Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Goodbye Marva

After two months of mental and physical abuse, Marva finished.  A bit delayed in writing the conclusion, but suffice it to say, the experience was not at all what I expected, but nonetheless a fulfilling peek into the life of a soldier.  8 weeks of touring the country, countless pushups, 5A.M. runs, hiking with leaky jerrycans,  and living in army tents has given me a new appreciation for Israel's soldiers.  When considering the army, the natural propensity is to imagine the sexy aspects of a soldiers life - saving lives and fighting terror.  This in fact, is a fantasy.  The majority of a soldiers day is spent training, cleaning the base, and guarding the borders.  Even worse during basic training, the soldier's day is consumed with discipline training.  This was the hardest part for me - being told what to do every moment of the day; when to eat, when to sleep, when to pee and more...and by a 20 year old no less.  We were timed in everything we did.  From free time to shower time, eating to cleaning.  Day in and day out we were forced to run from point A to B in 20 seconds, with the threat of having to repeat over and over if we were unsuccessful in the time allotted.  I hated it.  I resented my commanders.  I would stare them in the face and envision hitting them repeatedly.  And yet, by the end of the course, with hindsight clearing the fog of the hardest moments, I was satisfied.  Proud even.  Proud to survived the mental challenges and games of the army.  Proud to have grown in patience and discipline.  Proud to have learned from and influenced future leaders and Israel advocates on the verge of entering university.  And proud to have worn the green of the Israel Defense Forces.  In our final ceremony at the tomb of David Ben Gurion (Israel's first Prime Minister), I was fortunate to deliver the below speech (hopefully the video to come):

          "Shalom, I’m Daniel Farahi from Reno, NV and tzevet 5.

As you all know, I’m 24.  At least I used to be before spending the last 8 weeks with all of you - and despite a temporary change in my maturity, I could not be more thankful for the lessons I have learned and the people I have met here.

Thank you to the chanichim.  Together we overcame our own unique challenges and limitations.  For some, that greatest challenge was not being glued to our phones; for others, it was running a 5k on an air force base; and still for others, it was following orders every minute of the day.  Yet now, 8 weeks later, every person here can fill in the sentence, “I never thought I could ______, until I did, in Marva.”  Be proud of what we have accomplished and may you always find strength in the phrase “הכול ברוש” (everything is in the head).

Next, thank you to the Segel.  Your tough love and leadership taught us to question our limitations and work as a team.  You took over 80 unique individuals from Britain, Mexico, Canada, Brazil and the U.S. and created a united כקב (our course number).  We, the chanichim, did always like you.  We didn’t always understand your actions.  But today, I can say with full integrity, we respect you, we believe in your mission, and we thank you for everything you do for the State of Israel.

Now that we have finished, what’s next for the chanichim?  Some of you are considering joining tzahal, and to you, kol hakavod.  You will be doing a great honor to our beautiful country and the Jewish people.  But to those of us returning to our “other” homes, what happens to our relationship with Israel?  Is it on hold until our next visit?  I hope not.  Each of us has a unique obligation and ability to strengthen Israel as an ambassador abroad.  Speak to everyone, Jew and non-Jew, about your time in the IDF.  About the values this army instills in its soldiers; and about the extent to which Israel tries to protect civilians on both sides of the conflict unlike any other country in the world.  Speak about living in Israel while 1,500 rockets rained down on the South.  And speak about the stress this caused your families, even though we were in the safest part of the country, unlike millions of Israelis.  Bring people to Israel to see it first hand.  And become politically active to inform and influence politicians in your home countries.  Perhaps most importantly, learn the facts.  Many of you are about to enter university, and no matter which you attend, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will come up.  Most often, this conflict is portrayed through a biased lens of half-truths and unfounded hatred towards Israel.  Don’t allow this to discourage you.  With Israel’s enemies controlling the world’s most in-demand resource, the noise against Israel will almost always be louder.  Fortunately, we have a vital tool to counter this, the facts.  Study the history of the land, both ancient and after 1948.  Follow Israeli news.  And above all, be proud.  Be a proud and strong Jew.  Be proud of what this little country has accomplished in just over 64 years.  It has won numerous noble prizes.  It has become a world leader in green technology, business startups and medical research.  And it has been one of the first countries to provide disaster relief when others have been in need.  This country is a modern miracle and we have every reason to be proud.

Portion not verbatim: [I’d like to now share a personal story with you.  My family is incredibly Zionist.  Yet, when I shared that I was planning to leave my comfortable job in New York to come volunteer for a year in Israel, I was met with some concern.  Two weeks before departing, I went to say goodbye to my grandmother.  Our conversation will remain with me for the rest of my life.  As I kissed her and told her she had to come visit, she started crying deeply.  “Please don’t go,” she said.  “This isn’t the time.  Iran could bomb any day now.  Please.  Wait.  Go later.”  I replied, “how can we say that from the comfort of the U.S. while our brothers and sisters are fighting for our homeland?  More than ever we have to go to Israel and support.  I love you.  I promise I’ll be fine.”  Whether or not each of you knew the situation in Israel before you came, you have weathered a conflict and are all Zionists. 

          With that, I would like to thank you again.  To all of Marva, you forever have a friend in the US - whether it be for support with Israel advocacy on campus, or simply a place to sleep when you are in the States.  Be proud of all we have accomplished here, and be proud to have represented Tzahal. B'hatzlacha, v'am Yisrael Chai."

More than any other lesson, the phrase ha'kol b'rosh will stick with me throughout my life.  These two words got me through the hardest moments and provided me strength when I thought I had none.  It will remain my life's mantra and something I share with everyone who will listen.  Thank you Marva.  Thank you Tzahal.  

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