Sunday, September 13, 2015

New Year greetings

This evening is the Jewish New Year, so to all my readers - a happy and prosperous New Year! May this one be better than the last.

Let's climb into the time machine and set the dials for ... Rosh HaShana, 1975: 40 years ago. I spent the summer of 1975 on Kibbutz Bet Ha'emek, revisiting the glories of my gap year. I remember this as a lovely summer, which reinforced my decision to emigrate. Rosh HaShana is the only festival which is celebrated for two consecutive days. On both evenings, all the kibbutz ate at trestle tables set on the grass outside of the dining room.

I was flattered to be asked to participate in the pick-up band which played in the ceremony for the first night; I was playing bass guitar. As I recall, we played three songs. After the short ceremony, I stepped off stage to join my friends for the meal.

At some stage, I was asked whether I would work in the kitchen on the second holiday day. One might see this as being an out of line request, but it didn't bother me much: I would be going home shortly and I had one day off anyway. I spent the entire 8 hour shift cooking 800 pieces of chicken shnitzel for the kibbutz to eat on the lawn the second evening. I'm fairly confident that I didn't eat any myself.

Back into the time machine, I set the dials for Rosh HaShana, 1980: 35 years ago. I was in the middle of my army service then. Despite the efforts of the kibbutz secretary who told the army that I was required for the holiday celebrations on the kibbutz (who else could play the guitar?), I was short-listed for guard duty during the long holiday. Probably on the day, I was offered a choice: either stay on the base or travel to a moshav in the north of Israel and do guard duty there. I thought that the moshav would be more interesting than the base and so ignored the prime directive: never volunteer for anything in the army.

Along with two girls from my unit (who I didn't know; I spent my days in a laboratory which was situated outside of the actual unit, so I knew very few people there), I joined up with maybe thirty other soldiers. About eight of us were deposited at a place called Dishon, which is in the very far north of Israel, on the Lebanese border.

I had a horrible time: the guard duty itself was not too demanding, but the room in which we slept was infested with mosquitoes. To my great annoyance, none of the people living on the moshav took any interest in us; I thought that maybe we would be invited into someone's house to help celebrate the festival but we were ignored. One of the girls from my unit turned out to be a slag and spent several hours under the covers with one of the other soldiers. I don't remember now how or where we ate.

After arriving home, I discovered that - as usual - a surplus of soldiers had been asked to stay for guard duty and some had been released home. In other words, had I not volunteered to go to the north, I might well have spent the three days at home on the kibbutz. This was the cherry on the icing of a horrible few days (I can think of several alternatives to 'cherry', but none of them are polite).

No comments: