Monday, April 29, 2013

Civilian Life (and the US!) Here I Come!

That's right, I get officially released from the IDF in two days, Wednesday, May 1st.

The past few months have gone by very quickly, here is a very brief recap: almost two months in course Nativ, one month back at base, two weeks off for Passover (as a nanny with my sister for the Kohl family vacation in Israel...AMAZING!), three more weeks at the first seminar for the conversion process, and almost two weeks on vacation before my release date. 
Here I am with Allie at a ceremony last week where I received a distinguished soldier of the Strategic Division award. My friend Eli and Lavi's mom came to support me as well!

I have time off until my flight to the states on May 22nd and have started "getting my life back in order" as I like to call it. Visiting all the governmental offices I need to visit in order to integrate back into civilian life, catching up and seeing friends, and doing some major spring cleaning of my apartment before I pack up and head back to New England for the whole summer. 

I have many plans already for the summer including Dani's prom and graduation right when I get back, three weddings (bachelorette and shower included), family vaca in Martha's Vineyard, trips to NY and possibly DC, oh, and working full time. I will be nannying (yes, yes, there is a theme) full time this summer fro two adorable kids with 3-day weekends and three weeks off for vacation throughout the summer, can you say perfect? 

My sister Allie is arriving at the end of July and we are flying back together on September 2nd, with a day long sightseeing layover in Madrid!

What is the next big step you ask? Well that is a great question. I have made the decision not to go back to school this upcoming year. I was unable to decide what I wanted to do and realized that I wasn't quite sure why I was so rushed to go back to school if I wasn't even sure what I wanted to study. After changing my mind every weekend that I returned from the army, my sister suggested looking into an MBA. She may actually be on to something here... Anyway, I will probably take or at least study for the GMAT this summer and apply for school for the fall of 2014 in whatever I end up deciding(in Israel of course, it's free and have you heard me complain about my undergrad loans?!?) In the mean time, the next year and a bit looks blissfully open and full of opportunity. It will be filled with a combination of traveling and work, that is for sure, but the ratio has yet to be determined. 

More pictures to come once I upload to my computer. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Course Nativ

In typical army style..I found out two weeks ago that I was accepted to 'Course Nativ' and I started last week.  A little background about the course and why I am in it...

In order to be a candidate for the course one must be either A: a new immigrant less than 10 years in Israel and/or B: not considered Jewish by Jewish Law. I fall under both of those categories. But wait a minute, some of you may ask, what does it mean you're not considered Jewish, Lauren? You're the only Jew out of all of my friends! (It's kind of funny how true that is for many people back home). In the Jewish religion one is born the religion of their mother (in my case, Catholic), in the Catholic religion one is not Catholic until baptized. Before my sisters and I were born my parents decided to raise us Jewish which meant at six months we all underwent a conservative Jewish conversion. Is the US this means that I am considered a Jew, in Israel, however, a conservative conversion does not count and therefore I need to undergo another conversion, this time Orthodox. The only way in which my current "half-Jewish" status affects me in Israel is that I cannot get married here until I undergo the conversion. Everything else pertaining to the law I am entitled to since, just to be a bit more confusing, according the the government I am Jewish yet according the the Chief Rabbi I am not. The only governmental issue run by the Rabbi is marriage, there is no civil marriage in Israel. Because of this many Israeli's that do not want an orthodox Jewish wedding get married abroad and then their marriage is verified in Israel. Although I have no idea if I will even get married in Israel or not, the reason I am going through this process now is because it is a much faster process to do in the army than in civilian life...if I decided to do so after. Back to the course...

The course is 7 weeks and it is in Jerusalem at a place run by the Jewish Agency, which means not at an army base. This has pros and cons..but mostly pros. I have a room with 3 roommates a bathroom, shower, and a real down comforter provided to me :). Our dining hall has way better food than the army, except dinner is usually a meat meal which guys love and I dislike greatly. (Usually in the army breakfast and dinner are dairy and lunch is meat, for kosher reasons it is not possible to have both at one meal. Since I'm not a big meat eater I graciously look forward to breakfast and dinner and manage to get by at lunch. A meat dinner is thought of as really awesome to almost everyone, except me and the real vegetarians.) Back on track...We are split up into 9 groups and we learn from 8am until 7pm, with breaks of course, Sunday-Thursday. We have many trips to religious and historical sites around the country. Our classes are Zionism, history, Torah, holidays, and Jewish philosophy.

A majority of the students are Russian, either Israeli born or immigrants, who are usually also not considered Jewish. In Russia Judaism is paternal as opposed to maternal, go figure, which causes problems in Israel. Many students mother's are Jewish is Russia which means their mother's father is Jewish. It's all a bit confusing and arbitrary...don't worry about not following. Anyway, I am the only American girl in the course of 200 people which I'm pretty surprised about. I am in a class with half Russian students (Israeli born and not), 2 from Peru, one Columbian, one Argentinean, one from Panama, one Romanian, two ethiopian, a few from Ukraine, one from Belarus, one from LA, and I think that's it. There are 7 girls including myself, 6 Russian and me, haha. I am among 3 who have been here for 3 years or less, everyone else is 8-10 years or more in Israel. As you can imagine, it is quite the eclectic class. I am glad I am not in the class with almost all American guys because I know I would end up speaking English too often.

So far everything is really interesting, I am excited to learn a lot more these next two weeks (we are staying the weekend) as last week was mostly an introductory week.

Look what happened in Jerusalem this week!!!
overlooking snowy Jerusalem
the old city, the Dome of the Rock
 Palm tree covered in snow

My class and our snowman!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

May 1st

If you remember the story of how I was supposed to enlist for a year but then the army "messed up" and gave me two then here is a new and exciting twist...

I requested to shorten my army service and get release on May 1st instead of July 21st so that I could make it home for my little sister's prom and graduation and also have time to work this summer before studying next fall. Apparently as the army was looking over my request for shortening my service they realized that I was only supposed to serve for a year and I was 3 months past my release date of July 20th, 2012. Because of this they wanted to give me a release date immediately, and made it for the following day.  To be notified and released in one day was clearly non-realistic so (this was on November 11th) they decided to set my release date for November 20th.

I sat down for a meeting with my commander who asked me what I want to do. Even if I had said that I wanted to take the release date in a week and a half he would never have let me anyway, but at least he asked, haha. He told me to think about it and request a new release date.  He did not hesitate to tell me that if he had his preference I would be his soldier until the end of his service, but I told him that May 1st still sounded just fine to me.

During Operation Pillar of Defense November 20th came around and I found myself opening an email, signing a form in "Paint" on the computer, and emailing it back saying that I accept my release date to be May 1st, 2013.

Tricky thing that IDF is, but in the end I'd say I came out on top of this one. They would only give me a year, then they pulled me along for two, I tried to get out earlier, they tried to get me out sooner, and I managed to stay in longer. Talk about tough love...

Operation Pillar of Defense

I'm sure all of you (my approximately four friends/family members who read this) have been anxiously awaiting an update regarding the recent Operation Pillar of Defense, here goes nothing..

I'm not going to make this a forum for any political stance for or against, if you're interested in this you can message/email me and I will send you my sister's email updates that she sent throughout the operation with facts and figures and true stories.

It all started on a regular old Wednesday, November 14th. I left my base to go to a base in Tel Aviv for a lesson on driving safety and drinking, before going home for the weekend. I reunited with some old friends from my course and caught up with my newlywed friend during the afternoon. We chatted and looked at pictures from here wedding, and of course read the news that Israel had assassinated the head of the military wing of Hamas, Ahmed Jaabari (Chief of Staff, if Hamas was a legit military). I then met up with my boyfriend (who happened to be doing a temporary job in the army in Tel Aviv for a few weeks) and we got on the bus back to Jerusalem at about 6pm. After having read some not-so-settling news about things heating up in the south after the assassination I told him how hard it was to be home knowing that the rest of my friends are on base down in the south dealing with the escalation. I spoke too soon, I guess one would say, as I received a call at 6:30 from my officer telling me I have to be at the Southern Command base the next morning as early as possible.

My sister, boyfriend, and I shared some dinner, desserts, and drinks as a bit of a "going away" evening, since I had already been gone for 10 days and I was sure I'd be gone for at least another 10 (this meant a very quick laundry session for my uniforms, socks, and undies).

Operation Pillar of Defense was already in full force and there were countless rockets falling on southern Israel. I had a very scary car ride when I left the other base for my own with my commander later that evening. I'm used to sometimes being "under rocket attack" and having 15 seconds to run to shelter, but I know my surrounding well and I know the routine like the back of my hand, so when I was in the car with my commander and I heard a siren in a city that is over 40km from Gaza I didn't know what to do. I knew I had about one minute and thirty seconds to run for cover but...where is cover? I followed the lead of my commander and ran out of the car to the side of the road where we lied on the ground and covered our heads. I watched as the Iron Dome shot down rocket after rocket out of the sky. It looked a bit like fireworks, and the technology is so amazing you can't help but get excited while watching, still believing you are in some sort of a movie. Back in the car and on the road again we were stopped twice more by sirens before we got out of the city and back to our base.

The next day I moved to another base, as our forces were split up a bit to be more effective in the extreme circumstances. I stayed at this other base for the rest of the week, working and sleeping in a place that is protected from rockets. I saw and experienced a lot during the week but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was in a movie. I had that I'm-living-through-history-but-I-know-I-won't-understand-until-I-look-at-it-retrospectively kind of feeling. I worried about the civilians in the areas, and I was nervous for my friends, the soldiers on the border with Gaza, constantly waiting to find out if there would be a ground operation or not. One of those soldiers, by the way, was my boyfriend who got called back Friday night to go to the south to join the operation. I had an idea of where he was and was nervous every time I heard that rockets were fired to that area. The fear was intensified during the days when his phone was taken away and I couldn't call to check up with him. It was hard not being able to talk about things on the phone, but it's not worth risking harm to anyone by giving away information over the phone.

The specifics I can't talk about, but I have one, general, resounding feeling from this operation that I haven't felt in the past year. I have spent a year now in the south of Israel, every so often under rocket attack. I know that civilians in the area live a very difficult life and I can't imagine raising my kids in that type of environment. Whatever the reason is for each and every one of them to stay doesn't matter, the reality is that they, civilians, live under constant, intermittent, rocket fire from a terrorist organization that runs the Gaza Strip. I find it tough, sometimes, coming back to Jerusalem after a week of rockets and realizing that no one even knew what was going on 1.5 hrs south of them. It's been the same old story for many years and it certainly doesn't make headline news anymore. I always felt bad, like I was "escaping" to my home away from the situation. This time I think the feeling in the south was that finally, enough was enough and the government was willing to take the risk of retaliation. One couldn't help but feel like this time, people cared. This time it didn't only make every headline of every local newspaper but also internationally, for good or for bad. It took a week long operation, many, many, many rockets (even to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem), an unfortunate few casualties, many injuries, and immeasurable property damage, but this time the whole country stood together to defend those under rocket fire.

Whether Operation Pillar of Defense accomplished its goal or not is not up to me to decide, I guess we will see in the coming months the results. Let's hope for the ceasefire to hold as long as possible, and for the citizens of the south, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Be'er Sheva, and also Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the rest of the country to go back to leading a normal and safe life.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

L'Shana Madhima

To an amazing year.

The Jewish New Year has just passed and I have had quite the interesting few weeks worth of thoughts so I will sum up the end of 5772, last year, and start off with a bit of 5773, the new year, in this post.

While I was in the states I passed my one year mark in the IDF. It came and went as any other day, barely mentioned and overshadowed by my birthday which was two days prior. I didn't expect anything different, and I almost forgot myself that I was passing the momentous occasion. When I enlisted I planned on enlisting for a year, and only after 13 months did I begin to realize how important it was that I chose to stay in for longer. I had a few epiphanies after passing my year mark, that I am certain that every other Israeli soldier has had by month two of their service, if not by day two. I will try to explain. I chose to enlist, making serving in the army my choice, something I wanted to do, free will. Well, oddly enough it took me 13 months and a few days to have my first "ahah" moment where I realized that it wasn't a choice anymore, it was something I had to d whether or not I wanted to, and it had been that way since the day I enlisted. This thought came about as I was talking to my boyfriend on the phone one evening from a base I was visiting for the week. He is also in the army and sometimes I get frustrated that I can't see him as often as I'd like to. During this pre-bedtime conversation I was feeling particularly sad that I hadn't seen him for a week and a half and I was only going to get to see him for two days before we parted ways again for another two weeks. I thought to myself..."well what if I don't want to go back after the weekend...what if I just don't go back" my more realistic self answered my rhetorical question "you have to lauren, you have no choice." Funny how that works, I have had "no choice" (I could, essentially, 'choose' jail over going back..) for a year, yet it took this long for me to realize that someone else had control over me, that I had, no, choice. If I had been release after a year, I, personally, would never have had this annoying yet very important milestone in my soldier career. It is, after all, part of the 'giving back' and doing something that is 'not just for me'.

After a short few weeks of my army relationship being on the rocks, however, I had another few epiphanies that have since turned things around. (here is the part where we go in to the new year feeling   a refreshed and excited new energy)
At a ceremony on base something made me turn to one of the girls I serve with and ask her if she moved to Israel or just came to do the army. I knew I had asked before but I couldn't remember the answer. "I moved here" she answered. To which I replied with another question, "so you mean you're intending to stay here after your service?" "Yup, that's the plan" she boldly replied, with a small sense of hidden nervousness. Somehow this short, very typical, exchange opened my eyes. It was as if I was looking at myself in a mirror. I found myself thinking...look at this girl, 20 years old, moved to Israel after high school to join the army and is planning on living here for the rest of her life, what ever brought her to this point, what a crazy yet special life path, you go girl! Then it dawned on many times had people asked me these same questions, how many times had I thought about the answers (and thought about not thinking about the answers as well, because sometimes I feel like its just too much to think about and I need to take things as they come, I can't plan out my whole life yet, I'm 24!) People often tell me how proud they are of me for what I did, how much they admire me, how bold and adventurous and how important it is, how grateful they are for people like us, those that chose to move to Israel, etc, etc. I, of course, thank them and respond with something simple like "thank you" because I don't know what to say. I don't look at it as they do, I don't think it's that brave or bold, crazy or admirable, to me it's quite normal...normal is partially defined as what we ourself do anyway, isn't it? To me it's the only "mid 20's" life I've ever know, and ever will know. Talking to my friend however, finally gave me an insight into the other is a pretty amazing thing that we're doing, and I need to get back to remembering that. At the end of the ceremony the "Hatikvah" was sung, the Israeli national anthem, and just as always happens when I'm on uniform listening to the anthem, tears ran down my face. I felt overwhelmed with the beauty of where I was standing, with whom I was surrounded, what I was doing, the words I was hearing (and understanding!!), the language I was speaking, and the life I was living. How could I have taken this all for granted? I thought. Of course I wanted to go back to the army after my weekends at home, who wouldn't want to put on that uniform and have the opportunity to do that job. Who wouldn't want to live the life they had never in a million years pictured for themselves but couldn't be happier to be living it right now. I never even imagined that there was a place in the world with so many Jews and now I was a part of the military defending those people, and that place.

I'm bringing this positive energy and renewed insight back to my job and coming back with a fresh outlook. I will gladly serve for another year, I just got caught up in the wrong type of thinking for a few weeks.

L'shanah tovah, to a good year, may 5773 be another great year filled with peace, adventure, growth, health, love, laughter, and inspiration for all of us, no matter where in the world we find ourselves this year :)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Where to Belong

When I first got back here (US) I had a lot of small "culture shock" type things. it's really weird to come back to your own culture and then all of a sudden feel out of the place where you grew up. That's a hard concept to comprehend, I can't wrap my head around what it feels like entirely. When friends talk about specific things that I don't know about/wasn't here for/couldn't care less about (if you know me you know that is mostly everything that is pop culture), when lifestyle choices don't necessarily match up or, I dont know, they don't understand anything that I do in Israel, even when they attentively listen and ask questions...that's hard. At first I was missing Israel a lot and felt out of place here, wanting to go back. That's changed a bit over the weeks and I feel much more "at home" here, which means it will be a bit harder to go back. It's easy to get used to the luxury here...getting in the car and driving wherever to get whatever done, I'm familiar with the places and how things work and I can very easily get to the doctor, eye doctor, dentist, and hairdresser in one afternoon. That would be like my most productive day ever in Israel I think. If I need one grocery or household item I just hop in the car and drive a few minutes to target or the grocery store and have no problem finding whatever I need, in 100 varieties, and 100 different brands, on the same shelf. For some reason it doesn't seem that easy to me in Israel (even though I live a very short 3 minute walk to the center of I guess it is?) There is Whole Foods here, Target, Forever 21, Marylou's, TJ Maxx, all the fun stores I have missed. I have even stopped wanting to throw a rock at the TV when my mom watches "Dance Mom's"...okay, no, I still hate those dumb reality shows. 

I don't want to go back to the army. I know that will change once I get there but I just see how easy life is here (obviously, I'm on a MONTH long vacation!) and just can't muster up the desire to go back to someone telling me what to do and where to be basically 24 hours a day. I will admit though, I still feel proud when I think about putting on my uniform and it has been killing me to read about all the trouble with Egypt lately and to not be there.

Mom's new home feels like home, which is cool and something I didn't expect. I guess what they say is true, then...home is where your mom is.  I feel like I havent spent enough time with friends since I've been here...or I guess I just thought I would have spent more time with friends. Ironically, when you have a month you don't feel as much urgency as a week so it's kind of easier to let the days pass and not get in everything you wanted to do...weirdly enough. I saw most of my friends at least once, if not more, which is good, spent a good amount of time with family, visited Grammy and Bubba a few times, and managed to stock up on the essentials to bring back to Israel. 

Overall, I have to say, I feel like right now I am exactly where I should be in in Israel and visiting the US. Even though it's not easy to feel so torn sometimes (all the time), it's comforting to feel that despite that, I'm in the right place. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

On Leave

I flew to the states on July 9th for my once a service-year 30-day leave from the army. I didn't get my flight tickets until a few days before the flight so that was a bit nerve-wracking! Mom picked me up from the airport, which is always the best feeling, I came home to her new house, got the tour, took a shower and hopped in the car for a camping/kayaking trip up in Maine at Sacco River with friends. The weekend was a ton of fun! The following weekend was my birthday so I had some celebrations with Mommy and Dani and then my friends from home and BC friends and Boston. My third weekend I went to New Jersey for the annual Wildwood Beach Ultimate Frisbee Tournament with (almost) all of my frisbee friends from all of my years of college. We were something ridiculous like 90 people in almost every room at the motel, with an extra person in each room, and 5 or more teams in the frisbee tournament. Wildwood is always a ton of fun and this year was no different, it was sooo good to see all of my friends from those that graduated when I was a freshman or sophomore to those that were freshmen or sophomores when I graduated! Last Thursday night Mom, Al (who arrived in the States when I was in NJ), Dani and I went to the Red Sox game in Boston and then Friday morning we went to Martha's Vineyard for the weekend. For the past maybe 6 years we've been going to the Vineyard for a week, weekend, or some combination of days over the summer or Columbus Day weekend. Usually we rent a house but this year we stayed with Allie's friend's family in Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard. What a perfect weekend spent at the beach, riding bikes, kayaking, jumping off the bridge, lounging around the house, running a surprise 5k, eating Mexican food at Sharky's and delicious ice cream at Mad Martha's and, of course, riding on the "Flying Horses" carousel, the oldest continuously running carousel in the US (and yes, I stole a ring, for those of you that understand the Dispatch reference). During the weeks I've kept myself busy visiting friends, going into Boston, going to the gym, getting errands done, watching the Olympics, and most importantly, spending time with my family. This is my last week here and I'm started to get a little nervous about leaving, I'll write a post tomorrow about my "emotions" regarding the trip.

P.S. Friday we are meeting Penelope's family in Boston for a few hours before I catch my flight! Penelope is the little girl that I donated bone marrow/stem cells to back in December/January 2010/11. Of course I'll write about that after it happens as well.

More to come tomorrow!