My son Aharon didn’t expect a happy response from me when he told me that he would be doing a two-week stint in the reserves. And he didn’t get one. With the situation heating up of late, I could think of many places where I’d rather he’d spend his time. When I asked where he would be stationed, he answered that he would be somewhere in the State of Israel. That’s another way of saying, “You don’t really want to know.” Perfect.
In the end, I was very fortunate that Aharon’s unit was stationed in an area that is difficult to reach, and consequently, generally quiet. Baruch Hashem. But I still spent a lot of quality time with my Sefer Tehillim.
Aharon’s unit spent the first few days in training not too far from civilization. But then they left for what seemed like the other end of the earth, where they would do shifts of guard duty at a checkpoint, and drive around in a jeep making sure the area was secure. They were responsible for a large and beautiful area not accessible to most citizens. At night they slept in their uniforms and shoes, on alert and ready to run if the situation warranted it.
The main base was at the end of a mountain range, not far from an Israeli settlement located in the desert, but their satellite base, where they spent the first week, was a 40-minute jeep ride from there, right next to an Israeli Arab village. Only those who live in the village as well as UN and medical personnel are allowed to enter the village. Since the base is in a firing zone, nobody is allowed to enter the area during the week. On Shabbos, on the other hand, there is no shooting, so people are permitted to enter.
The group of five soldiers slept in a caravan equipped with a generator for electricity, but if they used too many appliances at the same time, they would have a power outage. Food was brought to them from the main base.
The soldiers were not religious, but everyone was respectful of one another. Aharon had an enlightening discussion with a comrade about whether the State of Israel should support young married men who choose to learn Torah. People expressed differing opinions about judicial reform, a prevalent topic of discussion in Israel and abroad these days, but it never got heated. Everyone was united in their mission as soldiers in the Israeli Army. On Thursday night, they had a bonfire so that they could warm up some food.
On the first Friday night, Aharon davened on his own, except for the one soldier who joined him to sing “Lecha Dodi.” All the soldiers came to hear Kiddush and Havdalah. On Friday night, they had hot food, and for lunch, they had dairy. There was a very positive atmosphere in the camp.
After dinner on Friday night, they had to deal with four ATVs of Bedouins who came by. As is protocol, the chayalim warned them to stop or they would shoot. But their intruders didn’t stop. When one soldier cocked his gun, they finally stopped and complained that the chayal did so. One of the soldiers accidentally knocked down the makeshift eruv while chasing them. Aharon spent the rest of Shabbos in the caravan except when he left to do guard duty. The power also went out on Shabbos. That was the end of the hot food.
The second Shabbos was spent at the main base near the Israeli settlement. That base had more amenities than the smaller one, including a room with an Xbox where chayalim could come to relax. There was also a 24-hour “tea room” where chayalim could treat themselves to things like coffee, tea, yogurt, waffles, hot pretzels, grilled cheese, and fruit. Many chayalim miss work in order to do reserve duty, so there is a room with tables and chairs where they can work on their computers during their free time.
That Shabbos, Aharon was actually able to daven with a minyan. He had a nice Shabbos meal and was able to learn and sleep. After Kiddush, a group of approximately twenty extreme left activists arrived at the base to protest the “unfair treatment” of the chayalim toward the Palestinians. They rather loudly “informed” the soldiers that they are guilty of apartheid and proceeded to take down the fence of the checkpoint. They did whatever they could to prevent the soldiers from doing their jobs. They waved Palestinian flags while they yelled in Hebrew and English that the soldiers should refuse to obey the orders of their commanders and that they should free Palestinians.
The chayalim confiscated the flags and brought them to the base. The demonstrators laid down on the floor of the dirt road in protest. The chayalim tried to engage them and explain their position but quickly realized that there was absolutely no one to talk to. The protesters continued to walk further toward the base while an army jeep followed them from behind. Eventually, a mefaked (commander) arrived with a document stating that the protesters are prohibited from entering a military zone. This reaction was exactly what the protestors were waiting for. The chayalim pulled them off the road while the demonstrators videoed the scene so that they would be able to publicize the “crimes” of the Israeli army. They even returned later hoping to get a juicier, more violent video.
On the last night of reserve duty, the chayalim had a barbecue and a mefaked spoke with them about his experiences during Mivtza Tzuk Eitan (Operation Protective Edge).
Baruch Hashem, Aharon’s reserve duty was relatively uneventful, and he returned home to his waiting family. The chayalim are to be commended for all that they do to provide security for the citizens of Israel. We hope and pray that all of the chayalim return home safe and sound.