We’re sitting in a circle, covered in mud, dirt, and dust. We’ve just run, crawled, carried each other on our backs, done pushups, squats and the works. Our knees are scratched, our elbows are bruised, and we’re gazing at the crisp dark sky trying to catch our breath. Our mefaked (commander) picks up some dirt and speaks confidently, yet quietly, from his heart.
“You guys understand how unbelievable this is right? This moment. This land. Our ancestors, our grandparents only 70 years ago, would have bled for this; they would have died 100 times over for this opportunity to fight. To do what you are doing. To get dirty, to crawl, to claw, to fight, to have a FUCKING CHANCE. Because let me be clear guys…. its either this or the chambers. It’s either this or the pogroms. Look at the world around you; you see what’s happening… “Death to the Jews” is back… Either we stand here; wanting to fight, suffer, and sacrifice for what we have or it’s back to that. Helpless. And guys, I WILL NOT let that happen. We are not going back to that. Ever. Every time you’re in pain, you’re tired, you’re dirty and you’re suffering remember that you’re living out and protecting a dream that hasn’t been possible to our people in 2000 years. To live and fight as Jews protecting the Jewish nation. This is beautiful.”
It’s Thursday night, 2:30 a.m. when we’re woken up and told we have 3 minutes to be outside and standing in formation, ready for an all night Masa (long army hike). We walk/run at a brisk pace until we reach the outside walls of the old city of Yerusahlim.
We’re introduced to the “aluncar” (stretcher), and told that the entire hike would be done carrying one of our heaviest (injured) guys on the stretcher. Throughout the hike, we ran with the stretcher, crawled with the stretcher, marched with it, and not once, over the 5-hour ordeal, could we let it touch the ground. Walking crazy-long distances with someone on a stretcher is a huge part of basic training for infantry, and unfortunately an essential skill to have during times of war. Every 30 seconds or so we would rotate positions, carrying the stretcher, always staying in our two line formation, moving as quickly as possible. It was physically exhausting and my shoulders constantly felt like they were cracking under the weight. But this wasn’t what made our Masa such an exhilarating experience...
At the onset of the hike, our commander and the accompanying soldiers told us that we would be hiking through Arab East Jerusalem; a very dangerous area right now. Since the 3 boys were kidnapped this summer, there has largely been a silent intifada in Jerusalem that the media chooses to ignore, but in the last few weeks, the PA’s incitement and the resulting murderous terrorist attacks against Israeli Jews in Jerusalem (and elsewhere) have intensified to a terrifying degree. The night we ventured into East Jerusalem was the day after civil rights activist (I’m baffled as to how preaching that Jews and Muslims should share the Temple Mount and pray peacefully together makes someone a “radical right winger”) Rabbi Glick was shot by Arab terrorists. Our commanders told us that when we walk through the Arab section, "People are going be yelling at you, spitting at you, and eying you guys down. You guys are Hebrew warriors. You have to show no fear. This is our capital. Walk how a Jew should walk in Jerusalem. Stand up straight, proud, and professional. Nothing fazes you. They’re going to know that you’re training to be soldiers and they want to see what you are all made of for the next round. If any fighting breaks out, stay low and let the soldiers on patrol take care of it, Let’s Go."
So we begin our foray into East Jerusalem, walking along the street behind (and outside) the Old City, on the Temple Mount side, when we come across 100 Arabs standing outside the Temple Mount (it had been blocked that night because of the terrorist attack on Rabbi Glick the day before). My heart is thumping, my adrenaline has energized me, and a steely gaze masks, and slowly disintegrates, the knot of fear in my stomach. The Arabs see us, a bunch of soon-to-be-soldiers carrying someone on a stretcher, with strapped IDF soldiers surrounding us, and they start chanting, in an eerie unison, “Allahu Akbar” until we march past them. (Free political commentary because I can’t help myself: they weren’t chanting anything about statehood, “occupation” etc. they were echoing Hamas, Al Qaeda, ISIS and their ilk, though I digress). Their chanting made us more resolute to stand up straight and emanate strength.
As we walked through the street, Arabs would slow their cars and people on the street would just stand still and glare at us. Most had beards and a few had the terrorist kahila scarf, in admiration of Palestinian terrorist leader Yasser Arafat and the “resistance”. It was scary, and yet it wasn’t because we were so focused on moving forward, staying alert and protecting our friend on the stretcher that the fear didn’t really enter my mind.
After hiking through a mountainous village overlooking the old city (yes with the stretcher) we saw how and in what manner the Paratroopers in ’67 liberated the old city. We were standing at the spot from which, during their 19-year illegal occupation, the Jordanians fired rockets at the Jewish Israelis below, and it became patently obvious how suicidal it would be for Israel to give up land that would be used, once again, to terrorize Jewish Jerusalem.
After pushing us to our breaking point in lifting and holding the stretcher above our heads, our commanders led us back down through the village. Without even noticing, it had suddenly become light out. Only after enduring hours of the dark bleariness of the night can we truly appreciate the miracle of a crisp blue sky and a radiating Sun.
On the way back down, we got a few rocks thrown at us, and so we ran with the stretcher, looking for safer ground as the soldiers surveyed the area to no avail. We eventually finished our hike at around 7:30 am, gazing dreamily at the Western Wall, and feeling proud that we were so close to do doing our part in protecting this dream. Tired, sore, and sweaty we stood in the heart of Yerushalim, the very place, where the Jewish people last enjoyed freedom, dignity, and sovereignty in our eternal capital. After such a tense evening, it was euphoric to be standing at the place that, for 2000 years, has served as the physical and spiritual backbone of the Jewish nation. Jerusalem is an epic; it is a vestige of the history that has binded us to this land since time immortal. And I am honored that I get do my part in protecting it.
“A new generation grew up which turned its back on fear. It began to fight instead of to plead. Out of blood and fire and tears and ashes a new specimen of human being was born, a specimen completely unknown to the world for over eighteen hundred years, ‘The Fighting Jew.’” That Jew whom the world considered dead and buried never to rise again, has arisen. For he has learned that "simple truth" of life and death, and he will never again go down to the sides of the pit and vanish from the off the Earth." Menachem Begin, The Revolt