Kol ha-kavod l'TzahalIf I was one of those people who allowed introspection to disturb my preferred state of placidity, which I’m not, because I have better things to do, like eating cereal three meals a day, I would probably say that this will probably turn out to be one of the most formative years of my life.

I just used the word formative in reference to my own life. I feel old all of a sudden.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that a lot has happened to me in the past year, a year that has taken me, somewhat unintentionally, from the blighted wastelands of the Midwest to the sunny, occasionally incendiary Middle East by way of a massively destructive hurricane. A year ago, I was watching New Orleans disintegrate under the onslaught of Katrina, on the very day I was supposed to return to my life there. Not long after that, I was in Israel, sick, gimpy, sans luggage and miserable in the only way I know how to be, which is to say to everyone else’s great amusement. The breathless delight of my friends at my many misfortunes I’ll revisit later.

Through either serendipity or inertia (history will decide), a semester at the Hebrew University before a triumphant return to the ruins of New Orleans ever so slowly transformed into full-on immigration to Israel. Some will say it was the hummus what did it. Others will say full-on immigration was my plan all along. I don’t really remember at this point. It’s been a very long, yet very short year – when I consider all that’s happened to me, it seems like it’s too much to squeeze within the bookends of a year, but in another sense, time seems to be racing ever faster towards an inevitable destination, no longer beyond the horizon but increasingly in plain sight.

I’m sorry, I’ll stop abusing metaphor and get the point: I’m getting drafted in a couple of months.

This is something of a surprising development when considered objectively. I’m a lover, not a fighter. Well, I’m not really a lover. I’m neither mod nor rocker, I’m a mocker. And yet, here I am, on the brink of signing away a good chunk of my life to the military of the country I’ve rather recently adopted.

I could make an attempt to explain my motivations and feelings toward service in the IDF, but honestly, I’ve never been very good at sincerity (it always strikes me as insincere), and I’m sure you’ve heard it all before, so take five seconds and look at that charming “Hagen Al Moledetkha” poster in Laya’s recent post and I’m sure we’ll all be on the same page. And being one of those old-fashioned “Whoo-hoo, let’s make the desert bloom!” Zionists, Blue Train to Post-Zionism’s Ascensions, let’s say, I’m taking “Kravi zeh hakhi, achi,” to heart and shooting for combat infantry, or as my ever-encouraging mother calls it, “cannon fodder”.

I admit to a moderate amount of nervousness, which tends to be exacerbated rather than alleviated by everyone around me. My mother, beset by conflicting impulses to guilt me into changing my mind about the army in general, convince me to shoot for a non-combat role, or accept what I’ve decided, has become somewhat incoherent. (And before I get the indignant phonecall, she still is my favorite mother). My American friends are at best puzzled, given that my interests in high school were chiefly playing the drums and completing my collection of Prince albums on vinyl (this is not to say that these are no longer my interests, mind you). My Israeli army veteran friends mostly like to tell me somewhat alarming anecdotes that are apparently, in retrospect, the Most Fun Things Ever, such as, “The best part is when, during your tironut, for gas mask training, they make you go into a tent filled with tear gas, and then they make you take off your gas mask and make you work out until you’re crying and snot is pouring out of your nose and every cell in your body is crying out for the sweet release of death! It’s fuckin’ awesome!” Not that I’ll name names or anything.

But by far the most generally discouraging of my friends and supporters are my very own Jewlicious co-bloggers. ck and laya, with minimal input, will gladly launch on a half-hour spiel about how my death in combat would be the best possible thing that could ever happen to Jewlicious: “Just think of the traffic! The publicity! It would be blogging gold! We could make a post about your funeral and write you an awesome eulogy! The first blogger killed in action! Ooh, even better! You could marry (female friend of mine) first, and then you could leave behind a grieving widow! Or, EVEN BETTER, you could knock her up first! That’s even more tragic! And then we could establish charities in your name! The Michael Foundation – bringing together Israeli and Palestinian children and teaching them to play the drums. It’s gold!”

I love my friends so much.

And now, as November draws nearer and nearer, I’m hoping that the Blues La-Chofesh Ha-Gadol doesn’t set in. Although I guess I have plenty to occupy me – meetings, medical examinations, Hebrew tests, sure-to-be stressful dealings with the Misrad ha-Panim and all kinds of fun at the Lishkat ha-Giyus. And then a nice long period of being state property and firing M-16s. It’s going to be so formative I could just scream.

Latest posts by michael (see all)

About the author



  • There a lot of old people in Israel and they were all in the army once.

    Mothers just have to make soup, they don’t have to be articulate.

    Katrina missed you, so Someone loves you. It’s going to work out.

  • .יישר כוח, מיכאל

    Good luck!

  • Katrina created a soldier…

    CK and Laya talk like that about you? At least they had the sense not to do that while I was around. Woulda kicked their…well, whatever. Perhaps that mocking thing is coming back to karmically bite you. But I also think we joke about things that worry us; the snarkier we are, the more uncomfortable we are with intimations of mortality. And when I say “we,” I obviously mean CK and Laya, because I was choking back tears at the above approach. I said it before, you’re a wonderful writer. That’s it. I’m done.

  • Michael…you will be fine in the IDF…and it will be a life changing experience, but one you can handle as you have everything else. Trust me, the snot out the nose eyes burning thingee is the easy part. You’ll love it. With luck you’ll get to fast rapell out of a helicopter …now that will tighen up the sphincter for ya. Enjoy.

    (Now awaitng the phone call from your Mom to tell me to shut up :-D)

  • You know what this article needs? A gratuitous picture of a woman atop a mountain in Tzfat. Other than that, kudos for a great job in being sincere sincerely. What? 🙂

  • Let’s see — you used to live in the U.S., but now you’re living in Israel. ck used to live in Canada (& occasionally in the U.S.) and now lives in Israel. Why isn’t HE getting drafted too? Now THAT would make for GREAT blog posts and drive traffic to Jewlicious.

    ck can lend his support to you in the best way possible — by going with you.

  • Does….

    “I wanna be an Airborne Ranger,
    I wanna live a life of danger…”

    …translate in to Hebrew? Will it still work in cadence? Enquiring minds need to know.

  • Isn’t anyone going to worry about what Michael is going to do to the IDF? Those poor bastards won’t know what hit ’em. 😉

  • Michael, I’m looking forward to blog entries about your experiences!

    I’ve also tried a tear-gas filled tent. They should definitely package those and sell them in pharmacies during the winter. After spitting out a ton of mucus your nose is definitely open.

  • Aww Michael Barak…This was a great post. As you know I am the sincere (or as you may see it, insincere) type– so maybe my words will be lost on you. Nevertheless, I’ll say this:

    Thank you for volunteering for the army. Really. Not only will you be protecting the collective nation of Israel but you will also be protecting individual Israelis, say like- little old me. And I am so incredily grateful that there are people like you out there. So grateful in fact, that maybe- just maybe, I’ll make you a Chai Tea. Maybe. 🙂

  • In all fairness Esther, the statements attributed to ck and myself were only said once, and were clearly in jest. This of course was after Michael’s lengthy tenure as couch resident and “house boy” of Chateau LayBecca where he got a taste of the darker shades of my humor, and I in turn got to hear how much he hated his hosts, with love. In short, there may be a certain sibling-esq jesting between us that certainly need not produce tears to choke on.

    That having been said, good post Michael. And if you’re nice, I’ve been known to bring baked goods to the bases of favorite chayalim bodedim.

  • The People Israel and I say “Thank you, Michael.” The God of Israel says “When you go to battle against your enemies, and see horses, war chariots and an army larger than yours, do not be afraid of them, since God your Lord, who brought you out of Egypt [and Katrina], is with you…He will fight for you against your enemies and He will deliver you.”

  • For the record, while the gas tent might be fun, fighting Hizballah in Lebanon is most certainly not, neither is getting shot at by Palestinian terrorists. However, guarding at a roadblock with a soldier who collects Tolkien books in every language and hearing his take on how Frodo is Jewish is a laugh riot. Matsav Shtaim!

  • Don’t be discouraged – you are making a wonderful choice. Congratulations and good luck. Thank you for doing your part to defend the Jewish people.

  • Take this opportunity to talk to as many people as you can, and find out as much as you can about the various programs and corps that are available.

    Also try to learn some of the slang – it’s all acronyms in the army.

  • Laya and CK, of course I understood you were joking. And I’m glad you guys have this sibling vibe with Michael. But the tears come anyway these days, whenever I see an actual or mental picture of any of “my boys” lacing up their boots for war. Which doesn’t mean I don’t support Michael, which of course I do…best of luck to you and all the IDFers, for doing their parts to keep Israel safe.

  • In the IDF, even the voozvoozim become Brown. However, unlike us Brownies, you receive your Protectsia® card upon completion and subsequently return to your GefilteWorld – where your Brown brethrens exist only in the shadows 🙂

    kol ha-kavod, ahi!

  • Just don’t tell them you are psycho. That’ll make them tell ya to go away. (Or apparently that your parents are divorced – I was told that freaks ’em out too)

  • CK is just jealous is all. same w/ the babe. I hope that you enjoy your time in the army. It’s not all bad there.

  • Michael! The Boundary waters captured me for a quick trip (six days) but now I am back and sad to be all alone. The summer has been good (especially greenbush) and now I am going through all of that freshman year stuff you know all too well. Oh, and I get to count with your mom as one of those silly Americans who both support you and are afraid.

    p.s. I miss you and your choomoos (ok, maybe ta’ami a little more).

  • I heard about “Giyus” when it came out. I also will not install it. Although I’m sure there’s no malicious code in it, the potential is there. Nice idea but not worth the risk.