Religion & Beliefs

Blogging Birthright: Day 5, or Sojourning with Soldiers

Eight Israeli soldiers join us after breakfast: Four girls and four boys. Our tour guide Offer and our counselors prepare us for their arrival ahead of time with what seems like an unnecessary lecture. It takes them about an hour … Read More

By / February 4, 2008

Eight Israeli soldiers join us after breakfast: Four girls and four boys. Our tour guide Offer and our counselors prepare us for their arrival ahead of time with what seems like an unnecessary lecture. It takes them about an hour to explain that they want us to integrate the Israelis into our social circle as much as possible. There should be no two Israelis sitting together on the bus, and only one Israeli is allowed in each hotel room. Okay, fine. We’re mostly friendly people anyway. Offer explains that the soldiers who are coming to join us are the cream of the crop. Every soldier wants to take a five day vacation with the Birthrighters. Why? Because it sure as hell beats the army. The soldiers that make the cut have to really earn it.

Most of the soldiers who join us are in the intelligence unit, but the two cute boys in the bunch are fighters who go undercover to find terrorists. Matan is one of the fighters, and I am not the only girl who finds him gorgeous. After some stupid “get to know the soldiers” ice breakers, we’re off for the day. To my delight, Matan wastes no time sitting next to me on the bus. His English is not great, which is quite charming, but we converse pretty easily and he’s totally adorable. I teach him a few words and phrases in English and interview him about his life. I learn that he’s “21½” and will finish his army duty in September. He says he’s not scared of his job because he doesn’t think about its dangers. He never works alone and is proud of the service he provides his country. He tells me a story about finding a car filled with enough TNT to kill 12 to 15 people.

“When you find this, you feel good,” he says, knowing he’s helped save that many lives.
Unlike his mother, who jumps out of her chair when she so much as hears Arabic being spoken, Matan is not afraid of Arabs despite the fact that they mutter nasty comments at soldiers on the street. That said, he doesn’t mingle with them and won’t patronize Arab shops or establishments. We arrive at Har Herzl, the cemetery where military servicemen and women are buried. Offer gives us a tour and the soldiers are surprisingly unmoved. One soldier points out a friend’s grave and I’m reminded of the harsh reality of life here. I can’t possibly identify with the soldiers on that level, but I do understand why they say a 20-year-old Isreali is really 40. In the army, you have no choice but to grow the fuck up. Fast. As night falls, we’re permitted free time to roam Ben Yehuda street, which seems like Jersualem’s version of Times Square, full of touristy, trinkety crap. We break off into groups and hole up in bars. I go with the cute soldiers and another girl and we enjoy beer and hookah, which hits me harder than it should because I’ve been unable to eat much on this trip (the food borders on inedible—more on that later). The outing takes on the semblance of a double date, and I enjoy lots more time to chat with Matan. As I write this in my hotel room, my last drunken, lascivious thoughts are of him. Previously: Day 4, or Falling in Love with Israel at Masada