Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bill and Ron's Excellent Adventure

Ok, so what do you do when your employer of 30 years says you're no longer needed and you're put out to pasture?

You join the Israeli Army, of course.

But instead of getting paid, you pay.

Former colleague Ron Feinberg and I were in Israel on a steaming hot army base in September-October, sorting medical supplies. The work was tedious but critical, because we were making sure the medical supplies were sterile. The only danger, which was very real, was that at least one of us (me) might suffer heat stroke walking from un-air conditioned barracks to a huge warehouse, cooled only by fans. It was hot as Holy Hell in the Holy Land. Yes, we had to stand in formation and salute the flag, eat ''chow" (there's a far better word for it that I won’t use here!), sleep in barracks with other guys, all of whom snored like crazy. Myself included, I’d expect. But nobody said. It was all for a very good cause. Met lots of interesting people — young and old — from around the world. One, named Sabastion, ingratiated himself immediately, pointing to me and saying, "Hey, you old." But unlike occasions when former colleagues made “joking” references to my age, it took me a full week to go bonkers, lose my temper….and then not at him, and for other reasons. I just called him Sabasterd instead of Sebastion. People from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Britain, Holland, South Africa, Chile and many states made up the group. And Russia. One of the young Russians, who could speak English very well, said all Americans think Russian men are either named Boris, Ivan or Igor. So of course, I called him Ivan the whole time. Or Igor. The guy from Chile, a professorial type, could speak five languages fluently. It was humbling. Made me feel like the typical dumb American. It was a great experience. I was quite impressed by the young people, each idealistic and eager. They gave me hope for the future. Maybe we older folks didn’t do such a bad job after all. I'm proud of my own kids, of course. One’s a lawyer, the other, who has a master’s degree in journalism (of all things), is now in South Korea to teach for a year. The young people in my Sar-El group were in Israel for a variety of reasons, including adventure, but also to learn…one kid to become a psychologist, another to experience trauma first hand as an emergency medical ‘first responder’. Gutzy.

Oh, and I had what some might call a “spiritual” experience in the Holy Land. I had to go to the emergency room of a giant hospital, on Yom Kippur, and had to walk maybe three miles to get there. I felt wimpy enough just getting sick, so I didn’t call an ambulance, and since nothing else was moving (NOTHING), I walked. When I got there, I probably looked like I was having a heart attack. Sweating. Huffing and puffing. But they fixed me up so that within three hours I was back at my favorite bar on the beach, drinking alone to my own health, and to the health of Israel. I would have raised a toast to peace — people who know me would say I’d drink to anything — but I left Israel with a firm conviction that peace is nowhere in sight.

The Volunteers for Israel group was diverse, young and ‘older’, very smart and less than... The group included evangelical Christians as well as those of us who go to synagogue twice a year and some who go, it seems to me, just about all the time. I didn’t feel much like writing while there….the Netbook I took had a tiny keyboard, so I mostly posted photographs. Some appear below, along with pictures taken by fellow volunteers. Turns out my “spiritual experience” was pneumonia, from which I have recovered.

Now, I’ll write about the spiritual experience of trying to find a job. If I get one, ever, then even I will believe in miracles!

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