The bus slowly made its way up the narrow and windy roads overlooking Jerusalem. We arrived in the Aminadav forest wearing sneakers and carrying water bottles, unsure of what the next 24 hours would look like. All we knew was that we would be embarking on the journey of “Army Day.”
During the summer of 2019, I had the privilege of traveling to Poland and Israel for six weeks with members of my summer camp, Camp Micah. The trip was an unforgettable and powerful bonding experience. Upon reflection at the end of the summer, many recalled Army Day one of the most memorable team-building experiences.
Prior to participating in Army Day, we were all familiar with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and some of the challenges the soldiers experience; however, over the course of the day, we gained a completely new perspective on what it means to be a part of the Israeli army. Of course, physical strength is crucial in serving in the IDF. What is not widely known is the level of mental strength that is also required to succeed.
Upon arriving at the Aminadav forest, we were split up into two groups of 18 teenagers. We were given 60 seconds to change into uniforms, which consisted of long sleeves and long pants in the middle of July. We became drenched in sweat as we army-crawled through rocks, learned how to dodge grenades, and participated in the final march through the scorching heat of the forest. We barely lasted the 24 hours of introductory training, much of it under the sun, and yet the IDF soldiers experience this for four months during their basic training. Donning the uniforms served as our first experience of learning how crucial the group mindset is. If one person decided they wanted to roll their sleeves up or unbutton their top button, we all had to follow in order to maintain a sense of uniformity.
We treated each other (especially our commander) with the utmost respect. “Ken Mifaked” or “Yes, Commander” became the saying of the trip, engraved into each of our brains following Army Day.
In the army, one’s individual strength is necessary; however, it is how the individuals work together that creates the greatest source of strength. Throughout all of the physical drills we participated in, we had a joint responsibility to carry an “alunkah” (stretcher) with four sandbags across the top of it. This was to demonstrate how soldiers carry the wounded. Each member of our group learned how to carry one another over the shoulder so that nobody would be left behind. We learned how to ration the one small box of food we had to share in order to ensure that everyone could have sufficient energy for the remainder of the day. Although we were exhausted, each pair of partners switched off staying awake in order to “guard” the rest of the group. We rubbed our eyes as we fulfilled the responsibility of protecting one another.
To conclude Army Day, we gathered with other groups of American campers for a ceremony to celebrate each others’ accomplishments. We became more connected than ever and developed a new appreciation for the physical and mental strength it takes to be a member of the IDF. We left Israel with a sense of gratitude and awe for the bravery of the men and women who defend the Jewish homeland and ensure the safety of its citizens.