Meteora & Pelion

What is the connection between the Swiss novel Heidi, Girl of the Alps, and Hazing?

A children’s book, written over 100 years ago, still is very popular, named ‘Heidi, Girl of the Alps.’  It’s a novel about an orphan girl raised by her grandfather in the Swiss Alps.  Heidi was friendly and loved by all.  She was attached to her mountain surroundings, and her cheerful attitude helped heal her disabled, sick friend Clara.

One night 40 years ago, during our grueling training to become paratroopers in the Israeli Army, our platoon sergeant commanded us to venture on a night march in search of Heidi while engaging in the Fireman’s Carry Position.  This technique allows one person to carry another without assistance by placing the carried person across the carrier’s shoulders.  We searched and looked for Heidi, but she was nowhere to be found.  Needless to say, this whole ordeal was physically exhausting and emotionally draining.

At some point, one of us, who is a brilliant Joker to this day, started shouting: “Heidi, you mother F, where are you?  C’mon show up, you whore, daughter of a whore…” and so it went on and on.  For which we had to march even further into the night.  When the story was told at the reunion trip, I was rolling with laughter; you know, the kind of loud, uncontrollable laughter that makes your belly hurt.  Underneath the laughter, we all shared a deep untreated pain of being humiliated.

Throughout the years, I find myself thinking about this and other episodes, and a deep sense of anger flushes through me.  I am grateful I was not the man I am today because my reaction would have sent me to jail if I were.  We were such good kids, eager and motivated.  We just took it all in.  Some say that overcoming this sergeant made us the excellent soldiers we were and maybe the men we became.  I won’t argue with that, but I will say that there is a gap between proper training and hazing.

At the end of the trip, our veteran tour guide reflected that in over 20 years, he has never witnessed a similar group dynamic that we exhibited and that he hopes we come out of this trip lighter.  For me, sharing the pain, finding that I was not alone, and laughing makes it a bit more bearable.  I call it healing or, in Hebrew, Tikkun.  Maybe, at last, we found Heidi.