Meir in the Middle

Gibush Tzanchanim, Part II

Dawn breaks as drops patter against my forehead. It’s the day’s first misdar meimiyah- a group-wide chugging competition to see who can drain their canteen first. Those who finish turn their canteens upside down over their heads to prove it. We do this a bunch of times for “hydration purposes,” slash to ensure we all get cramps. After the sloshing in my stomach has become audible, we’re divided into new groups for the Gibush’s physical portion. As I wait for another “Paks, Meir” (seriously, which ancestor of mine decided to spell it פאקס instead of פוקס?!) I notice a group of soldiers lining up to return their gear. I’m soon made aware that since they had the slowest times during the 2k they’ve been disqualified from continuing. Oy. #nebuch #eizeh baasah. Heading my group of 25 is a 30 something-year-old miluimnik- or reservist- his round head comfortably shaded by a Tzanchanim Tembel, his lips irrigating freely from a Nestea. Sidekicking this gever is a team of reserve officers armed with notepads and smirks on their faces. Nestea orders us each to grab a sandbag and follow him into the field. This should be fun.

After informing us that only three of us will be accepted and that those who don’t finish in the top three are irrelevant, Nestea orders us to hoist our sandbags skyward and hold them “until I feel like letting you put them down.” If you lower your sandbag, you’re done with the gibush. After a minute and a half we’re told to put down the sandbags and race around another one placed 100 feet away. Then, the Sandbags go up again. After each race, those who finish in the top 3 stand on the side and yell out their number. Those who don’t are berated by Nestea, who asks them why they bothered to show up and happily invites them to leave instead of wasting his time. Thankfully, I’m able to finish in the top three a bunch of times, despite the amount of cheating taking place: during each race some people don’t fully circle the sandbag, cut off those who do and finish before them. Avi prepped me about the cheating beforehand but assured me that it’s noted by the officers on the side. After a few races a sandbag-laden stretcher is added: the first four finishers each grab a handle and carry the stretcher around the sandbag while the others run around them. More cheating? Obvi. But I’m still able to get to the stretcher a bunch of times. As the sandbags continue to go up, more people lower them and drop out. Nestea likes this. The sandbag-circle/stretcher-sandbag cycle continues for about 45 minutes and after Nestea denies our request to drink, he marches us down a hill onto a sand/rock field with a volleyball net perched at its edge.

The good news is that 13 people left during the sandbags. The bad news is that we’re ordered to crawl to the edge of the field and back again. And again. Since I’m not a toddler, I’ve forgotten the proper form for high-speed crawling. However, I somehow manage to come in second place overall, even though I look like a deranged iguana in the process. After 20 minutes we’re back on two feet and staring at the volleyball net. Then it happens. I’m unexpectedly hit with a flood of emotion. My thoughts are of my grandfather, who at age 16 left escaped the Warsaw Ghetto and risked his life as a Partisan to fight for Jewish survival. If only he would have known that his grandson was now part of a Jewish army, with the same goal in mind. I have to fight to force back tears. My eyes gaze heavenward, the sun a golden orb illuminating my blood-red elbows and sand-caked uniform. I had understood my decision to join the IDF as step to integrate into Israeli society. Now, here, next to a volleyball net in a field, it suddenly seems to me something much more. 

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