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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Ceremony by the sea...

I apologize that I didn't respond to comments in my usually timely fashion yesterday.  I honestly didn't have a chance to turn on a computer until late last night... but I assure you, the day was well spent:

One of the neat things about my job is the frequent opportunities it offers to interact with members of the Israel Defense Forces. This interaction takes place mostly because my company makes lots of the stuff the IDF uses.  I won't say too much more about my company except to point out that quality control takes on a whole new meaning when the stuff you are building might be sailing, driving or flying around with your children, or one of your neighbor's kids, in it!

One of the many things we make for the IDF is the Super Dvora (Dvora is Hebrew for 'Bee') Fast Patrol Boat.  You may remember that I got to tag along with the navy on the shake-down cruise for one of our boats a couple of weeks ago...

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... so yesterday was the official commissioning ceremony for these latest two boats we delivered.

In a slight departure from my usual weekly format, I'll tell you a bit about the event here today... and share some pictures taken at the ceremony tomorrow for Photo Friday.

Fair enough?

Before I go on, I should point out that the IDF is not known for Pomp & Circumstance (that statement may qualify as the understatement of the century!).  They also don't do a lot of saluting or parade-ground drilling. In fact, truth be told, they really don't spend much time in dress uniforms either.    When I pointed this out to an Israeli friend once, he responded, "If you see a farmer with a shiny new tractor sitting next to his barn... it probably means he doesn't do a lot of farming."  The point being that such ceremonial posturing is the province of countries with large, peace-time standing armies... a concept with which Israel, unfortunately, has had no real experience.

Most of the ceremonies that do exist within the IDF are rarely witnessed by 'outsiders', and are usually meaningful, intimate affairs... such as the completion of basic training when each soldier is simultaneously issued a Tanach (Bible) in one hand and an M16 rife in the other. 

But yesterday proved that when necessary the IDF can put on a nice show for the crowds.

The commissioning ceremony was scheduled to begin at 5:30PM, so my plan was to bring the whole family.   Unfortunately Zahava and Yonah decided to take a last minute rain check, so just the big kids accompanied me to the Ashdod Naval Base on the Mediterranean coast.

I honestly don't know how people live near Israel's coast during the summer. It was so hot and humid – even in the late afternoon – that I wondered how anything could maintain the will to live. One of the sailors who I have gotten to know told me that this was a relatively cool day... "It's usually much worse!", he said. Yikes! 

Thank G-d I live on a mountaintop where it gets chilly in the evening... even in July and August!

Anyway, the crews and support staff for most of the naval base were turned out for the ceremony in their 'dress whites'... and the new patrol boats were tied smartly alongside at full dress ship, with their young crews sweating proudly at attention on the pier.

The Commander of the Israel Navy spoke briefly, as did the Commander of the Ashdod Naval Base. There were traditional honors rendered... boatswains pipes sounded... a well turned-out honor guard 'presented the colors'... and the assembled sailors snapped smartly from 'parade rest' to 'attention' and back several dozen times to mark each segment of the ceremony.

In most other countries there would be martial music playing throughout such a ceremony, but these drills were performed silently except for the sound of the spoken orders and the soft crunch of marching feet.

When the Israeli and Israel Navy flags were finally raised, the most striking contrast came to light with the playing/singing of Israel's national anthem, Hatikvah (the hope). There are no references to battles or military victories in Hatikvah. There is no mention of strength of arms, courage or valor. It is simply a folk song about a people's 2000 year longing for a return to their homeland... and the dream of living there as a free nation.   

Everyone stood and sang... the sailors... the assembled family and friends... even a forklift operator on a distant pier across the harbor stepped out of his vehicle, stood at attention, and sang.

I'm a hopeless sentimentalist when it comes to these things. I'll admit it... I cried like a baby.

As a former sailor (who has a weak spot for tradition), I can say without hesitation that the whole ceremony - start to finish - was very nicely done.

At the end of the ceremony the crews were ordered to man their ships. They ran quickly up the gangways onto their new boats and got underway smartly. Although they only did a quick ceremonial circuit around the harbor... everyone was pleased to see how quickly and efficiently the evolution - from the line-handling to the ship-handling - took place.

Once the boats were once again tied securely alongside, the entire group was called to attention one last time and dismissed. The final order was followed by an announcement for everyone to join in a celebratory dinner nearby.

Ariella, Gilad and I joined the crews, their families and the assembled base personnel for the wonderful outdoor meal. There were tables sagging under the weight of countless eastern delicacies (falefal, kibeh, lachmajin, shishlik, stuffed grape leaves, etc.) and more familiar fare (schnitzel, salad, fresh fruits /vegetables) as well as breads of every description.

Throughout the meal there was a seemingly endless stream of watermelons brought out and sliced up to help quench everyone's thirst. The melons were frosted from a day spent waiting in a freezer somewhere... and the icy cold sweetness was the perfect thing to deal with the oppressive heat.

The meal was as remarkable for me as any part of the ceremony. First of all, it was completely kosher (a rule throughout the Israel military). The idea of eating a strictly kosher meal at a military installation is still jarring for me since I spent 4 years as the only Jew aboard an American frigate.   

Also, during the meal, the base commander stood up and invited everyone to raise their wine glasses to join him in wishing the crews well. In his remarks he never once mentioned military power or victory, and in fact made no references to the enemies the ships were built to counter at all. Instead he spoke only of his wish that the crews would be safe on their new ships... and that with G-d's help they would protect the country while never having to fire a shot in anger.

He ended his brief toast with the traditional "L'Chaim!" (to life!), which everyone enthusiastically answered.

After the meal, the kids and I were invited on board the two boats where my company presented each crew member with their plankholder certificates. This is an old naval tradition that is practiced around the world. The certificate identifies each sailor as a member of the commissioning crew, and figuratively gives them ownership of one of the planks from which the ship was built.

One line on the certificate sums it up nicely: "A part of the ship will remain with him forever... and a part of him will forever remain with the ship."

I'm so glad I was able to share this experience with my children. Soldiers have become part of their everyday lives. The sight of tanks on transport trucks and helicopters flying low overhead doesn't even catch their attention anymore.

Yesterday's commissioning ceremony was a rare opportunity to remind them that ours is a citizen army... manned (and 'womanned') by people whose only wish is for a time when 'man will learn war no more'.

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Posted by David Bogner on July 14, 2005 | Permalink

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David, somewhere in the waters of Orlando's Adventure Island theme park, specifically in the waters of the Jurassic Park River Adventure Ride, lies a SuperDevora baseball cap. My husband also had one -- his favorite, given to him by a friend who works in Israel doing technical writing or contract writing perhaps for IDF. I'd warned my husband to take my kids' hats off on that wild and wet ride last week when we were there, but husband did not take his own off.
So, I guess, almost fittingly for what SuperDevora is, my husband's hat was "buried at sea".

Posted by: Pearl | Jul 14, 2005 3:57:42 PM

You write so well. I was just there with you!

I really like the words of the Commanding Officer. May they come true.

Posted by: Frummer? | Jul 14, 2005 4:09:15 PM

kibbeh and lahhmajin???

I spent TWO YEARS in Israel looking for kibbeh and lahhmajin, and all i found was soggy kooba and a not-quite-lahhamjin food at Pasha that they called "lahhmajun".

Posted by: Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) | Jul 14, 2005 4:24:16 PM

Ah! so the little book Menachem (the guy in green on the photo) is holding is a Tanach - I loved the movie but always wondered what the little book was.

Falefal I know, what's kibeh, lachmajin and shishlik?

Posted by: kakarizz | Jul 14, 2005 5:08:53 PM

Feh. I was doing fine until you mentioned the forklift operator. That was so unfair.

Beautifully written, as always.

Posted by: Tanya | Jul 14, 2005 5:11:14 PM

Kakarizz, based on the context of the photograph, the book is probably a siddur (prayer book). The black boxes on the soldier's arm and head are tefillin, and the fact that he is wearing them shows that he is at prayer.

Posted by: Rahel | Jul 14, 2005 5:24:40 PM

Ditto what Tanya said.

You make the swords that one day will be beaten into ploughshares. Maybe then they'll use the boats for Mediterranean cruises...

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Jul 14, 2005 5:24:59 PM

Beautifully written! I also felt I was there with you. And, I have tears in my eyes (and not just because I live on the coast with that "oppressive heat").

Posted by: AmyS | Jul 14, 2005 5:49:13 PM

kakarizz: kibbeh are sort of a meat version of falafel balls: ground meat, cracked bulghur wheat, and assorted savories (onions & spices), formed into ovaloids and deep fried or baked. Shishlik is Israeli shish kabob. Lahmajin is a sort of meat pizza. (Why do I gather that David's not much of a vegetarian? :) )

Posted by: efrex | Jul 14, 2005 5:51:36 PM

Ok, after reading about all that food now I am hungry and Sassi doesn't begin serving lunch for a couple of hours.

Posted by: Jack | Jul 14, 2005 6:03:02 PM

Jack, Sassi's menu looks real appetizing. Can you make a reservation for me; I'm so there.
Lucky for me, I married into a family with Israeli and Morrocan roots and branches: Yom Tov or Shabbat meals with these people are so filling...and that's just talking about appetizers, not even getting to the main course yet!

Posted by: Pearl | Jul 14, 2005 6:30:56 PM

Pearl... This is not an offer I am making to just anyone (so please don't send requests), but since your husband lost his Super Dvora hat I'd be happy to send you a replacement. Just email me with your address and it's a done deal.

Frummer... I've been to a few military ceremonies since I've been here and I've noticed that there is very little bluster from the people in charge... only a sense of purpose and determined optimism.

Steg... If you couldn't find decent kibbeh in Israel you weren't looking very hard. The only place with more kibbeh then Israel is Avenue S in Brooklyn! :-)

Kakarizz... I see some of my readers have already stepped up and provided the answers. This is almost like auto-pilot! Thanks guys!!! :-)

Tanya... The forklift operator was a small Sephardi-looking man in his late 50s (by the look of him) and he hopped out of the cab of the fork lift and joined the ceremony on the other side of the water in a perfectly natural/unrehearsed gesture. He was far enough from us that he probably had no idea that anyone was paying any attention to him... yet he was clearly and unabashedly singing along.

Rahel... Thanks for being my 'answer bee' and unpaid proofreader. :-)

Doctor Bean... Amen

AmyS... One of the only things that kept me from being completely embarrassed was the fact that I figured nobody could tell the difference between tears and sweat running down my face. :-) How DO you live there???

Efrex... Do we need to add 'Syrian' to your already long blog title??? :-)

Jack... 'Kibbeh... it's not just for breakfast anymore!' Maybe you should suggest it as an ad campaign the next time you are there. :-)

Posted by: David | Jul 14, 2005 6:39:32 PM

By the way... I'm shocked that nobody (including my lovely wife) has called me a pig yet for the picture I linked to in the second paragraph.

Posted by: David | Jul 14, 2005 6:41:21 PM

David, I enjoyed this post as much as I did all the previous ones; there is really nothing much to add to what other people have said.

However, I have a complete off-topic question. Would you like, some time, to comment about your experience in the US Navy, particularly related to the fact of being a Jew (and as I have learnt from today's post, the only one)? I mean, did you suffer discrimination, did you see antisemitism, or was it just easy and cool? Maybe you have already talked about this, I've browsed through your archives but didn't read all the posts.

I'm curious because in Argentina (and I'm pretty sure in all of Latin America) the huge majority of military people are rabidly antisemitic. There are not any Jews in the armed forces, and I believe no one who is not completely out of his mind would try to join them. Moreover, many Jews who went through the military service (back when it was compulsory) tell stories of discrimination or plain abuse.

It's a good thing that the IDF are not antisemitic :-P

Posted by: Sandra | Jul 14, 2005 7:22:56 PM

Ah. Is that how "kibby" is spelled? My ex loves that stuff. I only tried to make it once, not realizing that the vegetarian recipe I was using (not falafel, sadly, it was potato-based) wasn't... normal. Oops.

(He was very gracious about it, tho, even though it had the flavor and consistency of cardboard.)

p.s. - Biting my tongue about the young ladies.

Posted by: Tanya | Jul 14, 2005 7:25:32 PM

Why would they call you a pig? I thought it was a picture of the food...

;-)

Posted by: Sandra | Jul 14, 2005 7:26:46 PM

I saw the piece in the Jpost and figured that you had some sort of involvement - when I was in the army they showed us A Few Good Men with all the marching and spinning of rifles at the start - very impressive ceremony which we don't bother with - good to know that our Navy puts on a good show!

Gilly

Posted by: gil ben mori | Jul 14, 2005 7:44:59 PM

David: Hmm... you don't think "Yekke-With-Sephardic-Tendencies Orthodox Jewish Straight Theatre Queen" sounds a bit, well, pretentious, do you?

Posted by: efrex | Jul 14, 2005 8:27:48 PM

I really hope that after the events of this summer the country will still be united enough, and respect the IDF enough to be able to stand together with common pride as you saw on Wednesday.

Posted by: Dave | Jul 14, 2005 9:21:51 PM

Sandra... I have touched on my time in the navy a couple of times in past posts, but I haven't really told the story from start to finish. Truth be told, I don't know if I ever will. Perhaps that's the book I'm supposed to write. Who knows. Sorry to be so vague, but your questions are extremely important ones and deserve more than a two line treatment in the comments section. Stay tuned.

Tanya... A+ for effort... and thanks for not making any dirty old man jokes.

Gili... I saw 'A Few Good Men' in the theater with a friend who is a JAG officer in the US Army. We both cringed at all the inconsistencies in the movie. With all the money that Hollywood has to throw around for script consultants, you would think they could get it right... just once!

Efrex... Maybe just a tad. :-)

Posted by: David | Jul 14, 2005 9:58:54 PM

I didn't even follow the link until you just called attention to it again.

That's an awfully big turret you got there.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Jul 14, 2005 10:04:39 PM

You must have a very cool job.

I'd say that Jews have had a tough time in the Military in most countries. I'm fairly certain that my family name was an attempt by one of my ancestors to avoid anti-Semitism in the Russian Army.

Posted by: psychotoddler | Jul 14, 2005 10:09:38 PM

yes yes, beautiuful, once again.

you? a pig? nah...(great picture though)

clean tractor...wow.

Posted by: Tonny | Jul 15, 2005 1:32:49 AM

Just double checking now and saw your question. How do I manage to live here? Well, there are three answers to that: pool in the backyard, A/C in the house, and remembering what New Orleans is like in July. All three make me feel much better! ;o)

Posted by: AmyS | Jul 18, 2005 5:13:04 PM

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