I’m not supposed to be here right now.
Right now, I’m supposed to be at Bakum, undergoing chiyul, swapping my threads for an entire new wardrobe in olive, getting shots, getting screamed at by the first of many mefakdim, and other such rites of passage, or, ahem, shifshuf, that I was perversely looking forward to.
But instead I’m here in that Jerusalem cave my slumlords have optimistically termed an “apartment”, with a bit of a head cold, freezing extremities, and a bad attitude. Why?
Well, let this be a cautionary tale. I know most of you boys and girls back there in the shackles of exile can’t walk five feet in Israel without expressing your desire to fuck an active member of the IDF, but be aware that, occasionally, the IDF may fuck you.
Take me, for example. I’m clever. I’m more or less in good shape. I have very straight teeth. I have, if I may be permitted to use one of those many Hebrew words lifted from our Slavic oppressors, a lot of motivatzia, and I am somewhat taken with this idea of a Jewish state. After all, I didn’t move here only for hummus, contrary to popular perception. If I do say so myself, I am an excellent candidate for IDF service. Which is why I, along with several dozen other young Jews from around the world, volunteered for this season’s draft in the IDF’s venerable Machal program.
This was a mistake.
From the very beginning, Machal has been unhelpful, unforthcoming with vital information, and entirely unwilling and/or unable to help its volunteers in any concrete way to establish themselves in Israel. That itself wasn’t an issue for me, since I was fairly well-established myself, so I didn’t begin to realize the depth of Machal’s inefficiencies until we got our call to report to Jerusalem’s Lishkat Giyus for medical, psychometric and Hebrew examinations – at 9:30 the night before. A whopping 10 and a half hours before our appointment time. People had to come to Jerusalem from places as far afield as Netanya and Eilat with no more warning than that. And not only that, but the entire process at the Lishkat Giyus was begun only a week before our theoretical draft date, which changed every couple of days. This is how I got screwed initially.
I breezed through the first parts of the process at the Lishkah, which was initially the most pleasant encounter with Israeli bureaucracy I’ve ever had, mostly because it contained a very favorable ratio of cute chayalot. And afforded an opportunity to snicker at a procession of nervously-peyot-twisting Charedi teenagers engaging in what may well have been their first extended conversation with a female non-family member in order to dodge army service. I got to take a somewhat amusingly worded English test to gauge mental health (“Have you ever felt in a gay mood for periods of several days or more?” and “Do you ever feel different from other people?”) and, as a Hebrew test, chat with a soldier and attempt to explain my appreciation for the oeuvre of Yehoram Gaon. Israelis, by the way, have no respect for their own popular culture.
Then it all went south at the medical. And I’m not talking about when the sullen-yet-abrasive Russian female doctor gave me boys a squeeze (although that was not a highlight). It turned out that I had a fast pulse. Whatever. They made me go back the next day. Still fast. And the next. Still fast. And the day after that. Still fast. At this point, I decided that it would probably behoove me to see a doctor to check out if there was a medical cause of the tachycardia (okay, full disclosure, Harry actually made me do it because I fear doctors), since the army certainly didn’t seem to care much, and since I have no insurance I had to pay for an EKG. I got one, and the very nice Arab doctor informed me that my heart is problem-free. Hooray. So I took the results of that 500-shekel EKG to the IDF, who informed me that I would be required to meet with their own, ON-SITE cardiologist, whose existence I was not informed of. He turned out to be a Wisconsin boy who concurred that there was nothing wrong with me. Finally, I thought, I would get my profile in time for the draft. But no. Now they wanted to check my eyes. So they did. And then insisted I go to an outside optometrist to get a further check. So I did (and the outside optometrist did it for free because I’m getting drafted – Optical Doron, people! Give them your love!) and was determined to be healthy about the eyes. So I went back to the IDF. And they decided that they needed to give me another eye exam from their (say it with me now) ON-SITE optometrist. Only they wouldn’t do it that day. And the draft was the next day. So because of the IDF’s inefficiency and feet-dragging, I was forced to miss the draft.
Which brings me to the story of some of my co-volunteers.
As the Jerusalem Post reported this morning, a large percentage of the Machal draftees were deferred because of “insufficient Hebrew skills.” When did they find about this deferral from the head of Machal? Just like they found out about their appointments at the Lishkat Giyus – late the night before. Now, I know several of these people personally, and some of them speak excellent Hebrew. There is more going on here than meets the eye. But unfortunately for them, Machal has apparently refused to exert any pressure on the army to draft them when it said it would.
The army, for its part, has denied that people were deferred for any reason other than poor Hebrew (bullshit) and further denies that the draft date has constantly been changed and revised and not a single volunteer knew exactly when he would be called up (horseshit). Meanwhile, a couple dozen volunteers who were supposed to be in the care of the IDF today are now in Israel unable to work, with no means of support and, in many cases, with no place to live, because of Machal and the IDF’s irresponsible treatment. The IDF has told them they’ll be called up in late December (without a definite date, of course) and forced to go to a two month army ulpan before getting drafted in March.
This is flagrant abuse. Machal volunteers are among Israel’s most committed soldiers – they would not have left behind their lives in America in order to serve in combat if they were not. Machal volunteers arguably deserve special treatment – but that’s not what we ask for. We ask only to be afforded the same rights as every Israeli soldier should be afforded – fair treatment at the hands of the army before being drafted, full knowledge of when we can expect to be drafted, and prompt information about things that may impede our service. We received none of these things. Instead, we attended meetings where the Machal head fleeced us, and by extension our parents, for donations (are our lives are not enough?), were consistently kept in the dark about the terms and details of our draft, and were left to establish lives in Israel on our own with minimal aid from Machal, only to receive, on the eve of our service, a nice big gob of spit in the eye.
Needless to say, if anyone considering Machal is reading this, I recommend one of two things: forget it, or make aliyah and serve in the army as an Israeli, not a volunteer.
And what about me? Because of the army’s utter inefficiency and refusal to step an inch out of their way to help my case (I would never have even gotten past the daily pulse checks if I hadn’t taken matters into my own hands and went to another clinic), they’re now insisting that I too need to report for duty in December and be forced into an army ulpan that I have no need or desire to attend. I was fully prepared to be drafted – my couch is covered in army supplies, olive and white shirts with my name written on them (like a twisted version of summer camp), boot insoles, boot polishing brush, a kisui diskit meshuftar that a friend gave me as a pre-service gift (thanks Ayelet!), and all kinds of odds and ends, that now I don’t know when I’ll even use. The Machal head called me and invited me to quit the draft, but I’m not interested in doing that – although apparently a large number of Machalniks already have due to the treatment they’ve received. Excellent hasbarah! I’ve called in some of my protektzia and have received a potential offer to serve on a missile boat in the Navy, and perhaps other offers, so we’ll see if I can figure something out and get into the army one way or another.
But as I said, not all of the now-jilted volunteers have the means to live here for another month or more as the army jerks them around (I know of people who are literally down to the money they have left in their wallets, and our visas don’t allow us to work), nor do they have any connections. So if you have the means and care about Israel’s army and about the wellbeing of Jews who came from all over the world to serve in it, please consider doing something to help these guys so that they can continue to live here and finally fulfill their dream of army service. Both Machal and the Jerusalem Post can probably get you into contact with them (I also might be able to in the case of a couple). And if you have any kind of sway at all in the army, make some noise. This is no way to treat committed Zionists who came here in order to risk their lives for the security of the country.
All we want to do is serve the country we love. Is that so much to ask?