The night was a complete bust unless my goal was "not sleep." In that case, the night was a complete success. I stayed up reading the wikipedia entry on Maddie's unit (in Hebrew and English) and then reading it again. Then I made sure to get up, shower, get everything all ready and look at the clock, realize that I still had 2 hours to go before we left and do it all again.
Jeff picked us up at 7:05 and we headed out. First, to Beit Shemesh to pick up his wife and elder son, and then down to Zikim, a touch south of Ashkelon to the base for the graduation ceremony. The ride, itself, was wonderfully direct and uneventful, except for the parts that required spinning around and driving up and down mountains. And there were some cows also. But we made it down before 9AM and found out that the parking was being handled by the people who run the Israeli bureaucracy. There was a modicum of yelling and pointing and eventually forms had to be filled out. So we, as tourists, walked away and assumed it would all sort itself out. Julie and I walked up a hill and down a hill and got to the assembly point where we would all (the hundreds of other families and friends) meet the approaching soldiers who were on the last part of a 10 mile hike and walk them to the celebration. It was hot but exciting. It wook a bit but then, under the cover of yellow smoke, the group approached. Maddie was towards the back, helping to carry a soldier on a stretcher. I applied for the job of "lying on stretcher" but it was already filled by another soldier who was taking selfies. Maddie was radiant in her camouflage war paint and Israeli flag.
I have to say, all kidding aside, this was an incredibly touching moment. She has become part of something really special. She has followed a dream and persevered, keeping up and surpassing and I really am proud of her! So there.
We walked with her and her unit and all the families over to the open area so that we could mill around, buy a DVD and find seats on the grandstands. Then, after some pictures, we took our seats in the sun heard all the songs, watched the soldiers stand through all the speeches, took more pictures, saw the exemplary soldiers receive their special certificates, witnessed the giving of the orange berets to replace the basic-training-olive berets and then saw the soldiers throw the berets up in the air as we all cheered. And took more pictures. We came down off the bleachers so that we could congratulate her and realized that, because of the uniformity of the uniforms, the distance and the camouflage, we had been cheering the wrong kid. Whatever. Yay IDF. All of you.
More pictures, the compulsory meeting of the friends, seeing her concrete slab of a bed (seriously -- they all slept in sleeping backs on what looked like a basketball court, her returning her special vest (with extra pockets for junk food when one doesn't feel like carrying grenades), and gathering her stuff. The Lone Soldiers had a special gathering where there were more speeches (the standard ones with themes like "You aren't really alone" and "you are part of an important tradition" and "make sure you give us the vests back") and grape juice. After more waiting around we all got under way for the return (Maddie and Julie got in the car while Maddie's friend and I took a shuttle to a bus stop in the middle of nowhere to catch a bus to the central Jerusalem bus station). I slept on the bus.
Maddie reported that she and Julie were waylaid in Efrat so they wouldn't meet us just yet so we decided to go to Cinema City and kill time after the friend showed me his apartment and got out of his uniform. He's in the infantry and carries a different gun from Maddie. I think that's how the soldiers assess each other -- not by stripes or shoulder patches, but by which gun they carry. Maddie has an M-16 or an M-4. I would carry an M+M. In my vest.
A light lunch at Greg's Cafe (where you can get anything you want, except Greg). The friend had the Indian tapas platter. I don't like having to assemble my own lunch so I got the fish cakes and an egg salad sammich. To drink, a fruit smoothie. All very nice. The accompanying Israeli salad had too many red onions, but tasted of fresh Israeli. We met Julie and Maddie and saw Maddie's apartment. The friend worked on "aging" Maddie's beret so she didn't look like such a newbie. The required shaving it down and then hitting it with a combination of hair spray and a lighter. Then shaving off the charred bits (and admiring the friend's newly smooth legs, his having burned off the hair accidentally) and wetting and shaping the beret. After a few hours of delaying, we went over to the shuk where we argued over where to eat. We settled on 2 different restaurants (Fishen Chips and Pasta Basta) and sad amidst the Thursday night throngs. In Israel, the conversion rate has 1 Saturday Night (US)=1 Thursday New Israeli Evening. The bars were loud and over full. The walking was difficult and the music was obnoxious. Imagine Time's Square full of 16 year old Israelis and 19 year old Israelis. Mix in 55 year old Israelis smoking and some random Europeans and put it all indoors in a mid-sized mall. Make it all smell like old fish, and voila. Shuk.
The last question was whether we would go out for a drink afterwards. That was solved by the sleeping. I returned to Nomi and David's place, chatted with them for a bit and fell asleep and that's the important part. Today, walking around Yaffo Road, spending money (Maddie wants to get her uniform further tailored), eating felafel and going to the kotel before Shabbat. More info if anything actually happens.