It’s been a really long two weeks. In that time, I’ve gone from being Daniella to being a soldier, and I really do mean that literally. The purpose of basic training is to erase the idea of you as an individual human being and meld you into a soldier who follows orders, dresses the same as every other soldier, walks at the same pace and with the same feet as others, sits and stands in the same position, has the same nail length and color, ties the same boot laces, and speaks the same way. It’s been hard, mentally more than physically. The girls with me make it more bearable, sometimes even fun. The toughest moment so far was shooting for the first time. We woke up to the pitch-dark, late November morning. Painfully and quickly we slid on our uniforms, my teeth clenched from cold, my belt cinched with numb fingertips. We arrived a little before 5 at our middle of nowhere in the desert destination. I was really nervous; the near-winter winds were harsh, but I was sweating all over. I was watching the girls in front of me; the environment felt charged with an anxious breathlessness and fear of something new and dangerous. I was sitting on the asphalt ground of the bare shooting range, my back against the concrete wall, my hands and neck slightly shaking and my stomach doing jumping jacks. I realized how unbelievably sad it is that the same 50 girls who sing The Lion King’s “The Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata” a cappella style in the freezing showers every night, braid each other’s hair, snack on chocolate and Oreos every spare second, wear pink fluffy eye masks to sleep under their army grade sleeping bags, and send ridiculous selfies to their boyfriends … were holding loaded M-16 rifles in their hands and being told to aim for the cardboard targets in the distant sand and pull the trigger. Every girl felt the weight of the endlessly heavy responsibility that releasing a bullet meant. Every girl understood (some through uncontrollable sobs and others through wise-sounding sighs) that this feeling is what it means to live in Israel. This is the way the youth give back. The burden of being entrusted with a tool of death is the price that these girls pay so that they, along with their parents, siblings and friends, can continue to live mundane and happy lives in this tiny little country that is home. The girl in front of me finished up; the bang of her last round of gunfire pierced through my earbuds and rattled my chest. I got into position. Holding my breath, I pressed my finger to the trigger and counted down the seconds until I had no more bullets left.
Born in Berkeley, California, in 1997, DANIELLA LANG loves cooking, biking, laughing, laying in the sun, and traveling to new countries. Currently serving in the Israel Defense Forces, she plans to one day either become a doctor or work in public policy. During her brief stint in basic training, part of her gun may have fallen into her toilet, causing a traumatic dislike of guns and their metallic and sewage-like smell.