What happens when the mask patched on you won’t come off?
I’ve been a lone soldier for almost 3 years. You know, one of those rock-stars who came to Israel and happily donned green fatigues. The lone soldier treatment started the day I darkened the doorway of the induction center and hasn’t yet stopped. For a while now I’ve become accustomed to people swiping their credit card to pay for my falafel at the central bus station. I’ve been showered with money, and anything I want for my apartment is a phone call away. Not one, but 3 organizations are constantly looking out for me. I, and others like me, are treated with an equal amount of admiration and pity. Admiration, for dropping everything and enlisting into the Jewish army. Pity, for having dropped everything and enlisting into the Jewish army. Not having family here, I’m seen as one without any money or help, alone and abandoned in the scorching Middle Eastern sun.
It’s true that sometimes it’s very difficult to be without family here, but I don’t feel heroic in any sense of the word. Yes, I’ve volunteered on my own accord, but I haven’t been a better soldier than any of my ‘non-heroic’ Israeli peers. I hate doing kitchen duty, I complain like the professionals, and I’ve become an expert at shirking any and all sorts of work. Like any soldier, I yearn for days of sitting in bed and watching movies. I haven’t spent the past 3 years straining at the leash while those poor Israelis who had to draft complain without end. In addition, one can even say that the real role model is the average Yuval from Ashdod and not Tzvi from the 5-Towns. Yuval from Ashdod doesn’t really understand why the country needs him, dreams of emigrating to New York, yet enlists into the army and suffers for 3 years as a combat soldier. Tzvi from the 5-Towns waited his entire life to fight for Israel and swagger across Ben Yehudah street with a gun on his back. Yet I’m lifted on the pedestal and festooned with praise.
I was just in America, and very quickly my return home was transformed into a victory lap. People pushed and shoved to feast their eyes on the recipient of all that money they’ve been dishing out to those nice folks at Michael Levine. Everyone wanted to meet the tender orchid who represents their community in the IDF. I find myself bowing to other’s expectations, donning the mask expected of me, and climbing into the costume commanded by society. I regale the crowd with tales of 2 AM arrests in hostile territory neglecting to mention that I only went on that arrest because I couldn’t beg my way out of it. I earned applause invoking riots in Nabi Salah, even if all I did during those same riots was check my phone and await for my return to bed. They asked for more and more and I gave them more and more, and I get up in the morning to find the lines between truth and reality have blurred.
Now I’m almost done with my service, and this cognitive dissonance has become a hallmark of my service no less than the pain in my upper back and Sunday morning hangovers. I happily played the game and recited the script, both to myself and to other people, often to delude myself more than other people. When a certain role is commanded, when thoughts are decreed and doubt forbidden, it’s no wonder I sink into indecision. I don’t know if they love the sizzle or the steak, praise me for things they think I did or for things I really did, or didn’t, and will probably never do.
Tzvi Lev grew up in America and moved to Israel before joining the army and serving in a combat unit. He is currently living in Otniel and is studying towards a BA in communications and Middle Eastern studies