officers School, I turned down Human Resources when they invited me to attend their OCS (I’m not leaving Foreign Relations for Human Resources). I don’t like the other options that I have, so loving my work and who I work with and needing money to do the other things in life that I want to do I asked to sign on as a Warrant Officer.

My commander offered me the option of taking over the position of one of our Warrant Officers providing (obviously) that the position and I are good matches, that I enjoy the work, that the commander thinks I can handle it (everything I already knew and expected coming from working in New York). That said, if all goes well, and a unicorn crosses the road at the exact moment that the planets align, and all of the paperwork goes through I’ll be the Deputy Commander of the Overseas Office for the IDF Ground Forces Command this June or next (I’m banking on next June). The job title sounds way sexier in English than it does in Hebrew.

The benefits, however, are awesome:
+ I’ll be paid more than if I become a High School Teacher here in Israel.
+ I’ll have the time to work on my Masters Degree.
+ I’ll leave the army with both a Masters Degree and money in my bank account instead of leaving with debt.
+ I get to stay in a positive work environment, with friends I enjoy.
+ I won’t have to do monthly guard duty.
+ I still get to run the ESL course and handle all of the linguistics for the branch (including diagnostics and testing) – this was made very clear to me…twice.

Moving Positions
For the past few weeks I’ve been in the process of moving from my position as the Assistant to the Head of the Foreign Relations Branch to being a Non-Commissioned Officer in the Overseas Office as part of my overall training to eventually (again, providing that the unicorn shows up on time) take over as the Deputy Commander of the Overseas Office.

Some concurrent positions remain: Guard Duty, Rapid Responder, Staff Linguist, ESL Teacher and Bulldog.

Some concurrent positions are new: I have to learn the Information Security POC position as part of the job to ensure our data (and the soldiers and officers we’re responsible for) remains safe.

I’m excited. The work is totally different from what I’ve been doing. It’s incredibly organized, linear, and involves working entirely in Hebrew. I look forward to the challenge. I also look forward to the free time that comes with the position (everyone in the office is almost as organized as I am which makes work-flow incredible).

New Glasses
After I returned from the course, I went to the medical center on base and asked them to stamp the forms for me so I could get an eye exam and a new pair of glasses. Thankfully, they stamped them without question. I went a week and a half ago to get my eyes checked and to order glasses.

I got a call the other day telling me to come in. I mentioned shock above, I honestly thought that when I got there it would have all been a lie and that my glasses would have been lost and that they would then ask me to start the entire process over again. However, I went and picked them up and I can finally see again without seeing double.

I really need to buzz my head again…actually, I just need to eventually buy a new buzzer (I’ve gone through two since moving here)…I started out with hair…then I entered the army…fortunately here buzzed heads are trendy.

Moving From The Kibbutz
For many reasons I’ve decided to move out of the Kibbutz. While I love my kibbutz family deeply as well as the majority of the kibbutznicks here who are all incredibly warm, accepting and friendly…the reality is that my kibbutz is in the middle of nowhere.

I’m 25 and it’s incredibly hard to date people when there’s poor access to transportation…and if someone does want to come and pick me up it’s a total of 20km round trip…and they have to drive next to Gaza which doesn’t thrill everyone (I live 1km from the border). I have no way of getting out on the weekends, I don’t know any of the youth on the kibbutz because I don’t work on the kibbutz like I did at Ma’agan Michael. What I can do during my free time becomes limited because the last bus back to the kibbutz is at 18:10 (6:10pm) which means I have to run from work or I have to find a place to crash if I haven’t finished my work on time or I have to be willing to walk 5km back to the Kibbutz, which isn’t such a bad walk (I walk more than that regularly) but it doesn’t mean I feel like doing it in dress clothes.

Because I live on a kibbutz, the army assumes they feed me twice daily so I don’t receive a food stipend…which is a problem when the kibbutz doesn’t serve breakfast and only serves dinner twice weekly and I’m stuck finding ways to pay for my own food. Adding to this, is that according to my agreement with the kibbutz I’m only supposed to eat in their dining room eight times a month…it’s gotten very frustrating.

I put in my request to move to a fully funded apartment last Wednesday. My request should go to the relevant headquarters on Sunday to be taken care of. I hope to have an answer relatively soon. Given that I’ve lost most of my belongings to two thefts last year and most recently, mice and water damage, if the apartment doesn’t go through I’ll be moving into a ‘Beit Chayal’ – a glorified hostel for soldiers (they’re quite nice, hot tubs, swimming pools, cafeterias, etc.). until I’m contracted by the army and can afford to start renting a place.

I need the ability to do things other than walk and sleep. I miss being politically active, I don’t think of it as a hobby but as a responsibility, a requirement: all who are able to must give back somehow. This is the call, the vocation of TIkun Olam: millions of small acts by millions of people that come together to make something big…I can’t volunteer during the week (I’m on base) and I can’t volunteer on weekends if I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere…I’m dying to make Teachers in The Park a reality…I want to do HIV/AIDS outreach again, I want to teach free English lessons to Sudanese refugees. There are tons of youth doing nothing but getting drunk in the parks on the weekends who have no creative outlets…let’s build some for them! I have an email going out later tonight to the Jerusalem Open House offering free English workshops and lessons for the LGBT community.

I need a change…and I need to be able to be active again and to go sit at cafés and go see shows and go dancing at clubs. I need to jump into the LGBT community which I’ve been removed from for the past two years since moving to Israel (there was a lot of other things that were more important to get settled first, but now I’m ready). The less I own the easier it is, so I’m taking all of this as some kind of blessing and running full forces into God knows what.

Visiting New York & The Wedding
I’m getting excited for my New York trip. Right now I’m in the process of applying for a free flight from the IDF. Before I can finish the paperwork I have to renew my passport (which I’m doing the Monday after next). In Israel it only takes around five days (which is one thing I can say for our bureaucrats). I’m incredibly excited for Alice & Tim’s wedding (I’m in the wedding party)…I’ve been working on their toast whenever I’m on patrol…it gets boring walking around alone at 0300 so I’ve been using the time to talk out loud to myself, my M-16 and the fence and figure out what I want to say..

Anyway, I’ll be flying out of Tel Aviv on June 27, 2010 and returning to Israel on June 24, 2010. My general itinerary should be as follows:

June 27 – Land
July 1-4 South Carolina (Fourth of July at Myrtle Beach!)
July 5-12 Buffalo, New York
July 12 – Amsterdam, New York (iolausian and felperland)
July 13-24 – Long Island, NY

Everything remains up in the air though. I’ll post an actual itinerary as I draw closer to the trip.

Graduate School
So I’ve decided to begin working on my Masters Degree in Cultural Studies while serving in the army. Right now I’m in the starting phases (getting all of my letters of recommendation in order, updating my CV, etc.). I’ve decided to attend the Open University of Israel which will let me work on my M.A. while I continue my army service.

Coming from a background in Linguistics, it’s my hope to view the Jewish-Israeli, Arab-Israeli, Muslim-Israeli, Christian-Israeli, Armenian-Israel, Russian-Israeli, Israeli-Israeli, Hyphenated-Israeli narrative through the framework of the Sapir Whorf Hypothesis and to try and focus on Jewish-Israeli interactions in Arabic and Arab-Israeli interactions in Hebrew. I want to focus on the language, the words, the stories and allegories that have developed between different groups of people bringing together their modern usage and their relation to their relevant holy books.

I plan on using a lot of different mediums while concentrating my work in three places of comparison: The Old City, Tel Aviv and Tzfat. I want both Religious, Secular and Spiritual narratives as well as LGBTQ and Heterosexual narratives. I look forward to doing tons, and tons, and tons of interviews, visiting countless holy sites, sitting with religious and community leaders while learning a thing or two along the way.

Guard Duty & The Coming Weeks

Tel Aviv in the Morning
Jerusalem at night to go pray at the Kotel

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv



Kibbutz Zikim

Kibbutz Zikim


+ Renewing my passport in Tel Aviv
+ Last minute shopping for guard duty

Tuesday-Wednesday (a Week Later)
+ Guard duty

Idea For A Photo Per Entry Blatantly Stolen From LIW


Trail Location Marker/Meaning of Life from nomadmatan‘s Army Life: General Gallery