March 24, 2008

Why would a nice American girl give up the comfort of home to immigrate to a foreign country and serve in a foreign army? Love of course.A few weeks ago, I came off a plane to embark on a journey based around one crazy idea – love. I made aliyah (immigration) on Valentine’s Day. That’s right, the day of love was the day that my bond for the country I had had a crush on for years was eternalized by one single act.

I made the decision to move to Israel a long time ago. It was always part of my “life plan.” I was going to finish high school and move to Israel just like my parents from South America did before me. I was going to serve in the army just like my father had done. I was going to study at Hebrew University just as my mother studied.

I never actually believed I was going to be able to do any of that. I kind of just told people that’s what I wanted to do as I applied for American universities and ignored my Sunday school Hebrew teacher when she tried to teach us a few words of Hebrew.

Last year, I entered my first year of college in the US. The entire time I was there I regretted not following my original dream.

The actual move to Israel started slowly. First I decided to go for the summer. Then, when I came in June, I decided there was no way I could go back to any US university just yet. I extended my stay for a semester.

As I began my semester at Rothberg International School at Hebrew University, I decided that it was just not enough. I couldn’t tell people when I was going back to the States. I just didn’t want to. So then my semester became a year and the year became, hopefully, a lifetime.

There have been a lot of ups and downs, and many set backs, but moving to Israel and dealing with all the annoyances that come when you immigrate somewhere new, was a “piece of cake” compared to making the decision about whether or not to serve in the Israeli army.

If I did, I would be what is known as a “Chayal Boded”, which literally translates to “lonely soldier.”

Both my parents live outside Israel and other than some distant cousin of my grandmother’s, I have no family here. Granted, both my parents lived in Israel for a significant amount of time (my father for around 13 years and my mother around six) and they have many close friends who treat me like family. I am here, and, as the IDF so beautifully puts it, lonely; therefore, I decided to serve my country through Garin Zabar.

Garin Zabar is an organization formed for lonely soldiers run by an offshoot of the Tzofim. The organization helps form units of 30 Zionist youths who make wild decisions like leaving their parents in other parts of the world to live in Israel. There are several groups from the East Coast and the West Coast of America, a religious group, and one from Israel. After they form these groups, they give four (or five) seminars to help prepare these people for the army.

In these seminars we eat, sleep, joke and try (sometimes with great difficulty) to understand the all-Hebrew lectures. Afterwards, we join a kibbutz for three months, where we are helped with everything we need to do to join the army – from initial draft dates, to tests, interviews, and all that fanatical bureaucracy, plus anything else we may encounter before the day we put on a uniform and say goodbye to our old lives.

The kibbutz becomes your home – an adoptive family.

I just got back from my first seminar. The first thing we did was sit together and introduce ourselves. In my group, there are people from Venezuela, Italy, Holland, and from all over the United States.

We talked about where we were from and how we are killing time in Israel before going to the kibbutz in August (I’m still at Hebrew University doing a year abroad program).

The last thing we did before leaving the ranch where we were staying, was talk about what we appreciated most from the seminar. All 30 of us said the same thing: we were so thankful to see that we weren’t the only people who wanted to join the army and live in Israel and that the process wouldn’t be as scary as we previously imagined.

I am nervous, and I’m not going to lie, I question my choices everyday; yet, after they gave us practice exams and practice interviews and told us that we would have a place to call our own and warm, good food to eat when we get back on the weekends, I felt at ease with my decision.

Yeah, it’s scary, but I think this is the start of a beautiful romance.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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