Have you ever heard a sixth grader admit they love school? It’s just not done. Admitting that one enjoys reserve duty, known in Hebrew as miluim, carries the same stigma but I, right here and now, am coming out of the closet and shamelessly confessing – I love miluim. And I know that I’m not alone.
Three years ago the battalion commander in charge of my unit announced that the terms of our service may be changed from one month a year to two weeks every two years. Sixty of my fellow soldiers present at this briefing, who just moments before were complaining about the oppressive demands placed on us, erupted in riot-like fury. “What? How can you defend a country like that?” shouted one. “This is unacceptable,” shouted another, “we will simply not be effective soldiers should a war break out.”
Deny it as they may – everyone loves miluim. And as I am now finishing my fifth day in miluim in the Gaza/Egypt region, despite the exhaustive patrols and ambushes in unbearably scorching heat, I candidly confess that I am loving every second of it. Here are the top three reasons why:
1. Redefining comfort
Since my initial service, my threshold for what I consider comfortable has gradually decreased. It is human nature. In our day and age, there are countless luxuries that have gradually adopted the status of indispensable necessities. In miluim this seemingly insatiable quest for higher levels of comfort and luxury is fundamentally recalibrated. Any toilet paper becomes the new “two ply scented toilet paper.” Any toilet becomes a source of celebration. Staples as basic as a pillow and mattress are now embraced as lavish opulence. After a month in reserves one is left with one primary sentiment regarding the basics of normal civilian life: deep appreciation.
2. People over Politics
I find that in Jerusalem I am primarily surrounded by people who share my general opinions, political inclinations, and world views. While of course the saying “two Jews – three opinions” still holds true within Jerusalem, the differences tend to be more nuanced compared to the variation of opinions held throughout the nation as a whole. At times I find myself unable to fathom what I perceive to be irrational, counterproductive, and even suicidal beliefs held by a nameless, faceless aggregate of crazy leftists in geographically distant parts of the country. Within hours of the commencement of reserve duty these ardently held divisive beliefs dissipate in the face of the much more overwhelming feelings of affection, friendship and love that we have for each other.
Spending eight consecutive hours bonding with a plumber from Haifa, a lawyer from Tel Aviv and a security guard from Rishon Letzion is spiritually therapeutic in a nation that often feels segmented and divided. We are able to learn about each other’s lives and families, and with more time than we know what to do with find out more details about each other than we may know about our best friends in civilian life. Most importantly we are able to laugh about our differences, and despite our greatest resistance, appreciate the logic and rationale behind those “big issues” that otherwise separate us. At the end of the day there is a profound recognition that we are all a part of the same nation, the same family, and our lives are in each other’s hands.
3. National over Personal
In Israel we are blessed that every moment of our lives are contributing to a greater historic mission. Even the most mundane tasks are imbued with meaning: our very presence here as Jews in Israel is part of the return to Zion, the culmination of a dream spanning two millennia. Nonetheless, myopia is part of the human condition. Even in Israel we can get lost focusing on ensuring our own personal success and advancement as well as that of our immediate families. While this is an important part of life, when it is not tempered by concern for the greater good and investment in the success of the nation as a whole, I find that I am left with a certain void, a sense of futility which leaves me feeling unfulfilled. By dedicating consecutive weeks of my life to securing the borders of the State of Israel and the protection of the Jewish People, this elusive balance is restored. Inevitably, this recalibration of perspective carries over to my civilian life as well, allowing for a broader range of intent transcending my own personal interests and motivations.
This is just the beginning. Initially this article was titled “The top TEN reasons I love miluim”, but I had to change it to “The top THREE” because I need to attend a briefing ahead of my upcoming eight-hour patrol. But the need to abridge this article sums it all up… this article simply is not my top priority right now. There are real, impending dangers out there and my thorough preparation for this patrol can be an issue of life and death – not only for me but for my fellow soldiers and all those we are protecting. While the humbling task of cleaning toilets is cathartic, and the enjoyment of connecting with my fellow Jews is gratifying, in the end of the day what matters is that in our generation we have the merit, honor and privilege of serving in the first Jewish army since the times of King David. If that is not a good reason to love miluim then I don’t know what is.