Monday, May 18, 2009

My Army Experience (long)

I've been meaning to write this post for a while - almost a month - but I didn't want to do so until I had a definite answer. Reading this post will hopefully not only take you through what I've gone through recently, but also an insight into the Israeli bureaucracy.

As most of you know, the Sunday after Passover, April 19th I was scheduled to have my tzav rishon (first notice) and appear at the lishkat giyus (recruitment office) in Jerusalem. It's actually located near the tachana merkazit (Central Bus Station) but if you didn't know where it was you'd never run across it. My appointment was at 7:30am, and I arrived a few minutes early so I waited outside while all the soldiers who man the lishka showed up for morning roll call (this is the army after all) and with a few other guys (my age, looking American too) showed up all waiting, not only to go in, but apparently also for that elusive "moment of truth" - would we really be going into the army?

As I headed in, I met the receptionist who took my teudat zehut (ID card) and handed me a plastic swipe card and told me to head up to the blue computer upstairs. Thankfully my friend Avi went through this six-months before so I knew what to expect, though it didn't really prepare me. On the third floor was a hallway with people sitting on benches, and two computer terminals. At each of these terminals, you swipe your card which puts you into that area's system in the order that you swipe. Only this one didn't work. So after 10 minutes of waiting with the number of people in the hallway building (everyone looking older than 17, making them immigrants of some sort - not just Americans), the soldiers (all female in this particular office) come out asking for our ID's. The find our file inside then ask us one-by-one to come inside for our interview.

The room felt like a scene from a generic movie with an office - think the Daily Planet in Superman or The Office - lots of cubicles next to each other. I found my spot and the soldier began asking me questions; my history, family background, etc. Normal stuff, except they wanted to know random info: "what Elementary School did you go to"?. A friend of mine came in after me, and within 30 minutes left. Still I answered questions. All the while the soldier was asking her peers what to do. Great a newbie. Then came the psych eval; "do you feel the need to hurt people"? Well that depends, does a 30 minute interview take 3 hours or not? Finally I finished, with them requesting that I fax them a copy of my University diploma - strange, but whatever.

From there I moved onto the medical exam - "Go see the purple computer on the second floor". Height, weight, a quick drug test, eye exam, etc. Great no problem. Except no doctor for the eye exam, no biggie right? Went into the physician, asked my about my medical health. I was warned "Tell them everything, they'll find it out anyway". I wasn't really sure how they'd do that, but I wasn't going to check to see how true that statement was. After I finished with the doc, which is the last step in the tzav rishon you're supposed to get your profile number. "You don't have a profile". "Why not?" "The eye doctor isn't in." "Right, so when will he be in?" "I have no idea, you have to come back." "Come back?" "Yup." So I left, realizing that this soldier wasn't going to be of any help.

A few days later a friend of mine got his taarich giyus - date of enlistment. Well, I guess it's time for me to get this eye exam done. But how? Well I called up the lishka, no answer. Great. I'll send them an e-mail - still no answer. Hmm... I asked the Business Director of the Yeshiva, Avinoam, if he could help (he's a Colonel or something like that in the reserves) to no avail. So I called up the central office a day later, and asked how do I make this appointment.
"You have an appointment."
"Yeah, this coming Sunday at 9:30."
"Fantastic. Oh one more thing, how am I supposed to know about this appointment?"
"I just told you."
"No, I mean if I didn't call"
"Well, I guess we're supposed to send you something."

Right then and there, I said to a friend of mine: "Watch, I'll get it after my appointment's already over".

I showed up, now two weeks after the original tzav, back to the lishka for the eye exam. Handed the receptionist my ID, got my card, and headed upstairs. This time, instead of 20 something immigrants, I found 17 year old Israelis everywhere, and they were mostly female. The lishka took on an entirely new atmosphere. Already a pro at this, found my terminal, swiped the card and waited. A minute later I was called in, and after 5 minutes I was done.

"So when will I know about my giyus?"
"You'll get your draft notice in the mail"
"How long will that take?"
"Eh, about a week."

More waiting. Only this time, the patience of the Yeshiva I work for is understandably wearing thin. Avinoam, the business manager, wants me to go back and break down doors to find out. Everyone else, is telling me to wait. So I waited. And as I got impatient I decided to call Nefesh B'Nefesh (the people we made aaliya with) to see if they could help. Their contact with the army said that I might not have to go in. Okay, but that doesn't really help.

More waiting...

We spent Shabbat in Chevron (Hebron), at which point Naomi and I were basically feeling that I might have to go serve. And if I did it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. I've always wanted to, but despite the fact that I would loose my job and our housing, we could do this for a year - and it would help my Hebrew a lot, which would be a big benefit in the future. Okay, so if I get drafted I'll go, if not then I wont.

We left it up to the army.

Well, Nefesh B'Nefesh just called and told me that I've received a medical profile too low to be drafted at my age - if I was 18 I'd still go - but not now. Instead of receiving an full fledged exemption, I'm in what we call maagar (reserve list); meaning that if needed, I can be called up for a short service, in war time, etc. Okay. So now I can go on with my life now, keep my job, and our housing - yet at the same time there is this twinge of regret. Oh well, next time I guess - right.

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