Saturday, November 14, 2009

Gibush Matkal

(Ami's blessing at 6:00 am before the Gibush on Sunday)

Lots to cover in this entry. Two days ago I got back from the most challenging (mentally and physically) thing I've ever done in my life. Gibush Matkal started on Sunday and ended 2 days ago (Thursday). I, unfortunately, was not accepted into Matkal, Shaldag, or 669 but the competition was fierce so it's not as if I feel cheated. Prior to the Gibush I thought I would be horribly disappointed if I did not get accepted but surprisingly I was not. I did, after all, give more than 100% and if that's enough than it is only fitting that I should not be in Matkal. Also, I was grateful that I at least got the chance to compete in this Gibush. About 3 weeks ago I went to a cardiologist in Nahariyya to get an extra heart check for the army. He said he found irregularities in the echo test and that I should not engage in demanding physical activity. Had I brought his letter to the army, they would have disqualified me without a doubt from any combat unit and I would be stuck as a jobnik or in intelligence -- both things that don't particularly interest me. Luckily, the Rahamims (my adopted family in Holon) are experts on bureaucracy in the Israeli army and we (with the help of my dad and others in DC) were able to get an appointment with one of the best cardiologists in Israel at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. He cleared everything up and said that there is no problem with my heart (i.e. the previous doctor is an idiot and almost ruined my chances of being in a combat unit for nothing). The lesson learned here: socialized medicine sometimes sucks.

On Sunday, Gila drove me to the train station Ad Halom in between Ashdod and Ashquelon. We got there at 7:00 and at 7:30 the bus came to pick all of the "Gibushees" up and took us to the Nizzanim Base. I have to say that all the details of the week are still quite fuzzy in my head since when one is in a high stress situation he or she tends to focus on the now and the past and future tend to fade and become less important. I am still somewhat in "Gibush" mode so the details of times and drills might not be as accurate as they should be. We waited that day until about 4 pm until we actually did anything physical. After getting our equipment, suiting up (in uniform), and getting clearance from the doctor, we had about a 4 hour waiting period of sitting in the sun and doing nothing. During this time we were introduced to "Manot Krav" or combat meals. This actually became more delectable as the week progressed since food turned into one of the few spoils we could enjoy and also because we all grew slightly insane. The combat meal consisted of dry bread that barely slid down your throat, tuna, grape leaves or tuna salad (depending which MRE you got), olives, ketchup, mustard, and fruit. Needless to say, all of this was NOT fresh and came with heavy preservatives (very healthy stuff). At 4 pm, we all gathered and the Gibush administrator explained to us the "rules and regulations" of the Gibush. We then were divided into groups. There were about 450 of us and we were divided into groups of about 21 kids in each group. I was in group number 9 and my personal number was 6. We then set out with our equipment after our officers (about 6-8 of them) toward the sand dunes. We immediately started with intense sprinting exercises with our rifles in hand. About 5 sprints in I started to have trouble catching my breath and shortly thereafter regurgitated the canned-preserved grape leaves and pineapples that we had eaten earlier. I then went to the Mirpaah (clinic) to get checked out. Understandably I started to freak out a little bit and asked myself questions like, "Am I going home so early into the Gibush? Is this going to hurt my standing in my group?" I returned about 15 minutes later to my group after drinking lots of water and joined back in with the sprinting and the overexertion. After sprinting a lot with no breaks in between sprints, we went down to some sand dunes where there were a lot of other groups as well. There were about 20 dunes in this area and although we did not know it at the time, this was the torture chamber that we would be returning to about twice a day for the next four days to carry out strenuous drills that made Yom Sayarot look like some sort of relaxing dead sea spa treatment. At the dunes we did a number of other sprinting exercises and then moved on to "Zchilot" or crawling. While I am typing this my elbows and knees resemble roast beef more than they do body parts. Crawling was especially hard because I had not practiced this prior to the Gibush and it demands that you use every muscle in your body. After all these exercises we eventually returned to the base camp area, soaked in sweat and caked in sand, where we had to set up our tents for the night. That night, and the rest, we did not shower and went to sleep in our uniforms.

I don't remember exactly what the schedule was for the rest of the days but I can give a general idea of what went down. It is important to mention that it was extremely hard to keep track of time during the Gibush because watches and cellphones were banned. Every morning we woke up at about 3:30 or 4:00 and had 20 minutes to eat, drink, and get everything ready. At the end of the 20 minutes we had to be in order and awaiting our officers. We would then get checked to make sure we had everything in line such as water, efod (vest), shirt tucked in, and more. We then would go out to the "torture chamber" area where we would proceed to have our asses kicked (no beating, just drills until we dropped). The order of the drills went something like this: sprints, 15 minute break, another drill, 15 minute break, another drill, 15 minute break. These were not just any "soccer practice" running drills. The point of them was to exhaust you until you reach your breaking point and then keep going a little bit to see who is strong enough to trek on beyond their maximum. With this in mind, it should be clear that a 15 minute break was NOT enough to recover...just enough to not pass out or die or something. I remember one of the drills that they did that was especially brutal. It was called the "triathalon." Everyone lined up and dropped down (with all our gear and rifles), crawled about 30 meters, hoisted up 15 kg (33 lbs.) sandbags and ran around a certain point all the while uphill. We then dropped the sand bags off at the point that we picked them up and ran another lap (about 80 meters). The second lap (without the sandbag) ended at the line where we started crawling. This was considered one repetition. We did this for about 20-25 minutes and the goal was to do as many repetitions as possible. This was mostly how the physical exercises went for the entire week. The aspect that made this all hard was the mental stress we were under.

The mentality of every person going into the gibush is essentially to "win" or be accepted into Sayeret Matkal or any of the other units that are scouting. This means that although you make some good friends during the week (and I made a few) you are all the while competing with them, thus making you somewhat isolated the entire time. Also, from the very get-go the officers are not very "nice" to put it lightly. There tone is constantly harsh and ridiculing and their answers to our questions terse and condescending. This is obviously in no way their personality, rather their persona they take on in order to cull the best of the competition. Nonetheless, the stress piles on and it becomes very exhausting and difficult to manage. They constantly demanded things that were physically impossible just to see how we would handle it and to try to break us. For example, we had to run around a certain bush in 30 seconds. The total distance was probably 150 meters or maybe a little more. The trick is, we had just finished a brutal exercise, we had a total of about 20 pounds on us, we were running uphill on sand, and 30 seconds was expected even from the slowest in the group. That means that even if only one person doesn't make it we all get punished. Whenever we did not make it in time we would then have to do the same drill with the heavy jerrycans and stretchers. The hardest part psychologically about this drill is that you feel as if you're being punished all the time, even though the officers are just testing you and know that you cannot complete the track in the allotted time. The other kinds of mental testing were actually exercises that demanded thinking. One such example is when we had to draw maps of Israel. The point of this exercise is to make sure that you are capable of critical thinking and not lacking basic mental skills (i.e. they want to make sure you're not a dumbass). Periodically the officers would hand out a two-page article (different for each person) and you would have to read it and master its content whenever you had a free moment. This was especially difficult for me since Hebrew is obviously not my mother tongue (although I was still able to cope with the assignment). Another quality they tested for was leadership. They would give us a mission to complete in a certain amount of time (usually something ridiculous like 2 minutes) and only one person could talk and direct the group during each attempt. One mission was when there was a narrow and low-to-the-ground iron fence that all of us had to pass under along with a massive heavy log about 10 meters long. The parameters of the drill were that the we as well as the log could not touch the fence and the log could not touch the ground.

For me, there were several things that made the gibush especially challenging. Despite the fact that I speak the language fluently now, I still have a lack of confidence speaking under high pressure and that hindered my ability to lead the group. Although I no longer struggle with the language, it was just one more thing that I still was not comfortable with but the rest of the group was. Another challenge was that a lot of people either knew some kids going in to the gibush, or had brothers or fathers who had been in these units, or just more orientation towards this sort of thing in general. I came in only with the knowledge I had acquired online and the advice that Dudi (Ami and Gila's son) gave me. Overall, however, I don't think I can complain too much. It would have been great to have been accepted into one of those units, but considering the odds I didn't do half bad. About 450 started the gibush (and these were 450 quality guys), about 50 left by their own volition during the first 2 days, and on the third day 150-200 kids were booted out. 28 were accepted into Matkal (2-3 Americans), 12 to Shaldag, and about 50 to 669. I forgot to mention that kids were booted also on the third day essentially splitting the gibush into two parts. As I see it, I made it to the finals and although I did not get accepted it was a hell of an experience and I definitely learned a lot from it. The guys (or a lot of them) are really great people there and they have a lot to offer so I look forward to serving with them in whichever unit I end up in. The kids who finished but were not accepted to any units are given 3 possibilities. One of them is to go to a gibush for Hovlim (although only the mental part and not the physical part), the second is an interview with Egoz, and the third is an interview for Duvdevan. I do not want Hovlim although it is also an excellent unit. In order to get to the second option (Egoz) one must pass an interview although not a gibush and then he is accepted into the unit and spends his service there unless he gets kicked out during training. Egoz is a unit connected with Golani and is essentially a guerilla-warfare tactical unit that uses techniques like camouflage heavily. In order to get to Duvdevan one must pass the interview and then start basic training with the paratroopers. About 1-2 weeks into basic training there is a gibush for Duvdevan and then in that Gibush, the soldier who completed the Matkal Gibush will be looked upon in a better light to begin with since he already passed the Matkal Gibush. I am leaning toward the Duvdevan option but nothing is definite yet. As for when I would go to the army...well, as usual this is up in the air. For the Duvdevan track, there is a paratrooper gius (draft) in about 2 weeks or in another 3-4 months in March. I would prefer to be drafted in 2 weeks but then again it's not exactly up to me. Either way, it has been an interesting couple of weeks yet well-worth every second of it.


Shuming said...

hey dreamer, i'm pretty sure we met at the end of gibush matkal, i'm one of the guys in garin tzabar.

i came across your write-up after writing my own and googling 'gibush matakl' to see if there was anything similar online.

Anyhoo, hit me back as it would be great to be in touch.

miguel said...

Great blog! i m going to make alyiah next year, can you tell me about your pysical preparation to pass gibush? i would like to know also if you did your Psycho Technical exam in hebrew or in english? my email is thank you!Shalom!

Sam Schick said...

could u also send me info about ur preparation and conditioning for the test? what would yo recommend i do, that u made mistakes in? pleas elet me know at

etay aroshas said...

Hey i dream of joining the elite units as well, if you could personally email me both ben and shumming i would appreciate it. I would like to ask you guys specific questions on how to prepare and more specifically what to expect. thank you,
email : (just name your subject as matkal or something since i always get a bunch of spam emails) thank you and i really hope to hear from either or both of you.

Anonymous said...

hi, i'm french and my dream is to join an elite unit, can you talk me about gibbushim?
my email is

Anonymous said...

hi, i'm french and my dream is to join an elit unit, can you talk me about the preparation for yom sayarot and hebrew test in tsav rishon?
my email is

Michael Katsil said...

Great blog . I was wondering if you can email me about your workout conditioning for the gibbush or any other info you can give me on it. My email is