When I first came to Israel as a gap year student, we used to joke that the last row of seats on an intercity bus was the “soldiers’ seat”. Anyone who sat there was basically asking for a soldier to flirt with her.
[Note: there are female soldiers, too. So it’s not *definite* that a girl sitting there was asking a guy soldier out. But we were 19 year old girls. This was how we joked. Or how my friends joked, rather.
This last row of four seats was called the soldiers’ seat, because most of the time, you could find a sleeping soldier lying over all four seats. Even if the bus was crowded, and someone wanted those seats, no one would wake the soldier up. He’s in the army, poor guy. He’s been doing exercises and getting up at 4 in the morning the whole three weeks. Now he’s on Shabbat leave to see his family, let him sleep.
[Note: I traveled on Thursday afternoons and right after Shabbat. Same as the soldiers. The rest of the time, I was in my program. And they were on their army bases. Students and soldiers have similar schedules. Kind of.]
As I grew up a bit, I continued seeing soldiers sleeping on the back bench of a bus, but less often. Nowadays, you see them taking up two seats on the side of the bus, or sometimes just sleeping like the rest of us – with their head leaning on the window or their bag.
Cute kids. Good kids. Poor soldiers? I guess. But mostly, they’re cute kids. I like soldiers. Just out of high school, full of life, smiling, with dreams for the future. Not quite sure who they are, or what they want. Still figuring out what the world is and where they fit. Some of them are further along, and have matured. Some are dating. The more mature ones are recently married.
There are the career soldiers. Also nice. I admire them more. But they’re less cute, probably because they’re not kids. Ah. And the career soldiers sleep less on buses. Maybe because they have cars of their own?
And now the IDF wants to change this. They don’t want to lose soldiers. The security situation is bad, and getting worse. Who knows when it will get better? So they’ve changed the rules: Don’t sleep on buses. It’s not safe. They’re adding other instructions, too.
But I think one of the saddest, most poignant changes is that soldiers – cute, ignorant, innocent, immature kids just out of high school – are no longer allowed to sleep on buses. Because it’s just not safe.