The day of dread and excitement finally arrived, we were about to be shipped off to Gadna, for our four day dash of an Israeli army experience. Upon our 7am wakeup we frantically finished packing, squeezing last rolls of toilet paper into our cases as a precaution, and ensuring we had enough snacks to last the duration. Waving good-bye to the teachers and Madrichim, who looked forward to their well-deserved break, we began the journey to Sde Boker, that place that we would call home for the next three nights.
The bus ride was one coloured by dread, excitement and anticipation, we laughed nervously, swapping stories we had heard from older friends and siblings who had moved through Gadna before us, until we finally arrived.
We kissed our English goodbye as we were immediately met by our instructions in Hebrew. Forming perfect straight lines, a task, which for our ragtag team of relaxed Australian teens was easier said then done, we focused intently trying to become accustomed with our new army discourse – “akshev,” standing straight with our hands in a diamond on our backs and feet turned out in a perfect V. We divided into our groups for the next few days and were introduced to the essential 'chet' shape. We began to practise routines such as running in two lines from point A to B within an allocated period of time (generally 10 seconds) and answering our commanders politely with 'Ken Ha-Mefakedet'.
Proving ourselves worthy of receiving the beloved khaki green getup, we headed over to be fitted out in our IDF uniforms, and were given strict instructions on the correct way to present ourselves. The potential for great selfies abounded as we all began to quite fancy ourselves in the army green. We had the privileged of being introduced to the most senior commanders on the Gadna base, who spoke to us about our responsibilities and the genuine privilege of having the opportunity to wear the IDF uniform, the same one in which our people fight to protect the state of Israel. Here we swore an oath promising to take pride in our Gadna experience.
Our first real insight into army life was when several groups were gathered together and given stern instructions- if anyone moved minutely, spoke, laughed, or stood incorrectly, we would be commanded to perform push ups - no refusing no complaints - not something we are used to. The commanders made it very clear that they would take no nonsense from us and that we were there for a reason (even if it was because we were forced to go).
Understandably, the song "I wanna run away," soon became the soundtrack to our Gadna experience.
Sleeping conditions were not the most luxurious (camping out in huge shared tents), but after long days of running around and busying ourselves on base, our scrawny mattresses proved capable of doing the job and when heads hit the pillows we were out for the night! With our commanders standing over us and ensuring our eyes were closed, we all reasoned that going to sleep if not from sheer exhaustion, but to avoid being made to run around outside was the sure route to take.
Whilst day one was completely exhausting and somewhat traumatic, it provided us with a true appreciation for the IDF and the soldiers who live in the conditions that we could barely handle for half a day. It is easy to say that these soldiers deserve the utmost respect for what they endure and do to facilitate the safety and security of Jews all over the world.
Day two entailed learning essential features and uses of a gun, running around and of course endless amounts of push-ups. I completed a total of 51, which was nothing on Tali G's 93. To assure we got full potential from our military experience, our day begun bright and early at 6am, giving us 20 minutes to meet our Mefakedets in a 'chet', (with a full water bottle and hat as usual). Not surprisingly, we were all late, or weren't standing in Akshev correctly, so our day begun with 3 push-ups each.
We joined several other groups for an early morning gym class before the daily prestigious ceremony with the entire base to raise the Israeli flag, a clear expression of the national pride felt by the soldiers daily in their roles within the IDF.
Come mealtimes, the IST favourite was of course, shoko besakit- chocolate milk in a bag. A treat we eagerly awaited throughout the day.
Weapons training begun with a lesson from the Memmem (head shooting commander), explaining the 10 rules of using a weapon which was reiterated throughout the day by several precisely commanded sessions on the safety and shooting of weapons. Throughout the excitement of preparing for the following day at the shooting range, we were able to master the Shkiva (lying down) shooting position, and the Hebrew commands necessary for the task.
The highlight of my day was the picturesque sunset and glowing new moon, prominently appearing in the clear night sky. Upon reflecting on another Gadna day, we gained a real, thorough understanding of the necessities and difficulties of being in the army and the demands of the tasks they not only accomplish but master.
Day 3 begun with the privilege of sleeping in for an extra 20 minutes arising at 6:20, ready and excited for shooting day! We travelled to the shooting range where we organised ourselves in groups of ten and eagerly got ready to experience the real deal. As the Memmem screamed “Esh,” meaning fire, there were several seconds of nervous silence, before an outburst of bullets, echoing throughout the Negev. On such a high, we had five seconds to exit the shooting line and return to the base on our bus.
The rest of the day was filled with many tasks for the different groups, for an unfortunate few, their sole job all day long was to scrub the kitchen and clear-up after meals, which was a tiresome, smelly and 7-hour long task they heroically endured. We had lessons about the values upheld by the IDF and were even able to make our Mefakedet laugh (something very rare), when we were given the freedom to construct our own gym, which turned into dance class.
Our final day’s wakeup was extra early at 5:40, for an unknown hike we were set to conquer. Our journey was a 3km hike - 1.5km each way, mirroring the journey soldiers complete at the end of their basic training course, symbolising a sense of achievement. As we arrived at the top of the mountain, there was a sense of unified pride, as we glanced along our panoramic view of the desert. Upon return, we received a true authentic army experience, beginning with our Mefakedet smothering her face and teeth in mud - causing an outbreak of laughter. We were given various IDF situations, such as camouflaging and crawling, followed by our Mefakedet simulating dangerous scenarios for us to respond to.
Our army experience had come to an end. At our closing ceremony, where we gathered as a group with all of our Mefakdim and higher commanders. Here awards were distributed to the 'best soldiers', and in unison we sang Hatikva with pride and gratefulness that we had completed and excelled in our few days on Gadna.
Overall Gadna was a draining yet remarkable experience. We were exposed to the reality of being in the army and the ongoing challenges and sacrifices the soldiers make in their defence of the State of Israel. Despite spending much of our time complaining, crying and bemoaning our fate, upon concluding we all breathed a sigh of relief and proudly boarded the busses, with memories and stories we will forever treasure.