This double-event blog post covers two separate trips taken one week after the next to the FIDF’s Rest and Recreation Centre in Ashkelon. The FIDF, which stands for Friends of the IDF (Israel Defence Force), is an organisation that pools donations together for the benefit of the Israeli soldiers. On every military base, and in every remote outpost, there are signs of the FIDF – be it a gym, mobile synagogue or “wellbeing centre.” That being said, this R&R centre in Ashkelon is another of FIDF’s endeavours to pad the rough edges of soldiering and I fully approve.
Part I – four days of R&R in the beach-side resort:
It started Sunday morning, a few weeks back, when a small group of eleven soldiers from my base gathered together and drove down to Ashkelon. Our group comprised of truck drivers like myself, a commander and an officer. We disembarked at the centre, ate lunch and settled into our rooms in the Jasmine bungalow.
Nestled between modern-day Ashkelon and the ruined ancient Ashkelon, a national park, the R&R centre hosts hundreds of soldiers every week (usually combat or combat-support soldiers, like my friends and I). We walked along the sun-baked paths and explored our new digs, marking out activities that we’d like to do throughout the week.
After dinner the fellas went to watch a movie in the auditorium while I, uncermoniously, went to bed early. The following day took us to the sauna and pool where we took turns roasting and drowning ourselves. There was an organised race set up and, not surprisingly, the winner was from Shayetet 3 (Flotilla 3) of the Israel Navy.
That night we found ourselves in the local “club” – an alcohol-free dance club with ear-piercing music thumping till 3am. There too an organised contest was held, this time dancing instead of swimming. A friend of mine participated, and while the judging was hotly contested, he was not deemed winner.
The next day some of the fellas went off to play tennis and I went off to find fellow Americans – of which there were a handful, mostly in some Foreign Affairs unit down south. As the Jewish world is incredibly small and interconnected I succeeded in finding someone who knew someone I did. Later that afternoon I sat on a sandy bench and watched the sun set over the warm Mediterranean Sea, a ship chugging away nearby.
Resting up well in the nights with the window open to the pleasant sea breeze and spending the days eating well, swimming, sauna-ing and enjoying the other activities on-site we burned up the week pretty quickly. The last night of R&R we all headed into the auditorium to enjoy a performance from one of Israel’s stand-up comedians, Kobi Maimon. There were some pretty funny jokes, to say the least.
The following morning, Thursday it was, we packed up our things, tidied up, had a nice breakfast and headed out. While waiting for the bus to the train, I recalled that the Ashkelon National Park was just a few minutes away. I hastily bid farewell to my friends and headed to the park, the subject of my next blog post.
Part II – Yom Sport for all three “Hovala” battalions:
After positive feedback from our small hand-picked group that enjoyed the week of R&R at the Ashkelon centre, it was decided to host the truck driving brigade’s Yom Sport (Sport Day) at the centre as well. The purpose of the day is to break the daily grind and to offer the soldiers a chance to bond and to catch up, as we don’t see much of each other in our job. The three bases, Knights of the North, Centre and South, were present, each wearing a different coloured t-shirt.
Sadly, I had forgotten my camera and so had to photo-document with my cell phone’s camera. From the over-bounding quantities of food to the noise of over a thousand happy people, mostly soldiers in active service, we got the day started with some opening words from the brigade commander, Colonel Gil Galron – a nice chap who originally was a naval officer. With that the day was launched into high gear, with numerous games to compete in and watch. One game that I observed was the Israeli-style dodge-ball competition between our base and the southern base. My captain participated and was, in fact, the last one standing from our team – we lost.
Later, there was enthusiastic self-propagated singing and dancing from some of my base’s ethnic groups and as the sun went down, two small concerts out on the main soccer field. The first was a finalist in a singing reality show, and I got a free CD, and the second was a heavy metal band who didn’t have quite the right crowd at hand. After belting out AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” to the joy of a select handful, they packed up their musical equipment and we all headed down to the buses, tired but grateful from a long Yom Sport at the Ashkelon R&R centre.
Note: the FIDF is a wonderful organisation doing wonders for the IDF, if you’d care to become a part and donate, details can be found on their website HERE. For more information on FIDF’s SPIRIT R&R Program, click HERE.