Thursday, March 3, 2011

Band of Achim

Yom shishi, 28 Adar aleph 5771.

When our sons were small, we told them a tale of twelve young Torah students, spending a night in an abandoned yeshiva in Poland a century or two ago.  It was winter.  The yeshiva had no heating; and the boys were desperately poor and very, very cold.  Between them, they had two blankets.

Six boys took one blanket, found a room just off the main study hall, and tried to catch a few hours' sleep.  The other six took the second blanket, and found another room.

The first group struggled to make the blanket fit over all the boys.  But it simply couldn't cover them all.  Soon, the room erupted into fighting and bitterness.  "You have too much of the blanket!"  "I'm cold!  I can't get covered!"  "If you weren't so greedy, I could get warm!"  "Cover me!  Cover me!  I'm freezing!"

No one slept a wink all night.  When they stumbled out into the study hall at first light, they were met by the second group, talking and laughing, looking well-rested.

Grumbling and glowering, they asked for particulars.

One boy spoke for the group.  "We decided that since there was not enough blanket to go around, each of us would work very hard to cover the fellow right next to him.  In this way, we were all covered by a brother."

We just had the privilege -- with hundreds of other parents, siblings, other family members and friends -- of witnessing our son's tekes kumta.  This is the ceremony when a soldier reaches a certain level in his training, and when he trades in the standard green recruit cap for a beret in his brigade's unique color.

Stunt Man receives his kumta from a favorite officer, Omri.
The ceremony was lovely, of course, with amazingly beautiful Jewish youth formed up to listen to encouraging speeches and divrei Torah.  And of course we are proud of the growth in our son, and of his success in making a place for himself in this strange new land.

We were awed as we always are by the cross-section of our people that make up the Israeli army family.  We are an army of Jews and non-Jews, white and brown, religious and not so religious.

Perhaps what takes our breath away more than the diversity and beauty of our soldiers is their brotherhood.
 One of Aryeh's commanders overheard another unit arguing about who was going to be stuck with the weekly task of "holding down the fort" over Shabbat.  Of course all of the guys work hard; and of course they all want to go home to their families.  So like brothers everywhere, there can be some squabbling about this particularly arduous chore.

 "Aryeh," asked his commander, "have you guys talked about who is going to close this Shabbat?"

"Yeah, we worked it out yesterday.  Nadav and I said we would do it."

The commander was pleased.  "And did you all fight about it first?"

"No -- well, not exactly.  Some of the guys were, like 'You shouldn't have to do it.  I'll do it.'  But it was no big deal."

After he related this story, Aryeh said to me, "Now I know that what Abba always said is true.  It's not what you're doing.  It's who you're doing it with.  I have a really great tzevet!"  I smile, remembering the story of the yeshiva boys and their blankets.  The soldiers in this tzevet will care for one another and keep each other covered.

As our friend Meir (an old friend from Baltimore, and currently a soldier in the Artillery Corps) explained to us, "In the Israeli army, the first guy who goes in is the commander.  (The first guy who rappelled down to the deck of the Mavi Marmara was the commander.)  His soldiers need to love him enough to be willing to follow him into any situation."

The US army does not have a concept of "breaking distance."  There is alway a division between soldiers and officers -- and there is something to be said for that kind of structured discipline.  But on the other hand -- I have watched our son developing a level of friendship with his fellow soldiers, and finally with his officers, that is built on trust and respect and love.  There's something to be said for that, too.

A special thank you to the officers and soldiers who have accepted our son in their "band of achim."  Thank you as well to the friends who have made themselves uncles and aunts and cousins to our boys, and who joined us for the event.

Photo credit: Daniel Freedman

Photo credit: Daniel Freedman

Achim: brothers
Tekes kumta: beret ceremony
Divrei Torah: words of Torah, sermons
Tzevet: crew, team
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