'No One Asked Me How I Feel About Combat Service. What About Options That Don't Involve Lugging a Rifle?'

Two army-bound friends celebrate a lifetime of friendship on a trip to Serbia, and a coach who trains girls in 'the Victoria’s Secret of sports'

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Liam Grindea and Gil Peleg-Ziv.
Liam Grindea and Gil Peleg-Ziv.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Liam Grindea, 18, and Gil Peleg-Ziv, 18; live in Pardes Hannah-Karkur and Moshav Emunim, respectively; arriving from Belgrade

Hi, what were you doing in ?

Gil: We were there for two weeks. We’re pre-draft and we went on a slightly less conventional vacation before going into the army.

Liam: We received our assignments by surprise three weeks ago – the Armored Corps, the tanks. Because of the we couldn’t go on a vacation before this – we’ve been at home for months – and there just happened to be this window of opportunity between lockdowns. We booked the next flight we could get; we didn’t care where to or for how long.

Gil: But Serbia’s also about the only “green” country. Personally, it’s been my dream for a long time to visit the Balkans, but he wanted to visit Western Europe first.

Liam: I would have preferred Amsterdam.

Gil: Maybe I would have preferred it, too, but I wanted to check out the Balkans.

When did you finish school?

Gil: Almost half a year ago, or so. Our school ended a bit earlier, because we didn’t do the Israeli matriculation exams.

Liam: We were in international boarding schools.

Gil: I’m from Hakfar Hayarok and he’s from Givat Haviva – there are two international schools in Israel and we’re from the two of them.

Why did you go to an international school?

Gil: I was already a little bored with the Israeli system. I had it good in school, I had advanced-level subjects that I really liked, and good friends, but I felt that there was no place to move ahead from there. By chance Liam’s the one who told me about it, because his girlfriend went to an international school in Hong Kong. She sent me a link, he sent me a link, and after he was accepted to his school in Givat Haviva, the penny dropped that it sounded interesting, the whole deal. I was accepted four days before school started. It’s half a high school and half a program that prepares you for university, because the studies are at a very high level.

Liam: For me it was more like a refuge from the Israeli education system, because I understood that I just couldn’t bring myself to go to an Israeli school. The classes didn’t interest me, I was less interested in studying civics, because I felt it was a very nationalistic subject. I was more interested in studying global politics in an international program, because then you look at a conflict from both sides, and at a lot of conflicts. You take test cases of Hong Kong and China, Ireland and England, also Israel and Palestine.

Gil: That’s the focus of these schools. They deal a lot with the conflict, and there are always 20 percent Israelis, 20 percent Palestinians and 60 percent students from all over the world, foreign nationals.

Did you want to be drafted into the Armored Corps?

Gil: The million-dollar question. If you have a medical profile of 97 [the highest], what can you do? Everyone tried to call and find out what was happening with the selection process for intelligence units, and we were told the process had ended already. It’s a system that has to plow through the whole population, and here and there you have screw-ups, I suppose.

Liam: From the first call-up notice, no one ever asked me how I feel about combat service. For a whole year I see my friends going through all sorts of selection processes that they can’t talk about, and I don’t hear anything. I call to clarify things, and they tell me, “Wait, we’ll get to you.” I showed willingness from the first call-up notification, I came out with a 97 profile even though I was a skinny, underweight kid. And I got stuck. I’m still thinking about what to say at the induction center. I’ll ask them why they didn’t ask me from the start about intelligence, units dealing with international relations, the spokesman’s unit and another 1,001 options that don’t include me lugging around a rifle and gear that weighs as much as I do.

Where do you know each other from?

Gil: Our parents knew each other before we were born, and we were born in the same hospital.

Liam: Three days apart. But the parents didn’t actually know each other; they were in the same childbirth preparation course. He was born three days before me at Ichilov [Hospital] in October 2002. There our paths more or less separated, until by chance we ended up in the same nursery school in Tel Aviv, after I was transferred there at the last minute. And from the age of 3 to this day we’ve been best friends, even though he moved to a place an hour’s drive from me when we were 5. So we are celebrating a life of friendship, 18 years of knowing one another as well as we know our own parents.

What kept you in touch all these years?

Gil: We think the same way and we have the same hobbies – it’s always been like that. We really like politics, history, philosophy and also geography. All that simply interests us.

Liam: I suppose that what actually turns us into a family is that from such a young age we’ve spoken to each other almost every day, and in the past few years, even more. I think he’s the first person I called when I was accepted to the school, and I told him: ‘Yalla, now it’s your turn.’ Every time there’s a significant event in our life, he’s my first call, and I believe I’m his first call.

Have people already told you that this is something rare?

Liam: I’m a person who contends with a lot of anxiety and depression. I don’t let those things take control of me, but I consider myself an idealist and I have expectations of myself that are far too high for a kid of 18. I’ve always had them, and it weighs heavily on me. But I always tell myself that I was never alone. In the third, fourth and fifth grades, I was boycotted in the school I was in, but it didn’t get to me in the slightest. I was immune to it because I always had my bro’ who was a phone call away and who’s always there for me. And also vice versa. It’s something we can’t do without.

Katya Musin.
Katya Musin.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Katya Musin, 26; lives in Burlington, Ontario; flying to Toronto

Hi, what were you doing in Israel?

I live in Canada, but I come to Israel about once a year. Now my grandmother has died, so we came for her funeral. She was sick with Alzheimer’s for six or seven years. In the whole period of her illness, my grandfather visited her every day and prepared food for her. Hey, I hope I’m loved like that when I’m old. But now, because of the coronavirus, he couldn’t visit her. And even when he did see her, he had to wear a mask. So her condition really deteriorated over the past few months. My mother came, too, and she’s still here, but I have to get back.

Why do you have to get back?

Because of my job, because of my “girls.” I’m an instructor of artistic gymnastics.

Are you originally from Israel?

I grew up here until age 13, when we moved to Canada. In the first year I cried every day. I had plenty of girlfriends here, and suddenly I moved to a place I didn’t know, with no friends, without anyone close. My extended family stayed here, only my parents and my siblings and I moved. It was really hard. Then, in the 9th grade I entered high school, my English was already better and I adjusted to it.

How was high school an improvement?

I met a girl who was also from Israel, and she became a really good friend. But she went back to Israel. In Israel I did artistic gymnastics, and I had started training there, too. That helped – doing something I loved very much. Even if you don’t know anyone, even if things are hard for you, it expresses something that comes from the soul and the body, and that gives relief and consolation.

How old were when you started doing gymnastics?

About 5 years old. And I’ve been doing it all my life. At university I did a degree in dance, and that’s what I want to go on doing.

What does a person need to become an artistic gymnast?

You have to work very hard. You also need physical traits, but someone who’s mentally strong, who really loves it and works hard can achieve things. In basketball there’s a season; you train for a few months and then there’s a break. There’s nothing like that in artistic gymnastics. You train every day, all year, maybe you get two weeks of vacation. Not everyone can deal with it, it’s really hard: going to school and traveling to training every day and then coming home and doing homework.

Do you continue to train?

Occasionally, but only for myself. It’s a pretty “young” story; you can’t do it for years. I think the oldest gymnasts are about 26-27. Many girls leave it at the age of 17-18, when they finish school and they have to decide whether they’re continuing or not.

What was the decision like for you?

I knew I would stop. I went on to study dance in university, so I didn’t stop completely. I’m into it all the time, it’s just that now I’m not on the side of the gymnasts, but on the side of the instructor.

What sort of instructor are you?

I’m very tough, but I do it all with love. I don’t shout or get angry for no reason. I really like the girls, and they know it, so even when I get angry they understand it. I don’t think there’s a way to be not tough in sports. It teaches them perseverance and teamwork, and lots of other things.

When are you tough with them?

It doesn’t happen when there’s a competition or something. If someone doesn’t perform well, I don’t get angry over it. In the end, it’s my fault, because I’m the coach. Lots of times they get angry at themselves, so you have to pull them out of it. But, for example, if a young girl doesn’t practice, and instead goes and acts as if she’s in some sort of la la land, you have to be tough, otherwise she won’t achieve her goals.

So you’re stricter with girls who are really skillful?

Yes and no. Many times girls who are really skilled – maybe they grasp it, and then it comes easier to them – don’t work all that hard. And precisely the ones who don’t have those statistics work a lot harder. But I don’t really care who’s better, I just want them to be their best. It makes me proud.

Is it better to be a gymnast in Canada or in Israel?

The sport is better known in Israel. It’s not really well known or supported in Canada. That’s a pity, because it’s the most beautiful sport in the world. It’s the Victoria’s Secret of sports.

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