As many of you know, I recently completed a course that is led by the Israel Army called Marva. It was a mentally and physically challenging eight week course, with a weekend off every two weeks, that had a different theme each week. The purpose of Marva is to give non-Israeli’s the opportunity to experience the basic training that all Israelis go through when they join the army. Although there were moments that were difficult for me, it turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Week one of Marva was the hardest of them all. We arrived to the base and spent the first day getting our uniforms, touring, and getting a feel for what a normal day was going to be like. The first night we got separated into Tsevets, the groups we were going to be in for the entire course, and met our Mefakedet. I was with six people from Year Course and ten people from other Gap Year programs in Israel. Not only was I not used to being yelled at or waking up early, but I also woke up each day and rain and hail would drench my entire body. I will never forget the first night, before they moved us out of the tents and into classrooms, when I thought I was in the middle of a tornado. Me and my two friends who slept next to me woke up at the exact same time in the middle of the night, looked at each other, and realized we had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into. Each week we had a different ceremony, and the first week was the ceremony of receiving our guns. This was so special because we all got called up to get our guns from our Mefakedet, and then we had to bless it with a Siddur.
The second week was Shetach, or field, week. We spent the entire week learning skills that soldiers use in the field. We learned special walks and techniques soldiers use in order to be successful against their enemies. I got to shoot an M16 at targets in the field. The final day of Shetach Week was one of the most physically challenging days of the entire course. We started off by hiking to the field, which is usually only a five minute bus ride, but turned out to be an hour walking. Later in the day we had a Tsevet challenge. The challenge was an obstacle course that started off with crawling. Then each tsevet was given some of the food that we had been eating the entire week (corn, pickles, tuna, etc.) and we had to finish it all before we could move onto the next part. After that we had to finish an entire jerry can of water. At this point we were all exhausted, but we then had to run while carrying a stretcher with sandbags on it. The final leg of the race was running up a mountain. Literally we all had to run up the mountain that we had been looking at all day. It was both mentally and physically exhausting, but it caused my tsevet to encourage each other while we were struggling.
We traveled to the North and South for the next two weeks. The best part of North week was visiting a memorial dedicated to the helicopter crash from The First Lebanon War. It was interesting learning about the crash, and even more interesting to know that one of the soldiers that died joined the IDF because he did Marva and loved it. During South week we stayed at our main base and learned a lot about Ben Gurion and The Negev. We also had a class where we got to practice the different positions of shooting with our weapons.
The fifth and sixth week were really fun! The fifth week was sports week and every day we did different workouts led by army sports instructors. We did kick boxing, spinning, volleyball, and some running. The last day of sports week was a color war between all of the tsevets. By this point my tsevet had become so close that even if we were not winning we were having an amazing time. It was also nice to see our mefakedet cheer for us from the sidelines. The sixth week was Tzahal (army) week. Although every week was truly army week, this week we learned more details about the process of joining the army and about what each different unit does. We got to go to the base where soldiers can go when they want to become Mefakdim and do a hike with them. After the hike we got to watch them do shooting practice. It was cool to be so close to a real weapon practice. We traveled to Tel HaShomer which is where every Israeli has to go before they join the IDF to learn about what each unit does.
The seventh and eighth week were the most special of them all. The seventh week was Jerusalem week, and it was amazing to walk around Jerusalem in an army uniform. We stayed at Latrune, which is an army tank museum just outside of Jerusalem, and we got to learn about all the different tanks Israel and other countries use. The best part of the week was having our ceremony at The Kotel. Many army ceremonies take place at The Kotel, and it was amazing to see how people reacted to us being there. Many tourists asked to take pictures of us and asked us what we were doing in Israel. A lot our friends and madrichim came to the ceremony, and it was so nice to feel like we had a cheering section in the crowd. The eighth week was the final week. We went to sleep at six on Sunday so we could wake up at midnight to hike Masada at sunrise. I was chosen to carry the jerry can of water up the mountain. Although they told me it was because I had done a great job throughout the entire course, I think it was because I had given my mefakedet some attitude the day before. It was one of the hardest hikes of my life, but in the end I felt accomplished to have said I carried a couple gallons of water up Masada. The best part of the final week was breaking distance with all of the mefakdim. This is when they stopped being our Mefakdim and started treating us like friends. It was crazy to go from disliking someone so much to really liking them in the course of one day. The final ceremony took place at Ben Gurion’s grave, which was right next to our army base, and all of our friends from Year Course came! It was a bittersweet day because although I was so excited to get back to Year Course, I made so many great friends and had a lot of good times throughout Marva.
This entire experience made me feel more connected to Israel. I learned so much about what all Israeli teens go through, and although I only did this for two months, it really changed the way I view this country. I love being able to see a soldier on the bus and be able to tell so many things about them just from their uniform. It was amazing starting out as a group of sixteen people from all over the world and becoming a family. Although this experience was frustrating at times, I learned so much about Israel, the Army, and myself and I would not have traded it for the world!