Shabbat on the Egyptian border

Typically Shabbatot when a soldier is stuck at a base are days they try to forget. But there was one Shabbat, at a hot, dustry base on the Egyptian border, that I sometimes drawn on for inspiration, 25 years later.

I was a few years after regular service, doing my annual reserve duty stint, this time on a desolate post alongside a disused border crossing, not so far from Nitzana. I don't remember why it was ordained as such, but for some reason I was stuck doing interminable eight-hour shifts in a high guard tower a stone's throw from the border, which consisted of a high fence and an untravelled road.

When Friday came, I had all the time in the world to prepare. No scampering around to get the house and kids ready. All I had to do was some easy basic preparations, like shining my boots and setting muktzeh aside.

Unfortunately, not all of my fellow soldiers were in the same state of mind. In fact, almost none of them were, since almost none of them kept Shabbos. (Ironically, one of the permanent soldiers at the base, some sort of technician, told me that he had spent many a Shabbos on that base when it was manned by an all-Druze or all-Bedouin brigade, and they all stood silently in the dining hall when he recited Kiddush.)

My guard shift started about an hour or two before Shabbos, so I brought a siddur up with me. And as the sun began to descend toward the sandy horizon, I took out my siddur for Kabbalat Shabbat. When I started my solo rendition of Lecha Dodi, I felt the exhilarating sense that I was ushering in the Shabbos Queen in that dusty, foresaken place some 70 kg south of Be'er Sheva. I wasn't just getting swept along with the congregation in synagogue  I was the congregation. I was sweating in fatigues with a crumpled bush hat and an M-16, rather than pressed shirt and tie, suit and fedora, but there was no mistaking Shabbos had arrived.


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