March 25-28 (Gadnah!)

Wowee.

So, right, Gadnah. Let me tell you right now, my opinion on this one is VERY bias. I thoroughly enjoyed Gadnah, even down to having to sleep in freaking cold tents. Not everyone had as great of a time, but I think I can safely say no one had a bad time. Now, onto the post!

Alright, so, day 1. Yes, I know it should be “all right,” but I like how alright looks. Anyway, we woke up early, and, if we didn’t pack the night before (and just so you know, the answer is of course I didn’t – I didn’t even pack for this entire trip until the day before), we through our stuff in a backpack and got ready to go. We were told not to bring pants, but to make sure we had a belt (which we didn’t even end up needing), as uniforms would be provided. Okay, so, good, I threw some deodorant and underwear and undershirts in a bag and set sail. Off to the army! Well…not quite. First we went to the Palmach museum to learn more about how the Israeli army came to be. The museum was interesting, mostly video, and pretty interactive. Eh, who am I kidding…it was a museum and I was on edge because we were about to become soldiers for the next few days.

So, we’re on the bus on the way to Gadnah after the museum, and we’re already late. Oh well, we were happy watching a movie (The Island, which was pretty good). We ended up being an hour and a half late, which didn’t really seem to make them angry, which was good. As the bus pulled up to the gate, the butterflies that reside in my belly began to violently thrash their little wings against the acidic lining of my stomach. We pulled in and waited for quite a bit before someone finally came onto the bus, told us to stop smiling and sit in our seats, and then yelled at us to get off the bus, grab our stuff, and make two lines. My memory of the beginning of that day is a bit foggy, but at some point we got our luggage to our tents and were told to meet next to the fence in two lines. Well, of course our lines are the wrong way, so we get yelled at to fix them in the time given, and are told to stand at attention, which is demonstrated for us. Attention, or Hakshev in Hebrew, is having your feet in a “V” (heels touching, toes pointed out), and your hands high on your back with your thumbs touching and your other fingers overlapping so as to make a diamond shaped space. We stood in two rows, and a Mefakedet (one of the female commanders) spoke to us in Hebrew, getting someone to translate. They split our group of 21 into two – I was in the group of 10 (Me, Amanda, Becca E, Max, Lewis, Matt, Daniel, Eli, David, and Noah), Tzevet Chamesh (Unit 5), and the other group of 11 (Carly, Becca G, Raelle, Tomer, Brandon, Micah, Adam, Jeremy, Jared, Joel, and Jacob) was Tzevet Arbah (Unit 4). So, we split into our groups and got our commanders. I had two female commanders, one clearly older than the other, who also seemed to be the one in charge. The other group got a female and a male, the female one was older and, as in our group, seemed to be in charge. Anyway, we were told to get in Chet formation. A chet, for those of you unfamiliar with the Hebrew alphabet, is basically an upside-down angular “U.” So, our group stood with five in the base of the chet and two on each leg – I volunteered to translate, so I stood outside of the chet and faced the group. Yes, yes, my grammar and speaking abilities in Hebrew might be…well, we’ll just say sub-par, but I can understand the language. The older mephakedet whispered something to the younger one and left. Our younger one turned to us and said, in Hebrew, because they only spoke Hebrew to us (despite their fluency in English), that on her count we were to form two lines in front of that tent over there. We were to count backward from the number she gave us, loudly and in Hebrew, as we ran. So, we ran and formed to lines and stood in hakshev. But wait! Someone was moving! “You are not to move when standing in hakshev. Now, on my count form two lines next to that trashcan. Eser shniyot, eser shniyot ZUZU! (ten seconds, ten seconds MOVE!)” After forming two lines next to the trashcan and moving a little less, we were to form two lines next to that red thing over there. Wait, now make a chet here. Oh, but we’ve only done that once, so we did it wrong. Do it right. No, that’s wrong, do it right. Okay, that’s better. But still bad. Okay, good. Now make two lines. Now, run to that sidewalk and make a chet. No, you moved. Do it again. Oh, you moved again, do 10 pushups. Good – now form two lines outside of the mattress and blanket storage. Okay, now take exactly one mattress and two blankets. Here I shall pause briefly to tell you all something about these blankets. The one thing we were told by Ofir not to touch were the blankets. We were told that these blankets were perhaps the most grotesque and disgusting objects to exist in this universe. Well, we get plenty of blanket touching later, but that’s another story. So, we got our bed stuff and had to run to our tent, drop it off, then line up again outside of the uniform building. We were told to line up, and by group were handed our uniforms. Of course, some pants were smalls, some belts didn’t fit, some shirts had holes. All was eventually fixed (well, my pants had a rather large hole in the crotch, but I dealt with it), and we went to put on our uniforms. Mmm, cozy. After we put on our uniforms, we made a few more chets, a few more lines, and finally got some sitting time in the form of a meeting. Hoo-rah. We got yelled at a lot more, and, eventually, it was dinner time. Our Mefakedet had us line up outside of the dining hall, and before going in we had to shout to our mefakdot to enjoy their meal and remove our hats. We walked into the dining hall, and lo-and-behold, we had potatoes and pasta! Alright! Nothing like starch with a little bit of starch and a side of starch for a good balanced meal. Nah, but in seriousness, we needed the carbs and the energy to even move. Ugh…After dinner we did a few more drills and had a final all base meeting. We were told to stand at attention as the Rasap, the commander of our commanders, came and spoke to us about our week. After a good half-hour of standing with our hands behind our backs, we were pretty damn tired. We learned two other stances, “noach” (ease) and “dom” (still). When the Rasap told us to stand in either stance, at the same time we were all to stamp our feet together as we moved it. It ended up sounding pretty awesome. Oh, we also received our ranks. There were to be two roles different from the rest of the group; one would be the officer, who would be in charge of time and speaking with commanders if problems came up, and the other in charge of food. Adam Levinson and I were chosen to be our groups’ officers, and Becca E and Carly became the food torans. There was a ceremony to receive badges that would be worn for the remainder of the week on our shoulders. The Mem’mem, who gave Adam and I our badges, punched us both on the arm pretty hard after pinning them on. I mean hard. Not that I was going to cry or anything, but I wasn’t expecting her to clock me in the shoulder. Whatever. Finally, to conclude the day, we were given a free hour. After this hour, we were to meet in a chet in our normal spot (for my group outside of the girls’ tent) in our PJs. We cleaned up the base (timed, of course), and then had exactly four minutes to get into bed. Well, that was not only difficult because of how little time we had, but also difficult because it was only 9:30pm! Once in bed there was no talking and no getting up. Our mefakdot checked on us about every minute for what seemed to be an hour until we all finally passed out. We didn’t need much coaxing…or at least I didn’t – I was tired!

Day 2, 5:30am: Wake-up time! You have exactly 20 minutes to get dressed, brushed, pee, and stand in hakshev. Oh, try and make your beds, too. Can’t? Oh well, you’ll just have to do some pushups. Well, our group I believe made it out into a chet in time. We had to greet our commander while standing. We were down one comrade who had fallen to a head-cold; Amanda was sick and would be going home. We missed you, Amanda! Our commander then yelled at us a little, then told us (while I had to translate – not my specialty when I’m barely awake and very cold) that we had to clean up our stuff, make our beds, fold our blankets, and roll up the flaps of all of our tents all in ten minutes. Ha! We asked for a whole bunch of extensions and still didn’t manage to get it done. Ah well, eventually we got a bit of help and a lot more time and were able to complete our task. Phew. After that we got a snack of apples and were told that in 10 minutes we would be in two lines on the path; we were going to a hike. Well, the hike was about 3 kilometers, and we walked in formation the whole way, learning chants to yell as we passed the other units, trying to prove our supremacy. Well, all I have to say is that tzevet hamesh is awesome. CHORANIM ESH! Agalot! Raq b’super! Er…Anyway, we walked and walked and thankfully I remembered my sunscreen (so stop worrying, mom), drank, and learned about the Negev and David Ben Gurion. Ben Gurion wanted all of Israel to be settled, which is why our base, “Steh Boker” was founded. We continued our hike and ended up at a park/empty field sort of place. We had breakfast, which consisted of Corn Flakes with no bowls or spoons, chocolate spread, jelly, bread, and other various num-nums. After breakfast, it was time to learn some drills. We filled our canteens and followed our commanders into the field. The first item on the agenda: pizazta! Pizazta is used to avoid enemy fire. First position is to squat-kneel down, one hand on the ground, ready to move. Second position is like a push-up; you kick your feet out from first position and put your hands on the ground. Then, finally, third position is to lay down, belly on the ground, forearms and elbows also touching the ground. Do this quickly, and you have yourself a pizazta. We played some games using pizazta, and also learned different crawls that would help in different situations. One, a quiet, slow crawl, the other a loud, fast crawl. We then learned what to do in case of a RIMON! A rimon to most folks might just mean pomegranate, but to us, we only heard GRENADE! When someone shouted “rimon!” you ran for three seconds, then dove on the ground, crossed your legs and covered your head. We did our drills and played a lot of fun games in the field, and finally became pretty exhausted. We were treated to some grapefruit and brought back to the small clearing where we were to eat lunch, but not before playing some camouflage hide-and-go-seek. Of course Daniel’s team won…that kid hides well. We ate a yummy deli meat lunch before going to learn a real field drill that was demonstrated by our mefakdim. They showed us shooting, throwing grenades, and crawling all at once. We then joined up with the rest of the Weber kids and had some friendly competition. Some of you mothers would be proud of how fast your boys and crawl. Seriously, it’s quite a talent. After a fun but exhausting day we headed back to the base. Once back we got some dinner which consisted of – oh joy! – rice, couscous, veggies, and potatoes! Hooray starch! After our carbtastic dinner we had our first classes about shooting an M-16. I didn’t realize how excited I’d be. The Mem’mem, the leader of our part of the base, led the class and went over the rules. A few people, nay, unfortunate soldiers, were talking or sleepy and were forced to go outside and run laps and do push-ups. When they walked in I was pretty sure a train had hit them. Perhaps it had…well, either way it was humorous. But, well, you couldn’t laugh or you would have to suffer the same misfortune. After class we ran some more drills and had some chat time with our commanders, went to the flag lowering ceremony, then finally got our free hour and sleepy time. During our free hour we snuck Joel a birthday cake and sang him a very triumphant HAPPY BIRTHDAY! You see, Joel tried to not tell us about his special day, but we figured it out. Happy 19th, Joel! Finally at this bedtime I had wised up…sorta. My bed was made perfectly for optimal warmth, but we didn’t think about food left in our tent. That evening I did have to get up once to scare out a fox that was looking for cookies – it was stolen the entire huge box earlier and came back looking for more. Well, silly fox, you already took them all! He wouldn’t be the last creature I’d have to chase out, no worries.

Good morning folks. It’s 6:00am and Day 3 of basic training. Today, you will learn all you want to know about M-16s, as well as run the obstacle course. Woo-hoo! First thing in the morning we raised the flag. We then had classes for almost the whole day, got to learn about how to hold the weapon and remember what the rules are. Our group had to stay in second position until we named all of them (fortunately we have good memories). We held the gun, were shown where to aim, and were taught the procedure of firing. That afternoon, we went to the obstacle course. We split into two groups (JDS and Weber were together this time), and went through the course. The first obstacle was the wall. We were to run and leap over it…or in mine and Carly’s cases run right into it, bashing our knees multiple times, successfully gaining massive bruises. Matty manages to just sorta…flip over the wall without really jumping over, and most of the boys cleared it normally. The next obstacles mostly consisted of jumping over things, doing monkey bars, and climbing balance beams. It was quite fun, but I didn’t escape unharmed. I believe I got more bruises from that than I ever have. That evening we had one more class, a discussion class, about “Tahor HaNeshek” – the purity of weapons. Are purity and weapons opposites? How can you call the use of a weapon pure? We discussed this pricipal that the Israeli army goes by, and it definitely caused some intense debate. We had another weapons meeting, but not without it’s share of drama. Max, who had been feeling quite sick earlier, finally found the strength to attend a meeting. In the middle of the meeting, he stands up, white as a sheet, and says “Ani choleh meod (I’m very sick)” and began to walk out. Once outside, we hear a THUD – he had fainted! Before anyone else could react, a JDS student who was trained as an EMT jumped out of the back row and ran outside to help. They got Max on a strecher and carried him to a quiet place, and he rested for the remainder of Gadnah. Whew. After that we had dinner, which, although starchy, was much needed. Tomorrow we would fire our weapons, but first we were to have our closing ceremony. Yes, it was a bit early, but the other groups were leaving tomorrow morning, and this was our last evening together. We presented awards to the best cadets in the groups. Lewis won for tzevet chamest, and Jeremy, although he did well over 200 pushups the entire week, won best cadet for tzevet arbah! Hooray boys! They even have certificates to prove it. We had our ceremony, went to free time, and finally got to bed; tomorrow would be a big day.

Wow, Day 4. We got up nice and early, but of course we were not on time. For payment we were to run to the lightpole and back in 20 seconds. Oh, wait, you moved after you got back into the chet. Do it again. Nope, wrong again, once more. Well, the day was a lot like that, line up, unline up, get into a chet, space it out, unspace it, line up again, march. We had our last lessons on guns, then, finally, our time had come. We got onto the bus and drove to the shooting range. We waited and waited and chatted and chatted until finally we were called in. We filed in and a mefakedet told us which target we were aiming at (I wish I had paid better attention – I ended up aiming at the wrong target), and we sat down, back to the gun, sitting in hakshev. We got the command to put on our headphones. Headphones on. We then turned around and picked up our guns. Magazine in, cock the gun, safety off. FIRE! The gunsmoke smelled like airbags deploying, and shells flew and hit people in the back. We shot a total of 10 bullets each, and in the end went to retrieve our papers at which we shot. Mine had no holes in it, because I was aiming at Becca E’s. Oh well, at least I know I hit it some, as she had more shots in her paper than she fired. That was definitely a letdown, but shooting the gun was a lot of fun. Mom, Dad, sorry, but I’m already looking at prices for M-16s on ebay. After the guns, it seemed like they wanted us to waste time – we had to unload all the nasty blankets and mattresses, COUNT THEM, NEARLY DIE OF ASTHMA, and fold and count and organize all of the uniforms, too. It was…well, terrible. We got to have a mock trial about Israel, where witnesses included a man named Yanki who sounded an awful lot like Borat and our very own Beth Halpern. After our debate, we went with our commanders to return our uniforms. Piece by piece we turned them in, and finally, when we were done, we went to go and chat with our commanders. Previously, we had not known anything about our commanders, not even their ages. We learned that their names were Anat and Avigail, who were 20 and 18 respectively. Matt and I were both older than Avigail, and Anat had only turned 20 11 days prior. It was odd to see someone who’d been in the army over six months and wasn’t much older than I was. We talked about where they lived (Kvar Saba and Hod HaSharon, weird, eh?) and how long they’d been in the army and how they got to Gadnah. Our conversation was unfortunately cut short, and the bus had arrived. We trudged on, watched a movie, and took much needed showers. I hadn’t bathed in four days. Gross, right? See, I have learned something from my father! Just kidding, dad…Sort of đŸ™‚ Finally, we all collapsed. Ah, sleep.

Your faithful soldier,

-Jamie

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9 Responses to “March 25-28 (Gadnah!)”

  1. Mrs. Huff Says:

    That was intense, Jamie! Tell everyone hello for me.

  2. Jenn Sichel Says:

    jamie, this entry was fantastic.

    for some reason i’m not surprised that you shot at the wrong target. i don’t know why, you’re normally so very coordinated. enjoy the carbs. chag sameach. (see, i still remember a little hebrew)

    love you.

  3. Barry Says:

    One day, I hope to be as tough as Jamie.

  4. Robert Sichel Says:

    Dear Jamie:

    Apparently, my lessons have not been taken seriously. There is nothing gross about conserving our limited supplies of potable water.

    Love,
    Dad

  5. Marc Miller Says:

    Thank you all for taking care of Max. He seems no worse for wear. His big dissappointment was missing the firing range. He has requested that we go to a shooting range when he returns.
    Go Terps

  6. Grandpa Verby Says:

    Jamie I was exhausted just reading about your experiences at an Israeli army training camp. I recall that your Mom was quite good with a bow and arrow. But an M 16?? The rest of your ordeal was routine for an Army training course. I can’t say I liked thinking about a grandchild in the Army. I am sure that all Grandparents think as I do. I enjoyed the way you wrote about your time at Gadnah more than what you had to do. Love you

  7. Sheryl Rechtman Says:

    Thank you so much for not forgetting Joel on his birthday. That’s probably better than any birthday party he’s ever had 1 I’m sure he will remember his GADNA birthday for many years.

  8. Steve Chervin Says:

    Wow! What an experience. Jamie, your blow-by-blow reports and commentary are wonderful, it’s almost as good as actually being there! Your eye-witness and gut-level reactions really let us know what’s happening; keep up the great writing!

  9. Merrie Edelston Says:

    Jamie: I am so thoroughly enjoying your blog. I was laughing out loud reading your account of Gadna. Hard to believe that someone was actually ordering Rebecca E around! And she took orders????????

    Enjoy your Pesach break!

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