Option Week 1 - Gadna
As we awaited the anticipated and somewhat feared journey of 4 days in gadna at the train station, our emotions were varied; excitement, fear and trepidation. This adventure was a once in a life time opportunity that we were all ready to embark upon, full of determination to overcome the challenges. We hoped to triumph, despite the intensity and previous stories we had heard of long training, sleeping on metal and eating the minimum amount of food. We were only minutes away from arriving at what would be a harsh, straining and intense 4 days. As the bus pulled into the camp, some people were smiling from cheek to cheek, extremely excited to experience this opportunity while others like myself were second guessing ourselves as to why we optionally chose gadna. Our jaws dropped when we reluctantly peered out the window to see the metal beds with thin foam mats on top in the tents, our homes for the next few days. Most of the bus went silent. I became extremely nervous when I saw several groups of teenagers running around the camp, stopping and starting, the khaki uniforms and the intimidating commanders surrounding the bus.
The commanders did not have a second to spare. The journey began as soon as we entered the camp with a commander stepping on to the bus, shouting in Hebrew so most of us were unsure of what she said but had to act upon it. The army service or torture had began. We quickly separated from the boys and lined up in 3 lines with the head commander instructing us. As we struggled to follow along with the Hebrew instructions, we realised what we were about to endure was not going to be easy. We were put into 3 randomly picked groups, each with their own mefakedet (group commander), and began to learn how to run from place to place in a few seconds and the routine of a 'chet' position. Several minutes of training proceeded before we were given our army uniforms that were to be worn at all times throughout gadna. The shock of a lifetime came to us all when we approached the tents. The 2 rows of metal beds lined up with nothing but a grey foam piece on a concrete platform with 2 lights in the middle of the tent. It came to our realisation that our next few nights would become a struggle of keeping warm, sleeping through noisy planes flying past and not being able to move, talk or go to the bathroom once curfew was struck.
Since we all came in with very low expectations of the food, we were surprised to be given a decent dinner of sausages, potatoes, rice and salad. Dinner was followed with an hour of free time - 'Sha'at Tash' which was where we had the time to shower, brush teeth, eat, use our phones and do anything else that was not allowed passed the hour. We came to the conclusion that it would probably be cleaner and more hygienic not to shower so we found ourselves using baby wipes and tissues as our source of hygiene. As to our surprise, after 'Sha'at Tash,' we still had to clean around the bathrooms and make sure the campus was spotless with no mess. Our commander strictly informed us that if someone spoke once in the tent, they would have to come out and stand in the 'hakshiv' position for 4 minutes, the second person who spoke would have to get fully dressed and stand outside for 4 minutes and the third person would have to do something even worse, that our commander didn't want to think about!. Although this army experience may not have been real, it was certainly no joke!
Surprisingly, we only had to wake up at 6.50 and be ready by 7.15 which gave us just enough time to do all we needed, but it was not very pleasant waking up to breaking backs and sore necks. The first full day of the gadna experience involved running around the deserted fields and keeping to every strict demand of the commanders. If someone moved after the time was up, their water bottle wasn't exactly next to their left foot or filled to the top with no oxygen, talked out of line, or wasn't standing straight they had to do 3 push-ups, or 7 for the boys. We spent the day participating in many lessons about IDF techniques and all the details of guns. Although my group was first to lunch, we had to wait outside the lunch hall in 2 lines for 30 minutes standing straight until we could enter. We were all wondering what lunch would bring us and we're certainly surprised when there was quite a variety of food. We were sent off to multiple weapon training lessons, where we were taught the advantages and disadvantages of weapons and all the separate pieces of the gun that were necessary to be aware about before our take part in shooting. Each commander acted very differently and therefore everyone's experience differed but luckily, my group's commander wasn't the strictest but tried her best to keep her laugh in when she found us funny. After the hour of 'Sha'at Tash' we were all extremely tired and despite the thought of our metal beds, we just wanted to get some sleep but not surprisingly we had to clean and arrange the jackets in the store room for 25 minutes. We were given 3 minutes to run into our tent, take off our shoes and get into bed without a sound or else we would receive punishment.
I cannot say that waking up to freezing cold bodies - despite wearing 4 layers and 3 pants was pleasant. We quickly got ready, pulled down our tents and began the day with lessons about the army service. Before lunch, we had the opportunity to do sport activities in our groups and I was told to run my lesson which was quite fun and gave us the chance to move around. The largely anticipated shooting afternoon arrived as we headed off to the shooting range - the reason many of us chose gadna. Whilst some of us were excited to shoot a gun as it was something we had never had the chance to do beforehand, many were very scared. We were put into several groups and waited around in the desert area before it was our groups turn to enter the range. It was totally unexpected and the range consisted of 10 mats on the floor to lie on, head phones on each and the gun, with a target ahead. The full day of learning was to be put into action and we had to use all the details we had learnt in shooting and aiming with the gun. Everyone who shot agreed that it wasn't worth being nervous about and that rather, it gave us a sense of accomplishment, and taught us the brave responsibility of having a weapon in our hands.
The final day was definitely some peoples best but others worst. We were all ready and excited to leave, dreaming of the warm showers and clean hygiene we would be reaching tonight, but we still had a long day ahead of us to get through. Waking up to shaking tents and howling wind was something most of us haven't experienced before. The only thing that usually woke us was the lights, but the electricity was out so we had to struggle out of bed and be ready in the dark, freezing cold in 20 minutes. We spent the morning as combat soldiers, learning how they work in the army and participated in numerous mini army games. We had the time to reflect on our gadna experience with our commander which brought out a sense of accomplishment and reinforced in us that we had nearly achieved and completed gadna. We had lunch in circles on the floor out of tins - the same as the combat soldiers - which was great to experience. Given that the wind was too strong, we had to have the closing ceremony in a room and finally finished gadna. After the ceremony we were all ready to get on the bus, but, we had to spend the next hour and a half cleaning out the campus which threw many of us off balance.
The painful experience we just endured is definitely something to remember and although not all of us loved and enjoyed every minute of gadna, I think the vast majority of us can agree that we learnt a lot from the experience on a number of different levels. We acquired a huge appreciation for all the Israeli soldiers do and the large extent of training they undergo to be the army they are today. Our army experience was short, sometimes fun, and often not so straining which is far from the reality of our Israeli counterparts, who just a little older then us start training, practising and thinking about years worth of army service. I certainly think that we all learnt a huge amount about teamwork, friendship, and cohesiveness. An emotional 3 and a half days meant wanting to cry as much as wanting to burst out laughing and the struggle of staying positive when it was so easy to give up. Gadna was a once in a lifetime experience in discipline and learning, as well as one that would hold a strong place in our memory of the IST journey.
By Gina Seligsohn