When I volunteered for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soon after moving to Israel, one of my friends said to me, “You know this won’t just be a few months to a few years of service, right? This will also be years of annual miluim [reserve duty].” I told him, “Why should I be different than any other Israeli,” and he accepted that as an answer.
The unit I served in as a combat medic was still relatively new when I was discharged, so they didn’t yet have a reserve unit firmly established. I was eventually absorbed into the army’s Rabbinical unit, as they were seeking extra manpower for their own reserve unit.
These past few months I’ve had more reserve experience than in all the prior years.
The army’s Rabbanut, as it’s called, is the spiritual core (or “corps” no pun intended) of the IDF. Sadly, among its many roles in the IDF, the Rabbanut is responsible for ensuring that fallen soldiers are given a proper burial according to Jewish law. This means that every last drop of the deceased’s blood must be buried with him or her. My reserve unit is trained to assist with this process.
I was called up this past October for my annual service. The other medics and I spent our first day of miluim in a medic refresher course, then we joined the rest of our unit. For the next few days, we trained for intricate scenarios set up by the Rabbanut.
For instance, my squad and I were sent to a base that had what can best be described as an army vehicle graveyard. We used this terrain for training. Hidden throughout the vehicles was fake blood (ketchup), and life-sized mannequin limbs and bodies that were as heavy as a real person. We did a thorough search, cataloging and collecting each piece of fake human remains. I hope the day will never come when I have to do this for real.
Fortunately, despite the many sharp pieces of metal and shards of glass strewn throughout the vehicles, my medic skills were not needed.
Once this reserve duty was completed, I assumed that would be it for the year. But a few weeks later, I got a call asking if I would like to be the medic for the army Rabbanut’s Hanukkah family day. As I’d already done my annual reserve duty, this was optional. I’m not sure why, but I said yes.
And I’m glad I did. On the second day of Hanukkah, I went to Latrun, Israel’s tank museum and memorial. After members of the Rabbanut and their families gathered there for opening speeches, we proceeded by buses to a nearby park. There, the families went on a scavenger hunt throughout the park. Next, the children and their parents were treated to a reenactment of the Hanukkah story, and a musician sang Hanukkah-themed songs with them. It was a unique Hanukkah experience for me – and I earned my keep as a medic by putting a Band-Aid on a little girl.
There is an unwritten rule in the army: “never volunteer” – or you’ll regret it. But now that I’d voluntarily done one miluim, I was on the army Rabbanut’s radar. They called me again just two weeks later, asking if I would be the medic at their Jan. 1 event. I once again said yes.
This time it was only members of the army’s Rabbanut in a place called Alon. At the event, the Rabbanut first gave a talk wrapping up 2018, and then summarized their expectations for 2019. After lunch, everyone proceeded by bus to Qumran, the area where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. We were given a tour of the area and told about the scribes who lived there.
Fortunately, my medic skills weren’t needed at all. And it was an honor simply being part of this major event organized by and in honor of the officers of the Rabbanut.
These past few months of reserve duty have been a refreshing break from the mundane rituals of military reserve service. Part of me hopes that they’ll be calling upon me again for what is sure to be another unique and amazing event where I’ll get to simultaneously explore and serve my country.
DANIEL STIEGLITZ (email@example.com) is a certified Life Coach who lives in Jerusalem. His collection of short stories, “Tavern of the Mind,” is available in paperback and Kindle editions at Amazon, www.amzn.to/2Izssrz.