The Drongo, Interview #10: Eyal Herling

Published on May 27, 2021
Categories: diving, drongo, interview, israel, judaism, military, newsletter and scuba

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The Drongo: Today, our guest on The Drongo is Eyal Herling.

Before we begin in earnest, I must mention that Eyal is Israeli, and that we conducted this interview before the recent conflict triggered by the Sheikh Jarrah ruling. Readers, whatever your opinions on Israel-Palestine affairs, please make certain that your comments are respectful toward Eyal.

Take it away, Eyal.

Eyal Herling: First of all, let me start with a great thank you for having me here, and for conducting this interview. It is a unique experience for me.

The Drongo: You're welcome, and thanks for being here. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Eyal Herling: I was born in the north of Israel, to my loving parents. I am the youngest of three. I've always loved being outside in nature, having adventures, and I'm traveling at the moment.

The Drongo: Traveling the globe and working where you please, because after finishing your military service, you became a scuba diving instructor. Is that right?

Eyal Herling: Correct.

The Drongo: What drew you to diving, as a passion and a career?

Eyal Herling: Ever since I can remember, I've always loved water. Pools, streams, puddles, rain: if there was water, I would be in it.

My dad used to go with his buddies to dive in Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. From the time I was 4 years old, I would go up to him and ask to join. His response was always, "Get to the age where you can do a course, pass it, and I'll take you." So, at the age of 12, that's what I did.

I don't remember a lot of that open water course. I just remember that after my first time underwater, I decided that's what I wanted to do all the time. From then on, I didn't get birthday presents; instead, every 2-3 months, we would go to the Red Sea for a few days of diving.

The Drongo: Wow, you've been diving your entire life.

One of Eyal's recent sightings: an eagle ray.

Eyal Herling: Given the fascination and love I have for all of the life in the ocean, and my desire to explore the world's oceans, reefs, and caves, while passing this love and passion to others, it was simply natural for me to become an instructor. It's a job I love and appreciate. To help guide people in their first steps into the magnificent underwater world is an incredible privilege for me.

Long story short, my dad and I finally went diving in Sinai last March, before the pandemic, when I was already an instructor.

The Drongo: Do you intend to be an instructor forever, or is it just a job for while you're young?

Eyal Herling: I intend to be a diving instructor in one way or the other until the day I die. Even when I can't be a full-time instructor, I could teach a few advanced courses a year, such as ones on technical diving. I could also train new instructors, to influence not only each new generation of divers, but also each new generation of instructors. I have some time before I get there, but I will eventually :)

The Drongo: You've spent so much time diving that you must have some ridiculous stories. Please share with us your craziest diving story (or stories!)

Eyal Herling: Craziest dive story? There are tons. I'll go with one of my favorite dives.

I went diving in Baja California, in a natural reserve called Cabo Pulmo which is famous for two dive sites. One of them, "The Wreck," is a hangout place for grown bull sharks.

Of course I had to go there.

On this dive, we got to the shipwreck (which is not very deep approximately 45 feet.) There isn't a lot left of the ship itself, so we got to the bottom and just sat there. Suddenly, we saw sharks in the distance. As the sharks got intrigued, they came closer to check us out.

Eyal Herling: These beautiful, giant, magnificent animals were swimming around us so gracefully! We were supposed to stay close together, yet I lingered a bit behind, and got the sharks to come within three feet of me, which was incredible. The awe and reverence this creature creates is outstanding.

This is really important: sharks are amazing animals. They are very important to our oceans' ecosystems. Sharks rarely attack people, especially not divers; the majority of shark attacks on divers are in situations where the sharks were fed, and then divers harassed the sharks, so it had an urge to defend itself. As long as we respect them, they will respect us, and we can all enjoy an amazing time in the water with one of the prehistoric relics that are still alive today.

You know, Maxwell, the ocean is salty because of the tears of misunderstood sharks.

The Drongo: Truer words have never been spoken. One day the sharks will reveal their legs, and come after us for revenge.

Let's travel back in time to a few years ago, when you were fulfilling your obligation of national military service in the Israel Defense Forces. Could you tell The Drongo what it was like to serve, and to learn explosive-ordnance disposal (EOD)?

Eyal Herling: All in all, the service was a positive experience that taught me a lot. I cannot start to explain the experiences and feelings I had, the friends I made, the beautiful places I saw, and the crazy situations I encountered. None of that would have happened if I had not served in the army.

I got recruited into the engineering corps, and after two weeks I was transferred to the special platoon. At the start, we just knew we were in the engineering corps special forces; we didn't even know we were EOD.

From the moment you arrive, you live by a stop watch. Everything you do has a time frame, from seconds to minutes, and everything you do must meet those standards. Exceed the time frame, and you'll be punished; fail to do something perfectly, and you'll do it all over again. In this way, we learned basic soldiership: firing rifles; using, repairing, and maintaining gear; and, in our case, handling explosives.

The whole process toughens you up, teaches you how to work in a team, and builds your endurance, discipline, and physical and mental strength. I carried the skills and character I developed in basic training for the rest of my service, and they'll remain with me for the rest of my life.

After boot camp, we were told our purpose, and went on to higher levels of training. That meant lots of military exercises, gun range practice, walking with heavy weights, and lack of sleep for days on end. As the course continued, we got more independent. Different people were given different responsibilities requiring more complex training and longer time frames, and we pretty much handled ourselves. The final few months of training were actually learning EOD. A lot of explosives were used, of course (which made that part a lot of fun.)

The Drongo: What were the negative aspects of military service?

Eyal Herling: Being a soldier is a maturing and frustrating experience. You have to take orders from the people above you, even if they have no idea what you do, or what they are doing. Sometimes you've been in the military longer than them; sometimes they give orders to gain some sort of profit from it, like prestige, political power, or looking good in front of their superior; sometimes they give orders just because they can. Most of the time, such decisions are simply annoying and illogical.

A lot of people don't really want to do their jobs, or they cover their own asses all the time, so you get into a lot of frustrating situations. I had to learn how to talk to, and how to treat, the people I needed cooks, mechanics, etc. so they actually did their jobs. But that all mirrors modern life. You learn to cope, and to navigate through it.

With that, I was lucky enough to be in a small unit with even smaller crews, which gave my crew, and me personally, a lot of independence and freedom compared to other soldiers.

The Drongo: What is it like to be EOD, specifically? How does it feel to defuse a bomb?

Eyal Herling: I don't know how it is in the US military, but for us, EOD consists of small operating teams that go with the army into combat. My role as EOD was to make sure nobody would need a medic.

There are other forms of mission that I cannot talk about, sorry but EOD is not what people usually think. Situations like in the movies, "red wire blue wire," don't happen very often. Almost never. When they do happen, they are way more complex; you have to be super professional, and take so many factors into consideration that I cannot begin to explain them all.

The Drongo: That's all right. Do your best.

Eyal Herling: As for defusing bombs, first of all, I enjoyed the process. In training or low-risk missions, it was really fun, like a complex puzzle you need to put together to get the outcome you want. The tools you have are extremely varied: robots, rifles, plus all sorts of explosives.

Usually, we were called for unexploded ammunitions from exercises in the middle of nowhere. So you just blow it up and go eat lunch.

The Drongo: "Blow it up and go eat lunch" exemplifies why I'm running The Drongo. It's important to remember how our jobs and our duties shape our sense of what's normal, and drongos' jobs and duties may be odd indeed. For a civilian like me, there are no everyday explosions; for you, it was just another morning.

Now, if I recall correctly, although you are Israeli and Jewish, you are not religious.

Eyal Herling: Correct again, haha. I consider myself Jewish by nationality, not by religion.

The Drongo: What does it mean to you to be Jewish in the 21st century?

Eyal Herling: That is a big question. As a matter of fact, I don't know how to answer that. You see, even inside Judaism there are so many different streams, cults, and ways of thinking. Even inside a particular school of thought there will be disagreement and conflicts. There is an old joke that goes, "Two Jews, three opinions."

What does it mean to be Jewish in the 21st century? Well, I'm more concerned about what it's like to be human in these times. Compassion, empathy, reason, and understanding the other seem to have been replaced by self-absorption, recklessness, and ungrounded resentment. For me, the world would be a better place the moment we could all shake hands with people with whom we strongly disagree.

The Drongo: Let's try another angle, then. Are you proud to be Israeli? Why or why not?

Eyal Herling: Yes. Even with all the problems, internal conflicts, and corruption, there are a lot more virtues that are overlooked. Israel is my home, with values and atmosphere I feel comfortable in. No matter where I go in the world, there will always be an Israeli person there, who would always try to help me the best they can.

It's the camaraderie, the togetherness [that matters]. I've hitchhiked with people with whom I strongly disagree, either politically or religiously, and shared coffee and regards at the end of the ride. I've spent Shabbat with orthodox Jews and had a great time; for people who don't know, Shabbat has a lot of restrictions, including not driving or using any electric devices. I served with Muslims in the army, and worked with Christians at various places. "Israeli" doesn't necessarily mean "Jewish;" there are Muslims, Christians, and many more religions and cultural groups here, and at the end of the day everybody sits around the same table eating hummus and drinking Turkish coffee together.

The Drongo: I figured you would be proud of your own country, but wanted to ask anyway.

What about my country? How do you view Americans, and American culture? Did your experience of traveling with a group of Jewish Americans on Birthright [where Eyal and I met] influence those views?

Eyal Herling: Well, a lot of our media is American, so that is what we get to see the most of. At the moment I write this, I'm at a hostel in Mexico, and after talking with people from around the world, I find that it isn't much like that in other places.

From my point of view, American culture is more self-absorbed and more restrained. People keep to themselves out of fear of how their words will sound in the ears of their peers. I stayed with an American family for a few days of this trip, and felt like I had to think about every single word I said in order not to be rude. That was exhausting.

"Divide and conquer" is an old trick, but it works, unfortunately. It's used in both Israel and America, and I do believe it has a great effect on the US. A little more understanding and compassion for the other, even if they don't think the same, would be better. On the other hand, I didn't feel like that on Birthright. Maybe it's the fact that it was a small group of people who came to Israel with an open mind to see the place, and try to understand it; maybe it's the special people that were on that trip. I can't really say.

I will sign off with a statement of what I believe is the solution. In the words of Hootie and the Blowfish:

"With a little love and some tenderness
We'll walk upon the water
We'll rise above the mess."

The Drongo: It's good to end on a hopeful note. We'll walk upon the water, and the sharks will set aside their grievances to walk with us.

Eyal Herling: Thank you for the interview, Maxwell. It has taken me back years, trying to remember the experiences and emotions I had back then, and reflect upon them. With a big heart and a lot of love, I wish you good luck. Live long and drongo!

The Drongo: Live drong and prosper, Eyal. Thank you for taking the time to participate. Without interviewees, The Drongo couldn't exist.

Eyal Herling: If anybody has more questions for me, I would be happy to talk!

The Drongo: You heard it from the man himself: this drongo wants to talk to you! Readers, you can contact Eyal at, connect with him on Facebook, or, best of all, check out many more dive pictures on Instagram (@eyalherling).

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Drongos, should you wish to share Eyal's interview, here's the permanent link:

Please rejoin The Drongo in mid-June for our 11th interview. Our next guest is Hayley "Bloo" VanderJagt, who has mastered both the inner flame of scholarship and the literal flames at the end of a spinning staff. Get in the drongmobile and prepare for a wild ride!

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