Friday, June 15, 2012

תן ראבק, הכל בראש

It occurred to me a little while ago that I never put any kind of formal, concluding cap here on my experiences in Israel - but then I thought right away that maybe that's for the better, because in a way it seems all the more fitting.  There's no way, not a chance I could ever wrap my time in Israel into a box and put it away on a shelf for safekeeping; there's no way I could ever take it down, dust it off, and open it up for a dose of nostalgia - because I'd never, no matter how deliberately I tried, be able to separate myself from this experience and everything it has done to and for me.  I was honorably discharged from the IDF nearly six months ago, but in the most important ways, I know I'll never (nor could I ever) let go.

 So as a sort of quasi-epilogue, I want to share news of my next big chapter: I was admitted yesterday to Harvard Law School, and will be headed there in the fall  - and of course, carrying with me everything the army has taught me, as well as all of the questions it posed and then left unanswered.  One of those questions is the one I focused on in the essay I wrote for my law school application.  And because those questions still present themselves to me on a daily basis, I cannot imagine a more fitting way for me (even six months late) to conclude the blog than by sharing it below.

My most sincere and warmest thanks to all of you who read the blog; I don't think I could express how much of a source of strength you all were during the most challenging, most trying, and above all the most personally meaningful period of my life.







It had been a brief but restful furlough at home, and I was now ready to return to base.  My rifle hung squarely across my back, my chest pins were in place, my beret rested neatly upon my shoulder, and my boots shined a deep polished red. I straightened my collar, gave a glance at the mirror, and headed for the door. After nearly a year of living in this uniform, it feels like a second skin. But its stiff fabric still weighs heavily on my shoulders – it is like a costume with an identity and a life all its own, and the moment I pull the shirt across my shoulders I feel its transformative effect. To don the uniform is not merely to wear it; it is to animate it, to embody it, and to become the face of what it represents. Some look upon the costume and see a superhero suit, while some see a devil's outfit. I know it is neither. It is something far more complicated, but I am still not quite sure what.

My path to the bus stop brought me past a children's playground and the bomb shelter constructed to neighbor it. As I walked by, children halted in their tracks and stared, mesmerized by the sharp uniform, by the sway of the rifle on my back. Excited shouts of "Look! A soldier!" followed me as I passed the playground. In moments like these, I feel thirty feet tall, and need only look at the children, the bomb shelter, and the path in front of me for my chest to swell with pride and renewed purpose.

One month later, I received another short furlough, and donned the same uniform in preparation to travel home from the base. At the transit station, I climbed wearily onto the already-rumbling public bus, and the driver glanced at my military ID and nodded me toward the back of the bus. I settled into the last open window seat, happy to find a place to rest my head, and let my heavy eyelids close as the bus pulled onto the street. I might have made it the full ninety minutes from Tel Aviv to Be'er Sheva without opening them, had I not sensed the boy walk up to me at the very next stop. A small Arab boy stood in the aisle, and as he looked at me intently I noticed there was only one seat left on the bus, next to mine. But the boy stood still, his eyes drifting from the empty seat to the polished M4A1 carbine resting on my lap, then settling heavily on my own eyes. The boy was fragile and young, but his eyes were old, and despite my fatigue I found myself sharply and uneasily awake in their grip. I wanted to welcome him to the seat, to reassure him, but the only four Arabic words I was ever taught in the army are "Stop or I'll shoot." So I sat in strained silence and instead invited him with an anxious smile, but the boy never moved, and his eyes never left mine.

My time in the army has exposed my eyes to many things they would never have otherwise witnessed. They have regularly encountered scenes of tension, of hatred, of desperation, of violence – yet among them all, the images that remain most boldly engraved in my mind are those that scream silently, striking in their simplicity: a group of children gazing admiringly from the jungle gym, or a wide-eyed, skinny boy in a frayed shirt, standing defiantly across the bus aisle. In a parallel fashion, the training I have undergone has prepared me for brutal conditions in the field, for lengthy and lonely deployments, and even for war, but it could never prepare me for the towering emotional force of moments like these. I have been trained to march, to crawl, and to scale walls in my combat boots, but I am still teaching myself to walk in them. This is the challenge I face daily: to embrace the burden of wearing the uniform, to reconcile the veritable identity crisis it often presents, and at day's end to shed my alter ego satisfied that I have represented him faithfully and humbly. It is one that I must confront not as a trained soldier, but as a conscientious human being – and that makes it the most difficult of all.

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