Canada's own 'Mashuginah Goy'
By Roger Neill
And five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight
. . . they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. Isaiah 40:31
'Mashuginah Goy': That was the nickname given to me by my 86 year old room-mate who was doing what he called his "Bar-mitzvah tour" (#13) for Sar-El. I love it, and 'Sam Senior' from Florida (who gave it to me) has become a fast and dear friend. I love him like a brother and a father.
Eighty-six, smart, hard worker, with a terrific sense of humour, he kept the two of us laughing and kibitzing through 28 degree temperatures under a sheet-metal warehouse roof that had 30 years of accumulated dust in it. He had been a B-47 Flight Engineer during the Second War and his employers would not let him retire at 86 because he is so good at what he does.
Only Sar-El could bring a 62 year-old Goy from the Wet [West] Coast and an 86 year old Florida Jew together in profound brotherhood through an army uniform.
There is no military on earth like this military.
Well, I took this 'tour of duty' deadly seriously because I didn't expect to get accepted. So, when I was approved, I did everything the Sar-El manual suggested (and much, much more).
I arrived in worn-in Special-Forces desert combat boots (which were as comfortable as hush-puppies); I had a superb utility belt hung with compact tool sets, small l-e-d flashlight, leather work gloves, thermos flask and an army-fatigue sweat-band to keep the perspiration from running in my eyes and dousing my glasses. I had quality dust-masks for myself (and some others) and a mountain-emergency first-aid kit with a small 'pharmacy' that could cure all ills in waterproof and airtight plastic boxes. Over the next 3 weeks (at one time or another), virtually everything I brought with me had been used by myself or one of our crew.
I bought Israeli mementos like (to quote Sam Senior) "a drunken sailor. . ." and we decided that the Israeli economy would go into recession upon my departure. I took a solo trip to Sderot to spend some money in their damaged economy and express solidarity with those heroes in their "forgotten siege". I will never be the same! It is a beautiful little town of incredible 'survivors' who just dig-out and re-construct after every attack.
They are Jews!
Kassams rockets came in 2 days before and 2 days after my visit.
Mashuginah? I wept at the Russian Compound in Jerusalem when my colleagues sang the hymn in Hebrew to the dead Haganah soldiers and I was dumb-struck and wept when in our evening "activity" we looked at the pictures from the last Lebanon War. I was overcome with grief and anger.
When we got working in the warehouse I would forget to take breaks till I dropped and would forget to drink water because I was having such fun with everybody and doing "meaningful work". I would stare at those Hercules Aircraft in the distance and think of the memories those aircraft and their crews must have: some of the most daring operations and rescues in military history. . . blessed by G-d!
I was surrounded by gentle, humble and gracious heroes and for a moment, I was part of it.
Us 'Americanos' began having coffee withdrawal at breakfast after about 3 days and I discovered that if one put instant coffee in a mug and held it under the hot shower-head, that it created a latte. Sam tried it, but was unimpressed.
Was I 'Mashuginah' ?! . . yeah,. you bet, absolutely, and delighted to be so. . .
It was such an undeniable privilege to set foot on the Holy Land for the first time with the purpose of doing service to Armed Forces which have to their credit about 7 of the most spectacular, first-time-ever successes in military history.
My Base was the C-130 Hercules Base out of which the Entebbe rescue took place (1976), the Ethiopian Jewish rescue, plus the transport and supply of the Yom Kippur Sinai Campaign and all the Lebanon Wars. Many other 'classified' operations were conducted as well. Those runways and taxi strips, warehouses and Air-Force Staff boardrooms had seen unimaginably creative, heroic and historic acts take place.
As if that was not enough, we also had the honor of witnessing G-d's stunning miracle. . . Israel. . . : not just as a spectator, but as an active participant. Before one's eyes passed the agricultural miracle, the technological miracle, the Aliyah miracle, the vibrancy, the conflict and the impossible growth of an impossible nation.
The Northern Coastal Tour saw an amalgamation of the 'international' and the 'Canadian' group that had arrived one week after we did. We 'got along'! Human political, economic, military and Biblical history unfurled on the shores of the magnificent Mediterranean: Caesarea, Mt. Carmel, Haifa, Acre and eventually, Rosh ha Nikra on the Lebanon Border. Then, night spent on a kibbutz.
Jerusalem (The Golden); Tel Aviv, (Independence Hall & Rabin Memorials).
What could I expect; an outsider (who had never spent time among Jewish people before), with "church" history in tow? In reality I was included and praised and teased and left alone when I needed to be, and respected. I came to love everyone on my team. They are the most amazing folks: intelligent, accomplished, 'real' and affable (to the 10th power): business people, professionals, technical and trades. We were unified at a level which was spiritual.
All different theologies and political positions yet our discussions were good-natured, informative and exhilarating. Every breakfast and supper was like a university seminar. I asked stupid questions and nearly broke a kosher law but was so well-treated that I really could never have imagined it. My already-idealized image of Israelis and Jews was only reinforced, not tarnished.
The military personnel were magnificent. The staff and officers were grateful and treated us with such respect and appreciation. They gave us multiple ceremonies and gifts and were profuse in their praise. It meant so much coming from these 'gentle giants'.
The Madrichot (guides) were amazing. They oriented us, "shepherded' us and answered our million questions and when we got lost, [they] worried and scolded us. They made our connections, got us the things we needed, taught us about Israeli society, (from first-hand experience) and handed out lovingly-devised hand-drawn copies. They got a wide array of fascinating people to come and talk to us: a delight! Young, vibrant, passionate and diverse in temperament and belief, they are Israel.
There is no army in the world like this army.
The Captain in charge of Flight Operations gave us a tour of a 'Herc' and posed with us in photographs. Then we were invited to his home for a reception and very personal hospitality.
Pam Lazarus has learned the skill of bi-location, in that everywhere I turned, there she was with tours and sign-up sheets, and materials and suggestions. She made herself available (it seemed) 24 hours a day as did the Madrichot. That was very comforting especially when I took off on my own.
One special 'perk' was the idea that we might be saving some reserve soldier (perhaps even a fighting man or woman) the duty of having to leave his or her family to do unskilled grunt work, rather than rest and/or train for the next war; the idea that we might be contributing to the economy of this heroic nation; the idea that our experiences (taken to a burgeoning, propaganda-immersed, anti-Semitic world) might serve to dispel the mythology; [and the idea] that at some level we were part of precious Eretz Israel. Thank you, Sar-El, for the privilege, and my prayer is only that I might return and do it again.
Previously published December 3, 2007 in Sar-El News, Volume 14 www.sarelcanada.org
from the March 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine