The Orange Tree: An Israeli reserve soldier speaks about loss

Guest writer: Elazar Weiss 

On the 22nd day of your 8th Order* you get 24 hours off. All you want to do is run away, to some small island of sanity. Just for a few hours. To forget the bizarre interlacing between arguments about spoiled chocolate milk and never-ending political discussions, between despair in the face of others’ positions (that, in your mind, steer us towards the abyss), and the deep friendships forged only in the melting pot of dull hours of guarding, black coffee and cigarettes. The hybridity of being an enlisted soldier and a concerned citizen, of dying from boredom but also being a heroic fighter given care packages, even as it is clear that there is a much realer front, and all of us are climbing up the walls, worrying about our friends, acquaintances and brothers who are there. And also about the civilians. Ours and even (when we manage) theirs, too.

In wartime there’s no room for delicate balances (everything is, after all, black, white and extreme). You are on the brink of madness. That’s why you get a small break. Homeward bound. Just for a few hours. It really isn’t that big a request. Just A short gulp of the crisp air of sanity.

And in the morning, right before you leave, you again take part in the small ritual that has become a routine. Looking at the names that were published the night before, you don’t know anyone and let out a sigh of relief (quietly, of course, so that the people, the nation, and most of all, you yourself, will not hear). Island of sanity – here I come.

But just as your uniform comes off, you are informed that actually, you did know one of them. Not so well, but enough to make it hurt. To cause all the walls of defense and denial you’ve built, for the glory of the State of Israel, to fall apart and crumble.

A sweet, charming kid who’s grandmother lives next door to your parents. You have an orange tree in the garden, but don’t have energy to pick the fruit. He comes every year to pick them. At the end of the day, he knocks on your door, and with a bashful smile, gives you a bag full of that year’s harvest. You remember the last time you saw him — two years ago, in the middle of your finals. You were sealed away in a bunker, studying for a test that then seemed like a matter of life or death. There was a knock on your door, and you got irritated that someone was bothering you. You opened the door (in boxers, of course) and muttered a quick thanks, which today strikes you as too cold and distant a response. But who knew then what would happen today.

You can continue with the regular rituals. Tell yourself it still isn’t close “enough”, isn’t really part of your inner circle, or alternately prove how close it actually is and therefore hurts so much. His parents pray at your synagogue, and your younger sister knew him through the Bnei Akiva youth movement. He studied in high school with kids you counseled, and even served in your first army unit.

But you decide to focus on this small, banal memory. The orange tree. Even though years have passed, experiences have been experienced, and who even remembers that anyway. And suddenly a realization seeps in. You begin to understand that the circles of pain and loss are wider and slipperier and more evasive than you could ever describe or imagine.

Because on the way back from the funeral, you understand that with every day that passes, there is more hurt and more wounds. More ripe oranges that will never be picked, but will remain on the tree and rot. More and more rips, small and large, hidden and apparent, that this insane situation causes. Rips and tears that will never be healed. Shocks, after which we return to routine, but for the sake of appearances only. Because nothing will ever actually be as it was.

One thing is certain. The island of sanity has been flooded. It will not be. Not for you, not for your crazy country.

May his memory be a blessing.

*An emergency military order which calls up reserve soldiers prior to or during a war.

Elazar Weiss is 25 years-old and a university student.

Photo: Creative Commons
Photo: Creative Commons