Shana Weiner, a senior at Severna Park High School (class of 2006), went on a trip to Israel and Poland during the summer of 2005 with a youth group called Shosharim. This is part of an essay she wrote when applying for colleges that shares her experiences on this most meaningful trip:
What is an experience you have encountered that has changed your outlook on the life?"
I was a soldier. For three days, the phrases "Hakshev ha Mefakedet," and "Ken haMefakedet," spouted from my lips. I stood in the middle of the Negev Desert at the Israeli Defense Force—Gadna base in S’de Boker.
I became quickly acclimated with 6:30 A.M. wake-up calls, stiff linen uniforms, couscous and stale bread. I learned the Pizatzta fighting stance and to watch out for fellow squad members in the field. By dinner Monday night, my entire body ached and all exposed extremities were gray with dust and dirt from the day’s time spent crawling and camouflaging. Trickles of blood shown on my oversized army pants and I discovered a nice scrape on my kneecap.
On Tuesday I zoned out while the Mefakedet lectured us on the different weapons and the chain of command in the IDF. In a cramped, musty classroom with my squad I forced myself to stand just to stay awake. The inscrutable sounds of Hebrew were too easily ignored. The Israelis had to translate for us monolingual soldiers. But I perked up and became quite alert when our commander began to demonstrate how to operate the long M-16. Each of our lessons that day was focused on the appropriate way to handle the weapon.
Wednesday morning, our final day at S’de Boker, we wrestled with our nerves and anticipation as we rode in the crowded 1970’s bus through the serenely beautiful desert to a shooting range. When it was my turn to shoot, OurMamem, the S’de Boker Commander, instructed us to load our weapons, set them to semi-automatic, and cock them back. Finally, I heard the command…"ASHE!" When I fired my weapon for the first time, I hurt my shoulder from the kick. I collected myself, preparing to fire again. And while the other girls around me discharged their weapons, I grew very uneasy. I knew that so many of the friends I made would, in one year’s time, hold this weapon again–not benignly, the way we Americans did in order to simulate the "Israeli Experience"; they would do it because they have been ordered to, because it would be up to them to preserve the State of Israel.
As I continued to shoot, gun smoke pervaded my eyes and a bullet shell struck me once on my right cheek. After each shot, I refocused my weapon on the target, and tried as hard as I could to hold it steady. When I had shot my last bullet I felt an overpowering sense of relief. I hoped to never shoot a gun again.
I have never been so happy to leave anywhere as when I grabbed my bag and ran to the bus with the other Shorashimers. And as we drove away from what we had not-so-endearingly named "Hell," I knew my outlook on the military, and especially the IDF had changed. Growing up next to Annapolis, ten miles from the United States Naval Academy, I have seen Midshipmen in uniform on a regular basis: with their companies in the Annapolis restaurant where I work, packed into the mall on a Saturday afternoon, and even by themselves downtown at the Annapolis dock. Before my experience I saw a soldier mostly as eye candy. I rarely considered the risks they take by committing themselves to protect their nation. Now I see anyone in uniform as a hero: a hero for his country, a hero for his family, and a hero for me.
When I decided to spend my summer traveling through Israel with the Chicago youth group, Shorashim, I hoped to gain an understanding of Israel the land, the culture, and the history. Although my days at S’de Boker this summer encompassed only a small part of the whole "Israeli Experience", they were a vital contribution in a quest for a greater understanding of the nation for which my Holocaust survivor grandparents sacrificed.
Never have I been so educated, and never again will I be so detached. Because I was a soldier too.
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