He smiles at me as I walked up to him. I am handing out letters to soldiers from people who wrote in to express their support. We are standing in a field filled with dozens of tanks and military jeeps, a stone's throw away from the Gaza border. It is quiet right now; there is a three hour truce to allow humanitarian supplies into the war zone. We shake each other's hands warmly.

He reads his letter out loud and thanked me. But it is hard for him to accept that he is doing something exceptional, that the praise heaped on him in this letter is in any way connected to him as a person.

I ask him if he had been in Gaza yet. He said, "Of course. We all have." He gestures at the soldiers that surround us.

How has it been? Scary? Hard?

He doesn't really answer me. He smiles with a calm I still don't think I'll ever understand. "This is what we all do. It's our job." He means all Israelis. And of course, he's right. All Israelis are required to enter the army for a number of years when they turn eighteen.

But still, I say, not all Israelis fight wars. He shrugs.

We start to hear explosions. The cease fire has ended. And now things are back to "normal" We hang out some more and talk a bit. It is surreal, talking about America and movies so close to a war zone. But here we are.

I move on and talk to soldier after soldier. I hand them all letters, and their reaction is more or less similar to my friend's. Profoundly grateful, but bemused as to why they deserve any thanks.

I ask a soldier to come take a picture with me. He smiles and puts a cigarette in his mouth. The other soldiers tease him for trying to look macho. I can't help but think that this guy is more macho than I could ever be.

There's so much about this outing that just seems... backwards. There's the way the soldiers put their food on their guns. The way I can't help but notice what a beautiful day it is. The way everyone acts so normal.

The weird ironies and juxtapositions don't stop. We visit soldiers who are camped in a children's playground. More who are camped in schools. Some are playing XBox 360. Boys defending a nation from being destroyed where children should be learning and playing.

We start to hear explosions. The cease fire has ended. And now things are back to "normal." Every time an explosion sounds, I wonder how many people have just died.

We come to the gas station. A gas station that is located just as close to Gaza as the base we had just visited. I try not to think about what would happen if a rocket landed here. This seems to be a popular hangout for journalists, soldiers and the few people who have stayed in town.

Everyone is just hanging. Eating, relaxing, and drinking. Some people go to the hill nearby and watch the plumes of smoke rising from the town across from us. Or look up at the helicopters that circle over our heads. But for the most part, everyone is pretty relaxed.

Next to the gas station's convenience store is a restaurant. The owner comes out to put on tefillin. After he is done we start talking. He used to be a soldier, and now he owns and runs this restaurant. To live somewhere like this requires some chutzpah, and there's no doubt that this guy has lots to spare.

He talks about how proud he is that Israel has finally gone in. That we finally have stopped being weak.

The BBC wanted to interview him a day ago. He was going to be on a live feed for six minutes. Before the interview, he warned them that he was not going to be afraid, that he would be strong.

They told him they would come back to him.

He is convinced that the world wants to see him weak, puny and embarrassedHe is convinced that the world wants to see him weak, puny and embarrassed. That the world wants to see Israel and the Jews that way.

It strikes me that this is the first and only time that we have been here that anyone has talked about the big picture of this war. Or has talked about why we are fighting. I can't help but feel that there is some significance to this and some significance to the way the soldiers behaved and some significance to the lunch being placed on the guns. It all seems so deep.

But as we drive home, I can't help but feel empty. The rabbi who is driving the car turns and asks me if I'm brainstorming ideas for my article. I come up blank.

As we drive into Jerusalem, I try to think of all these metaphors and ways I can help people understand this war. But in the end, all I can really think of is that I wish the soldiers didn't have to sleep on tanks or eat off of guns. I wish that the children could just play in their playground and study in their school. I wish that the guy at the restaurant didn't have to act strong. I wish people weren't dying every time I heard an explosion.

I wish this was over.