Marva Army Training: Not Only Meaningful for Americans

I am writing to you now from Young Judaea Year Course as an official graduate of Course Marva 123 (קורס מרווה קכ״ג). With this experience comes a multiplex of emotions. My opinions concerning Marva change with almost every day that passes. When I look back to what I thought the course would be before it started, I couldn’t have been more wrong. To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. And that is exactly what I thought on that first night in tent number six about 8 weeks ago. But now as I sit on my living room couch in Arad and think about everything Marva has taken me through, I realize that in the end it was exactly what I needed.

My mental strength and personal motivation during Course Marva closely resembles that of when I go on a run. Before I start a 5K run, the task seems like nothing; I see it as 30 minutes I can easily breeze through and continue on with my day. The first 10 minutes are always the worst. I think, “what the hell am I doing out here and why am I not sleeping right now?” With only a mile down, it seems as if I will be running forever, and I am already tired of it. When I hit 15 minutes, there is hope. I think, “hey, I’ve made it half way, only one half to go!” At that same moment, I look up from the ground and realize the steep incline of the massive hill I’m approaching. My heart sinks and my feet feel heavy as I brace myself for the pain of the obstacle ahead.

Finally the time comes when I only have 5 minutes left. I can see how close I am to my goal and this knowledge gives me a second wind. I suddenly pick up speed and feel as if I could run forever. I start thinking about what a good idea it was to go on a run and all that I can get accomplished now that I feel awake and energized. The rush of endorphins may be clouding my mind, but I don’t care because I made it through. And I could do it again too. My first blog post about Marva was not the most pleasant. There wasn’t a girl in my tent that didn’t cry and think about quitting during the first two weeks. By the end of the course, just like my 5K, I marched through the final ceremony with my head held high. As time passes, I remember more and more of the good things about Marva and forget the bad and you can be damn sure that I am proud of myself for finishing the course.

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Rachel, on the right

A few days ago my mefakedet (commander) “broke distance” with us. In Marva breaking distance refers to the moment at the end of the course when the mefakdot (commanders) finally smile at us and talk to us as friends instead of commanders. This is the moment we realize that these robots who have been yelling at us for 8 weeks are actually normal people who have feelings and like to joke around. For most of us this is a shocking revelation. My mefakedet’s name is Snir, and the only word I can use to describe her is adorable. She is only 4 feet and 10 inches tall, but let me tell you she has the strength of a giant. The following excerpt is from a letter she wrote to our tsevet (team) and gave us at the end of the course.

Over the last year and a half I’ve been a commander in both the Gadna and Marva. As a commander in the Gadna, I encountered mainly young Israeli youth who didn’t want to enlist but eventually will have to find themselves in the military. The main issue with them and the values I chose to stress were love for the country and the fact that we have no other place in the world. Then I moved to Marva, and let me tell you, it is the complete opposite. In Marva I met youth from all over the world who came to learn about Israel and the IDF, young individuals who would have enlisted the moment they could if it hadn’t meant leaving everything they know behind, boys and girls who knew what this country means to Jewish people without me even having to explain. I marvel at this course each time anew. You can’t define Marva as “Gadna for two months”. It is a different world.  In the Gadna you get to influence the youth of Israel, but in Marva I feel like I can really change the world— because the way you experience the IDF and Israel will be passed on to your entire community. And who knows maybe people will start seeing Israel in a different light…

*Note: This letter was originally written in Hebrew and later translated into English. (Snir’s English was not the strongest)

Course Marva 123 was Snir’s third Marva course as a commander. On February 27th, the day of the final ceremony, Snir turned 21 years old. She only has about 6 months left in the army (she finishes in August). Her parents traveled all the way from their kibbutz up North to Sde Boker for the ceremony. During one of the practices for the ceremony, I had my usual thoughts that come towards the end of a run. Maybe I could enlist in the IDF. Maybe I should serve the army before I go to college. After all, I made it through Marva basic training, the hardest part of the army. I already know what I would do and which unit I would be in: a rescue paramedic in the Homefront Command unit. But something happened on February 27th that made it very clear to me why this was not the right thing for me to do.

I stared at Snir, my mefakedet, as she embraced her mother at Ben Gurion’s grave, the location of our final ceremony. Snir introduced us (the tsevet) to her mom, and we all couldn’t help but say “awwww” in unison when this proud mama leaned over and kissed her daughter on the cheek. I looked around and realized that my mom wasn’t there. And that’s when it all made sense. My mom wasn’t there because this isn’t my country. I’m Jewish but I’m not Israeli. If I were to join the army my parents would never be there to see me do it. They wouldn’t be proud of me the way Snir’s parents are proud of her. My mom asked me for only one present for her birthday this year which was February 26th. She asked me to blog. The best way for me to serve Israel AND make my parents proud is to do it back in the United States. In the States, I can fight for Israel in a way that is very different than serving in the IDF, but just as important for an American girl like me. So happy birthday, Mom! I’ll be home in just 3 short months, and as a lifetime member of Hadassah, a Year Course and MASA graduate, and a freshman at UNC Chapel Hill, I will be eager to start fighting.

Don’t worry-I know what I am doing; I’ve been trained by the best.