27 Iyar 5776 – White Night

“I’ll be going to Layla Lavan.”
“Jesus, going straight into Layla Lavan?  You haven’t worked with these guys before?”
“I can’t, you know?  With Ulpan and work.”
“I get it, your schedule is full.”
“I mean, I’ve been training everyday, sometimes with friends and most times solo, working myself as much as I can.”
“You’ll be fine, it’s just-”
“It’ll be a baptism by fire.”
“Yes, exactly.”
“Is it difficult? ” I asked, knowing just how unnecessary the question was, but wanting to get as real of an answer as I could.
Layla Lavan (white night), or tironut (training) in general?”
Tironut.
“It’s extreme, but do you know how to keep on?”
“Mental.”
“Yes, exactly.  Shoot for as high as you can.  The training is a bitch, but listen Nachshon, it’s worth it.  In kravi what you’ll be doing for majority of the time is holding a part of the border.  The days are long, but you do jack.  Nothing.  The only part you need worry about getting through is tironut.  If you can survive tironut, it’s cake.  It’s so good and rewarding.  The army rewards hard work.  You even go home on Thursdays for an extended shabbat.”
B’emet?
“Really.  Go to the beach, have dinner with your family, fuck your girlfriend, whatever.  Get back to the grind on Yom Rishon and repeat for seven months until you’re combat ready.”
He pulls a video up on his phone; a rabble of olive-drab warriors in boonie hats standing before wet earth caked in mud.
Achat shteim shalosh!
The soldiers jump forward and smack prone in the mud, their elbows and knees jerking forward in the thick, sinking ground, rifles held above the clay.
“Is that a Galil?
Negev.
I continued to watch in awe as the full-gear heavyweights confidently pushed their way through such hampering obstacles like tanks on asphalt.
“…During war week, you’ll sleep every other day.  Not much, two hours tops, but your body is going to soak up as much rest as possible.  During the days, the m’faked will hand out maps with topography and shit on them.”
“Okay.”
“You’re going to go through hellish marches, and will be expected to always stay on alert.  If a time comes where the group stops, there is no sitting.  You kneel with your rifle in your arms.  But after these little missions are finished, you’re going to want to lay around.  Don’t.  Study the maps as much as you can.  By the end of the day, the m’faked will send you out and you need to know exactly how to get back to base.  …But honestly, during most marches, you’re expected to carry your rifle at your shoulder at all times, you know, ready to shoot.”
“Yeah.”

IDF

“But, much of the time I’m walking with my arms tucked in my pockets.  That’s not how it is in a real combat situation.  You’ll know and feel the difference.  Last week, we were moving through a Palestinian village looking to arrest a man who was selling weapons.  We couldn’t find him all night, but we had other suspects.”
“Yeah?”
“Do you know what we found?  In one suspect’s house, business cards tucked in a stand belonging to a journalist.”
“Is that who took the photo?”
“Yes.  At about five AM we were leaving the village, and ahead of us a man was on the ground setting up a tripod.  That is why we wear the masks.”
“To protect your identity.”
“Exactly.  You cannot touch them, bother them, destroy their camera, by law.  You just ignore them and move on.  …I’m in the photograph somewhere.  Don’t remember where I was.  See the guy with his hand over his eyes?”
“Is that you?”
“No, don’t think so.  But he’s hiding, you don’t want to be too familiar in the West Bank.”
“It looks difficult.  Exhausting.  But this was my intention all along.  And I’ve always doubted myself, my poor Hebrew, my body, my upbringing.”
“That will all fade soon.  I can already tell that you’re one of us, you’re a brother.  Honestly, don’t doubt yourself.”

That changed when I came here.  Do I have fear?  Yes I do.  Not of the physical challenges, not of the gibush.  I fear for losing myself, who I am in the place I came to find who I am.  I made this clear to my American-Israeli friend as we nursed Macabi Beer while pounding shots of whiskey and rolling cigarettes; he called me brother.

The humid night brought in a hazy smog which cradled itself in the Jezreel Valley, likely from the ammonia plant east of Haifa.  It fortified the deep feeling of strangeness, one of life’s inevitable turns that leave permanent marks on the always-changing, pliable human conscious.  The alcohol wears off in the middle of the night as I lay, looking out the iron-paned blinds of my bomb-proof window, as the haze dissipates and the sun burns the dark away.

Ghosts and unwelcome memories linger, I feel I look down on them from a lonely mountain’s crest.  But it is a another day, another chance, a new time under the sun to fulfill the unforgiven minute with sixty seconds-worth distance run.

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23 Nisan 5776 – Stifled

(Anachronistic thoughts from this past week gathered in a single entry)

An aqueduct’s silhouette, like an ancient arched wraith, rises from the shadowed valley along bus route 480. Unpleasant odors fill the stale air, relieved by an open window above my head bringing in torrents of fresh wind.

We cruise fine and fast, when suddenly there is stalling traffic, and the encounter of bright blue lights in the opposing lane.

Highway One. 20:27. Outskirts of Jerusalem.

I hear the marriage of laughs and children’s shrill cries while Gotye wails over them all. Dim lights keep the cabin lit; too tranquil for the man in the seat next to me, who has fallen victim to sleep.

The strange outlines of beautifully endowed hills and mountains are highlighted under the purple sky and amber clouds grazing above and beyond. The massive grotto of a contoured cliff appears beside the freeway, littered with occasional markers and plaques and monuments; the Palmach fought on this hill in 1948, the Ottomans erected a citadel here, Hadrian raised a wall there.

On some days, like today, I feel like I can’t hold on. A friend had sat next to me one evening and told me “you are the most serious person I’ve ever met.” I don’t know if I can take her words as a compliment or a validation for the foreign nature of my soul’s fabric. I think too much, I have known this. I curse myself too often for it.

Jerusalem’s golden glow can be seen in the night, from the foundation of Mevaseret Tzion’s unexpectedly winding hills. Climbing to the plateau, the bus stops at Harel station, as a number of smiling faces and families anticipating Yom Tov disappear into the night.

A couple relocates in the seats in front of me. She wraps her hands around his neck, kisses him on the cheek and presses her lips into his ear. The streets below are uniquely quiet per the normal busy Jerusalem scenery; many have fled to the Kinneret (Galilee) for Passover. Feelings conflict within me. A breath of supernatural peace washes through my busy head and eases my heart. My heart would be the man arguing “it is too windy“. An infamous hazard for every human being, regardless of age.

The bus enters the garage of Central Bus Station as the crowd erupts in activity, as though we are on a plane that has just landed. Phones and conversations suddenly alive with the lights that flicker on.

A man in tan air force uniform stands in the aisle. Behind him, a man in dress clothes and tzitzit impatiently gathers his kids. A glock is holstered on his belt.

I’ve landed again.

My future I am tossing to the wind. I have made my decisions, and now I am working a plan post-IDF. Where am I being called to next? What is in my heart that I can give to the world? I am sowing my seeds here, where and how can they bloom?

I’m stifled. I’ve been stifled all my adult life, feeling unable to bloom!

I am returning to a thought that I will eventually move northwest. The mountains and trees of Washington and Oregon, the raging waters of the Pacific, the cold rain and commanding nature and tender, pale, warmly gratifying sun I equate to the region, in my memories and stays, I believe will be a good season of rest for me; deep down, I hope it gives me a chance to gather the pieces of my salvaged faith.

I run my hands along the wailing wall and bow my head; a plain-clothed Masorti thumb on the hands of black-coated Haredim. I whisper a few private petitions, gather my pledges and promise myself and Whomever is listening that I will not give up, ask for the necessary strength to carry through, and walk away. Jerusalem at night feels near freezing in a t-shirt; having been 30C in Haifa earlier today, it must be no warmer than 18C now. I covet a silk scarf a man wraps around his whole upper body

I ride the light rail back and forth across the city, waiting for a hostel to reach back to me. I refresh my phone and open an email which reads:

“Dear Brendan,

Since we do not recognize ‘conservative conversions’, we are unable to host you.

Shalom”

It is my first encounter with the ongoing strife between movements that make us all uniquely Jewish. The news stings, but does not deter me.  How could it?

I would be murdering my identity if I were to give up.  That is not the fabric of this soul, most serious.

A newer friend of mine returns to the kibbutz from basic training for the weekend.  I only know him as Ari, his real name unknown.  Perhaps he legally changed it after his conversion somewhere on the East Coast.

Standing a foot taller than me in black boots and a ruffled green General Corps uniform, himself hoping to graduate into the cobalt and black of Magav (Border Police), Ari comes from a nearly identical process of converting to Conservative Judaism, having dealt with the issue of recognition with subterfuge.  I tell him of my encounter with rejection.

“What did they say when you told the Jewish Agency that you are a convert?”
“You don’t tell them.”

And here he is, he made it, albeit with plans to formally convert to Modern Orthodoxy while in the army.

These experiences have raised so many questions within, mostly regarding the state of my commitment.  I love this land, and the choices I have made.  I know who I am, but with this I know what I have come to hate.

Legalities and lies.

17 Elul 5775; Kibbutznik

It has always been
the restless hope
finding the marauder
at odd hours
during the dark’s
temperate breeze;
a desperate need
grasps us two
under the Negev night
receding caution, our
entwined eyes elope;
mid-desert day,
beyond the gates
and the tower
from where I stand;
holding a strange girl
as my heart beats like
the discomforting report of a Sten
making senselessness of sense,
advancing with passionate hands–
that is how I betrayed you.
but loud is the labor of shared
sacrifice; the psalm
to survival in this strange
and embattled Land;
the hope, the red hymn,
a phonograph to our youth
in whose infant fields we stand;
the howls of night
and the colorful screams
of Semitic words
as they usher the tearing
of the fertile tapestry,
‘y’allah, kadima, aish’!
‘feel the might of our tribe;
pursue Ishmael ’til he dies’
again, don’t relent,
back into the land of Ur
from whose ancient heart
we’ve been heard–
by the declaration that shocked
the world near and far
and those brutal May evenings
with the sounds of armored cars,
whose names like Latrun, al-Quds,
and Mount of Olives
troubled this heart;
on the steep hill
from where my commander fell,
the stampede of boys busting ass
back to the Merkaz
‘Yerushalayim,
O Yerushalayim!
this handless arm
has lost its cunning!
but you and my relatives
I haven’t forgot’;
under the white grace
of the hospital bed
with rows of cots
and dying Yids,
I felt my conscious
regain its strength,
man in the green,
send me back again.
and the sunburnt officer
cold stillness in his eyes
takes my bandaged arm,
stares as I try not to cry
‘you’re staying here, boy’
in an old Hungarian tongue;
it was days later
the song on the radio sung
that which you wanted
me to listen to,
and I remember back
how I did not desire your desire
or thought maybe you were too afraid; but it was I.
I remember how your coffee eyes
used to keep me awake.
I was never able to sleep,
while thinking a boy’s thoughts
and fearing a pauper’s fears
and that sad answer
leaves me restless again
as I understand you
hearing the words that you
so often thought of
I was quick to neglect
and how we came to the end;
it was one sunrise
in petah tikvah
I heard for the first time
an old man pray
the song of first rains
to come down again;
was this the religious longing
your fragile lips once spoke of?
was this the faith
that I had so recklessly set fire to?
I never knew G-d
nor what He could do
with every harvest and
new summer moon
hanging in the purple night
with that lingering citrus smell
that reminds me of you.
now a different hope,
a man’s hope,
festers deep down
walking the streets of holiness.
standing on the hill,
where the shells fell straight
we heard the chief order
us into the Lion’s Gate,
and I could feel the weight of your
distant joy, like heavy water
walking the charred streets
dodging bullets and occasional
explosive fodder; the wall was craggy
to the touch, and I couldn’t restrain
my tears that caused
these cheeks to rust,
I had become iron, so inhuman; incapable of love, and emotionally decayed,
and at the foot of the holy presence
the first prayer in two-thousand years
of my own negligence,
I prayed.
now the restless hope
liberated like the heart
of the Jewish people,
sets my faith anew
as I wait for you
whether by charcoal eyes
or Mediterranean blue
I build, and wait on this temple
for the day I can be true,
lest I lose my left hand
and its vacant finger
ready for a hope fulfilled
in spite of a past omitted–