We interviewed Nick Greene, a Shevet Achim group leader at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California about one of his recent group meetings incorporating an IDF “basic training” experience. Also, if you haven’t seen Nick’s “Young Bruce Springsteen” on YouTube it is definitely worth a click.
Why did you choose to do a session on war?
An unfortunate, but real and consistent aspect of humanity throughout history has been war. And in every culture, men have been asked to take the lion’s share of playing the brute.
Do you think American Jewish teens have a connection to war in this way?
As Americans, we dub our “greatest generation” the one who fought and won arguable the most grandiose war of all time: WWII. We cinematize and relish the glory of defeating a clear evil. And as Jews, we take pride in overcoming the greatest risk toward Jewish existence our continually threatened breed had ever experienced. Being Jewish has always come at a price.
How did you incorporate a “boot camp” experience?
My good friend Shimon Gordon was in the Israeli paratroopers. He came to our group and ran drills (mental and physical) with us.
The first thing he did was an immediate physical exercise. The teens ran through a scripted obstacle course (nothing too strenuous). Then, after that the workout was completed, a mental game ensued.
Quickly following that activity, he combined both physical and mental abilities. He tied four or five ropes from one pole to another horizontally. The poles were about 10 feet apart. The ropes were separated by about two feet. Then, he tied five or six more ropes vertically from the top horizontal rope to the bottom. The result was about 20 squares. Some a little bigger than others. The objective was for all of the teens to cross from one side to the other climbing through, but without touching any of the ropes. If a rope is touched, they have to start from the beginning. Once one of the squares is used, it cannot be used again. The teens can help one another, but the last one through will probably have to do it by themselves.
Did you talk about the ethics of war?
He gave us wonderful, real accounts of decision making in the IDF. One specific example was of a commander leading his troops into a city. There was intelligence that rockets were being fired from a school. You did not know if there were occupants in the school – militants, children or others – but the mission was to order an airstrike on the school once rocket fire was confirmed. You then saw a rocket fly from the school so rocket fire was now confirmed, but one of your soldiers said he may have seen a child in the school through a window, but he couldn’t be sure…what is the call?
The teens discussed this in great length and made wonderful analysis both emotionally and tactically.
How did you end the session?
We made a bonfire using spark sticks. We were not too successful at this, so we had to use a lighter in the end. But basking in the warmth of our fire was a wonderful way to end the abbreviated basic training of a true soldier. The teens felt like they passed a test…and they passed it together.