As I sit in my warm Jerusalem apartment overlooking a city magically blanketed in fluffy white snow, I remembered a promise I made to myself three years ago when I was in reserve duty at just this time. Today is the three year anniversary of that promise which I titled “Newspaper in Your Socks”…
Dec 15 2010
Newspaper in your socks. That is how to keep your toes from freezing off. Put on a pair of warm insulating socks and then crumple up newspaper and put it inside another sock before placing your foot in that one. Give it a shot – it works! I am writing this from IDF reserve duty on the Gaza/Egypt border. While we average about a month a year of reserve duty, I have never encountered such penetrating cold – the kind that makes you feel as if you are standing naked in a blizzard despite the multiple layers of insulation wrapped around every single part of your body.
Even with the sleepless nights, long patrols, and dangerous missions that have become routine, I am grateful for the opportunity to return to reserves and serve alongside such an extraordinary group of guys. Not only does this experience forcefully extricate me from any semblance of a normal routine, but it inevitably makes me feel a renewed sense of connection and purpose by aligning my energies and efforts to more than my own personal mission, but to that of the Jewish People and the State of Israel. The gratitude and elation I feel when returning to the comfort and shelter of my own bedroom, normal showers, and homemade food are far secondary to the benefits of connecting to the comprehensive cross section of the Jewish People that compose our reserves unit and facing firsthand the threat that the nation of Israel faces every single day.
This service, in specific, has brought me to a clarity that I believe will change the remainder of my year as a civilian. Our shifts here in the army vary and most often consist of 8 hours “on duty” and between 8 and 12 hours “off duty”. The frigid temperatures and unpleasant circumstances of this service have been so extreme as to introduce into my consciousness a perpetual awareness that when I am off duty, someone else is on duty. Someone else is sitting silently in an ambush awaiting terrorist infiltration into our country, someone else has the frigid winds whipping against their faces as their jeep patrols the border, someone else is counting the minutes as they stand vigilant in a freezing guard tower mercilessly exposed to the elements.
My hope is that in two weeks when I return to my civilian life, please G-d in one piece, I will remember that I am not a mere civilian, but that I am in my guard shift of “11 months off” and will soon return to my “1 month on” – that is of course unless a war prematurely ends this reserve cycle and we are all once again called up to fight for our very existence. And I believe that this is a perspective that everyone meriting to live in this country would be enriched from internalizing. The vast majority of soldiers serving in the standing army, and reserves, as well, are not doing so because of any coercion or compulsion. It is easy enough to get out of serving if one should so desire – rather, the soldiers of the IDF are protecting this country because they love it and they love us. In our times, as we face fires, droughts, terror, war, and no shortage of other threats, it may be a worthwhile exercise to take a moment to visualize all of the soldiers that are “on duty”, selflessly protecting us at the expense of their own comfort, time, and safety. It is difficult not to be grateful to be part of such an exceptional nation during such an exceptional time.