The Tzav Rishon can be a tense day, and in all my research on the internet, I never found a good break down of exactly what happens that day. So, this entry is going to be detailed, for the sake of those who will find themselves in my position. You’ve been warned!
My first order from the Israeli Military, otherwise known as the “Tzav Rishon” was as follows:
“Report to the Recruitment Center (Lishkat Gius) in Tel Hashomer, November 14, 7:30 am.”
The Tzav Rishon is the day a civilian goes through various tests and interviews to determine his or her compatibility and possible placement in the Israeli Military. It is on average, a very long day for prospective soldiers and there with you on that day is an entire population of 18 and 19 year old Israelis (though their enthusiasm was lacking), and everyone is there for the same reason as any foreign volunteer.
As I read my order, I thought to myself “Why, yes sirs and or madams, I’d be delighted to carry out the order”. But nooooooooo, apparently they can’t ask you to do anything easy. You see, the recruitment center is a military base, and like all military bases you wont find it on google maps. So, I wasn’t sure what city its in (Ramat Gan), or what bus to take (just go to the Tel Hashomer Hospital, and look for the bus #2, it goes directly to the recruitment center).
Am I giving away state secrets? … … …Probably not, I mean, its the most public base there is. Ask any bus driver, they know where it is. The entire population of central Israel knows where it is, because the whole population of central Israel was there at age 18 and 19. Heck, its a few blocks away from a friggin Hospital, for crying out loud. There’s cafes near it. Can we please just put it on google maps? Or at least put the place where the number 2 makes pick-ups for anyone searching for the base. That’s a fair compromise, is it not? Oh well, maybe in ten years (optimistic number).
So, I had to wake up at 4:30 am, just to give myself 30 minutes to brush my teeth, shower, eat breakfast, an hour to take a bus ride to a destination the location of which I could not know, and of course a half hour of “I’m lost, I think maybe I ought to ask somebody”. Put that together with the various waiting times involved, and bingo, I was there by 7:20. Only to be foiled, yet again, by the bureaucracy. You see, waiting in one line isn’t enough. Only when you have finished waiting in one line, are you told you need to be in a totally different line to get a sticker that allows you to pass the point which you were currently waiting in line for. And whats the tragedy here? “They didn’t require the sticker yesterday, when I was here the first time, that day they just let us in.” – fellow Mahalnik who was forced to come back a second time due to not finishing one of the stations before quitting time. Why didn’t he finish on time? He had to wait 4 1/2 hours for a doctor to do his physical. Ouch.
I was told to be prepared to spend 5 hours going through the motions at the recruitment center, but I actually spent closer to 10 hours. I was ready for that, as I’d done my research on these subjects before I came to Israel. A calm serenity went about me throughout the day, for the most part of it anyway.
In one office I had to account for my entire life since the first grade, filling in any gaps that may have been unintentionally left out, as well as leave my contact info and the contact info of people I merely “know” in Israel. I have no idea what for, other than to bug them if I feel like not being bugged. I then had to take a psychometric exam, which is to discover any psychological issues I might have. Basically, its a list of questions like “have you ever heard voices that other people didn’t?”. I assume this is mainly the army’s way of giving the least motivated people a chance to bite the bullet and be defined as “disturbed”. I think its probably not worthwhile for those people to do that because:
A. you’ll have a record from the army that you’re psychologically disturbed. Good luck finding work, psycho.
B. You are still required by law to serve, just now you will be placed in the least interesting place with the least amount of significance or responsibility. if you weren’t really certifiably crazy before that, you’ll drive yourself nuts during your three years of service rolling barrels from point A to point B then back to point A again. Especially when you discover there isn’t anything inside the barrels…other than smaller barrels… which are empty. You get the point…
Then, the army really surprised me! I asked if I could have my college diploma recognized by the army, and not only that, but to have it recognized right here under the roof of the very building in which I was sitting. I was expecting a “No, you’ll have to first go to the Ministry of Education to get an approval from them, and then to the Ministry of Defense to sign off on it” or if I was really lucky “I don’t know, sorry”. But instead, the answer was “Let me ask” and she did, and then you know what happened? It was all possible, not just in that same building, but in that same office! I never even had to get off my ass. I simply handed them my original, and then they gave it back and kept a copy. Wow. I said to myself “This is going to be a goooood day”.
In another office, I had to give a urine sample, which took me no more than a few seconds as I already wanted to take a glorious leak moments before I realized that I reached the urine test station. Again, my feeling was “I triumph again, for no longer will I be in fear of being here for hours longer than I need to, simply because I couldn’t pee right away”. I learned some good men fell to this very issue in the past. We mourn for them. From there an eye exam, which I did not do so well on. I worried from them on that I might be required to wear glasses. It was the monkey on my back all day, and it still is! And then a full (FULL) physical, but with a cute lady doctor, so that was tolerable. Lets face it, better she cups your boys than HE does.
I was given a military health profile of 82, which is the second highest possible score. Why second highest? I didn’t do well on my vision exam. Still, with an 82 I can be placed in any unit in the military except for some of the most elite units that require perfect vision (like an air force pilot). Well, thankfully, I don’t want to be an air force pilot. They serve for like ten years, or something way longer than I’m willing to commit myself.
So I feel pretty good. The only thing I worry about is being required to wear glasses by the army, though my Israeli friends tell me that its not likely. I mean, really, who wants to wear glasses on a battle field?
From there, it was off to take a kind of I.Q. test. My test was in English and consisted mainly of visual I.Q. in which I had to identify shapes, patterns, and relationships between objects under a time crunch. I think its interesting the army chose to give spacial IQ tests because I read somewhere that Jewish people normally have a tougher time on those than the other kind of IQ tests that are mostly math. In one part I had 30 minutes to answer 30 questions, in another I had ten minutes to answer 31 questions. They didn’t tell us our scores, but when I asked how I did, I was told “Good” with the kind of smile that leads me to believe they don’t see our scores either.
From there, we were sent to the “Red Room”, I call it by its color because even now I don’t know what happens in that room. No one knows. Upon arrival I was told “You don’t have an interview here”. “Hmm, so I am supposed to have an interview here” I learned from their implication, “but now I wont? Why not”. They answered “its complicated”. Some of us think that room has something to do with military intelligence, and we simply don’t have the security clearance to be interviewed at this early stage. All I know now is, that I want to work in the red room for my military service, at least then I might know what they do there!
After that it was off to the office where a person, who is living in Israel without any immediate family in the country, can apply for the status of a “Lone Soldier” (Chayal Boded). Essentially, this entitles one to various benefits like a double salary, bonus pay on top of basic salary, a monthly stipend for renting an apartment, hundreds of shekels worth of discounts on holidays, and monthly allowance of 130 shekel for food (not cigarettes or alcohol), additional time off every once in a while to handle one’s chores, and other things that are intended to make the life of a Lone Soldier a little easier.
Its nice. The army will even furnish your apartment if it isn’t furnished when you rent it. The idea is to make up for the lack of psychological support with financial comfort. Of course, it doesn’t make us rich, but we certainly wont starve. Although it doesn’t make it a whole lot easier to do our daily tasks, at least we can’t say the burdens of a “Lone Soldier” aren’t appreciated by our masters.
Speaking of being appreciated by our Masters, the Tzav Rishon is supposed to be a one day thing. But not for me. I have to schlep my tuchus all the way back on Sunday, just to take a 15 minute interview with an officer who felt like leaving early by an hour, right in front of my waiting exhausted face with the puppy dog eyes that read “please sir, please sir, don’t leave me here” even though I was the only person left to interview. I guess his wife was having a baby. Or he’s a prick. FYI, by the look on his staff’s face, his office thinks he’s a prick.
I’m back from day two of my Tzav Rishon. I still don’t know if the officer who interviewed me is a prick, but he was certainly very nice today. Inevitably, he also asked me the usual question of why am I joining, but in a way that I learned something about myself. A much more personal, shorter, answer came out. The question was put to me thus:
Officer: “Why are you here? You could have stayed in Brooklyn, enjoy life, find a wife, and have kids.”
Me: “I’d like to move here one day, and when I do have kids, I don’t want them to think their father didn’t do something that they might have to do.”
He looked me in the eyes and then quietly at his table, then said he is recommending me for the unit I requested. Fireworks went off inside of me. As I left the Recruitment Center with my free bus tickets, I realized that now all there is left to do is wait, as the reality of my situation becomes all the clearer. An Army awaits. F***K.