“One of the main reasons I decided to partake in CVK was Gadna week, as I wanted to experience what I was unable to in America, yet knew was one of the most important parts of Israeli life and society. I thought I was prepared for five days of intense military training, as I had participated in the Boy Scouts and Karate classes for six years, yet I now firmly believe that nothing short of attending military school could have prepared me for what I experienced. About four days of learning to embrace dirt, count from eser to echad, and help my fellow soldier, later, I now know the true purpose of Gadna training: to form a unit. I discovered this only after I had compiled every lesson we were taught into a single thought, which was that no one could get through such a week of rigorous training alone, and so we all depend on our unit and our unit depends on us to help accomplish our goals. Although this is what I believe the I.D.F’s basic training is about, when each lesson is thought of individually, they are still as important as the one true goal of basic training.
The first lesson we learned during Gadna week was to deal with the dirt. After our first ח, we were ordered to put on uniforms that had been lying on the dusty ground in the sun. We all followed our orders, and by the second day it was clear that we would either have to suffer or forget our normal desires for cleanliness. Most of us decided to suffer, but for those of us that disregarded the smell of sweat and the uncomfortably consistent feeling of thorns in our socks and backs we all but embraced the new, musty lifestyle. After rubbing mud on our faces nearly a dozen times for camouflage, ripping burs out of our hair, and crawling over the earth with our entire bodies, eventually everybody grew accustomed to the lack of showers, though some still looked forward to putting their head in the water truck’s troth and turning the faucet to full blast. We learned that in actuality, even though we always prefer to stay clean, it’s a superfluous action that must be left out of our daily routine if we hope to complete our training.
In order to appease our commanders and not have to do push-ups, we had to form a perfect ח to face them, which meant we needed to form the shape of a ח with a base longer than the arms, arms the same length and perfect distance from the base, and faultless right angles. The purpose of this was to form a shape that provided everyone an opportunity to hear the commander. The catch was that we were timed every time we made the ח, and so we had to count out loud from ten to one in Hebrew (or longer, depending on how many people there were to form the shape), which proved not to be an easy task. The most common mistake was not having equal amounts of people on the arms, but this was still only one of the many mistakes we made. Whenever people were outside the חwhen the time was up, they could be given push-ups. If the commanders didn’t hear everyone counting, they might be given push-ups. If someone moved to make the ח correct when the time was up, they could be given push-ups. If any single person wasn’t standing perfectly in line with whatever part of the חthey were in, they could be given push-ups. We proved to be as uncoordinated during the last day as we were during the first, leading to a surplus of push-ups; yet, besides making us stronger, forming the ח’s had another purpose: it separated the leaders from the followers. In every ח and set of parallel lines we were ordered to form, unless someone took charge and started yelling directions (and people followed them) we were uncoordinated. Not only were the ח’s there to teach us teamwork and coordination, but also to find the leaders in each group.
By far the most important lesson taught during the Gadna week was one of self-discovery. Once we were taught certain techniques the I.D.F used to complete their missions, we started a competition to see who the best in our group was at each one. While the competition to see who could get to the objective the fastest wasn’t that demanding, as it only required patience and careful planning, we felt the pain when we practiced the army crawl. We discovered that the only way to close distance fast during the crawl was to use your knees as much as possible, and although that doesn’t seem like a big deal, everyone was finding it difficult to sit down after learning to crawl because of the powerful tension on our knees. I remember during our race to see who could crawl the fastest, I was tied with someone right next to me just a few feet from our goal and had to make the decision of whether to rip the scab on my hand open, as it had been caught in a thorn bush, and get first, or to keep my hand as intact as it remained at admit defeat. A moment later I was proud of my fresh wound on the side of my palm and a cut across my pointer finger. The purpose of the race may have been to see who was the fastest and to push us to our limits, but it taught me how much I was willing to sacrifice to achieve my goals.
Although I’m happy to be able to replace the layers of caked dirt under my fingernails with sand, it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the experience. In fact, I think even the participants that deny the benefit of the program to them are unaware of the deep outcome that a short four days of Gadna training provided them. We’ve now had a taste of what it takes to become a real soldier, an essential part of a force that protects the wellbeing of us Jews that we’ve fought for two thousand years for. In due course, I know that we’ll all realize the importance of such a program in one way or another; but until then, we’re all just happy to accept beds, real food, and showers back into our lives.”