July 26, 2017
WITH TWO BOYS currently in the IDF, and a third son eight years out and constantly being called to the reserves, the family’s Shabbat dinner conversations focus heavily on the army.
Who is doing what? Who’s training with what weapon? Whose unit is better? Who’s getting hit harder in krav maga? Stories. Funny anecdotes. More stories. More funny anecdotes.
And lots and lots of acronyms. A sea of acronyms.
From mafkatz (platoon commander) to lotak (underground warfare) to taryach (unit maneuver), the army has an abbreviated language all its own.
Those inside – the initiated – obviously understand; those outside, less so. It’s been a while since I last did a stint in the reserves, so I now need a dictionary of acronyms just to keep up.
When they were small, The Wife and I always told the boys to communicate using their words, not their fists. Now we admonish them to use words, not acronyms.
In addition to the abbreviations, the army talk is also full of slogans and motivational mottoes that each son – at one time or another – declaims in great earnest.
One is “Hakol b’rosh” (everything is in your head). Another is “Ein lo yachol, yesh rak lo rotzeh” (there is no such thing as can’t do, only don’t want to).
Those phrases obviously serve an important purpose in the army. For instance, when a soldier is in intensive training, walking dozens of kilometers in the blistering sun over rocks and thorns, carrying the equivalent of half his body weight on his back, the army wants him to think that the pain in his feet and back is all really just in his mind. If he can overcome the mental anguish, he can carry on. Mind over physical matter.
These are blue-chip lessons and I do appreciate their educational value.
Who doesn’t want one’s offspring to think that so many of our obstacles are actually just created in the mind, and that anything is possible if you just want it badly enough? And then we grow up, and realize that there are limitations; not everything is in your head.
The problem is that I’ve been listening to my sons say these lines so often, and with such conviction and sincerity, that I’ve actually begun to believe them myself. And this tendency is reinforced when I see that reality sometimes conforms to these maxims.
TAKE THE weather, for instance. I’d say a good 50% of my daily conversation with The Wife over the last sweltering three weeks has had to deal with the weather, or rather kvetching about the heat.
Why is it hotter inside the house than outside? Why didn’t we buy an apartment with good wind directions? Why is the lousy air conditioner not cooling us down? When I was a boy, my father taught me the following lines from Percy Bysshe Shelley: “O Wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?” Swell sentiment, that. Especially if, as Shelley did, you live in cool England.
Here, however, I’d change that line. “O scorching sun, if summer comes, can fall be far behind?” Because here I find that summer, not winter, is the depressing season.
But then I go out into the streets and see tourists coming and going and walking and touring like nobody’s business. It makes me feel inadequate. Aren’t they hot, too?
Sure they are, but it doesn’t matter – tourists are undeterred by weather. If you pay lots of money to fly somewhere, and then lots more for a hotel, you are going to enjoy the trip, no matter what it’s like outside.
A little sunshine, 38 degrees Celsius, so what? That’s not going to put a damper on a tourist walking the streets of Jerusalem, or floating in the Dead Sea. Nope. They sweat, apply some more sunscreen, and then go have the time of their lives – proving the dictum that it really is all in your head, and that a positive attitude can overcome even heat prostration.
SO ARMED with that healthy philosophy, I accepted a Tourism Ministry invitation a few weeks ago to join and write about a 17-kilometer bike ride for foreign diplomats in the Carmel Forest.
Okay, so I haven’t been on a bike for about a decade, but I walk on a regular basis. Besides, when I was in grade school I took seventh in the butterfly in an all-city swimming meet. What’s the big deal?
“You can do it,” I heard my kids encouraging me in a Romanian accent, sounding like legendary gymnast coach Bela Karolyi at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. “Don’t be a wimp. Everything is in your head.”
And maybe that’s true… when you’re young. Because then you’re head is different. For one thing, it can absorb all those abbreviations and acronyms.
But not at my age. No, on this ride the problem wasn’t in my head, it was in my legs, my chest, my arms. So at a certain part in the ride – oh, I’d say a good half-kilometer in – I hit the wall.
Even the awful thought that I would be letting my sons down was not enough for my mind to overpower my legs and keep them pedaling. This was a classic case of both not being able, and not wanting it badly enough.
But I did want something else, and I hoped my ability to remember the acronym for this would redeem me just a bit in the eyes of my sons. I wanted a shn’ab, short for sheinat boker, or a little morning nap.
See, boys, something is rubbing off.