Only (Not) In Israel: The Visit

Barry Rubin Union soldierDear friend of Israellycool, Prof Barry Rubin, posted the following delightful story on his Facebook account. I felt it deserved a wider audience. Barry, apart from being probably the best commentator on the middle east today, found time to be in Gettysburg last week re-enacting the American Civil War with his son!

The Visit

We were sitting in the enlisted “fly,” the social area in the Federal headquarters camp at Gettysburg. We were all wearing period uniforms from the Civil War and keeping in historical era. Suddenly, the Captain, Willard Longnecker, walked up. “We have to mount an honor guard because the prime minister of Israel is about to visit the camp.”

“What?” I said. “That’s not possible.”

”That’s what they told me.”

“It can’t be. He’s not even in the country!”

“Well that’s what the staff is saying.”

“If you are teasing me,” I told Willard, I’ll never let you forget it!” But he really did seem serious. Clearly, he himself believed it was true.

Since I and my son, the unit’s drummer boy, are Israeli of course that would be amazing. But it can’t be. We scrambled to the tent and put on our equipment: musket with fixed bayonet, canteen, cartridge box with the bullets and cap box with the mercury caps that set off the spark for firing. Our unit then got back fast and were positioned around the headquarters tent.

A few minutes later, a group came in, with bodyguards, families, and perhaps some journalists. Of course it wasn’t Bibi, who as I knew was in Jerusalem meeting Secretary of State John Kerry for the sixth time.

“Who is it?” I said in Hebrew to a woman.

“The ambassador, Michael Oren, and my husband, the military attaché.”

She seemed unsurprised that the Union sentry spoke Hebrew, which I thought delightful. Perhaps the entire Union Army did so and we were just keeping in character.

I asked, “Where are you from?”


“I’m from Tel Aviv.” Then she realized that she had come perhaps across the only Israelis among about 13,000 re-enactors there. She took my picture.

Then the general began his welcoming speech. “We are glad to welcome Israel’s prime minister to the camp…” Oren broke out in a grin but as a good diplomat issued no correction.

Two soldiers—Sergeant Ross and Private Joshua Withrow–then gave a demonstration of “loading in nine times,” the way a musket is fired. To be taken into the army you had to have your teeth, explained the colonel, to tear the cartridge.

The soldiers stand the musket on the ground, pull a cartridge out of the leather case on their belt, tear the paper that wraps the black powder with their teeth, and pour it down the barrel, they then put it under their right arm in position, cock the hammer back and fish out the cap to put it on the small nipple. Then they go to full cock along with the order ready, aim, fire. A bright flash and loud sound, followed by white smoke erupts.

The audience applauded and laughed.

“Now you try it,” said the colonel. The soldiers turned over their muskets to the real major general and ambassador. “Wait!” said the colonel. He ran the few steps to his tent and got an over-fancy officers’ hat with plumes and gold braid and put it on Oren’s head.

They actually did pretty well.

Then the (real IDF) general was handed a Henry cavalry semi-automatic carbine and fired off shot after shot like an old pro, smiling in delight.

Now, of course, privates are totally unimportant but I leaned over to an officer and asked if I could say hello to Oren since I knew him personally.

The officer nicely agreed quickly, though he told me to wait just before Oren’s party left, not knowing the protocol and figuring there was no harm in it.

So when he signaled I could step out of line I went over and introduced myself. Oren’s eyes opened wide and asked me to repeat who I was. My forage cap was pulled down low and I was, of course, wearing Civil War gear and carrying an 1862 Springfield musket.

Figuring out that I really was me, the ambassador threw his arms around me, said he reads my articles and several other nice things, and brought his family over to meet me. High-ranking officers in the Union or other armies are not pleased to be upstaged but were also partly baffled.

What are the odds?

My son, Daniel, was very pleased at noting that one of the embassy kids his age looked at him enviously.

I would encourage you to watch Barry Rubin’s work at PJM and on his own blog here if you don’t already do so, and his most recent book “Israel: An Introduction” has just been published by Yale University Press and is well worth looking up.


Brian of London

Brian of London is not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy. Since making aliyah in 2009, Brian has blogged at Israellycool. Brian is an indigenous rights activist fighting for indigenous people who’ve returned to their ancestral homelands and built great things.

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