April 13, 2021

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Aliyah, IDF style – Part 1 (Ziesel R)


A couple of months ago I asked a friend of mine whose daughter had just made Aliyah right out of high school if she would be interested in writing about her experiences. – EoZ

I begin writing this while chilling in my Youth Village apartment where I currently live with my international contingent of flatmates. It is 6:23am and I’ve been up for a while since I was unable to sleep last night. After two months since my Aliya flight, all of this is only now starting to be common and ordinary. Getting to this point was a long and convoluted journey.

My whole life I knew that after finishing high school, I would go directly into the IDF. I always felt that I had an equal obligation to everyone my age living in Israel and coming up in the United States was no excuse. I was born to Jewish parents therefore I must serve in my homeland. My father served in the Nachal brigade as a lone soldier and I looked up to him my whole life and respected him for his service.

At the beginning of 12th grade I began looking into different options for me to make Aliyah and draft into the army in “the best way possible”. I discovered a program through Nefesh B’Nefesh called Garin Tzabar. It is a program for Olim who are drafted into the army. There are about 80 18-24 year old men and women, religious and secular, from any of a dozen countries, living here. We have ulpan in the morning and army preparation activities in the afternoon. We are given a tremendous amount of support and our group has become a family.

Now moving back I mentioned this journey wasn’t simple and that is because when I originally applied for Garin Tzabar, in October of 2015, I had never been to Israel, my Hebrew level was quite poor, and I was 16 at the time of application. After interviewing with the East Coast coordinator it was clear all of these were issues. I was rejected.

I was quite disappointed. However I still knew this program would be the best plan for me and I set about to do what is necessary to meet its requirements.

In January of 2016 I took my first trip to Israel with my mother. It was an incredible trip and afterwards I was 100% certain that Israel is the only place for me to live. The whole year I stayed in touch with the coordinator pushing him politely and reminding him of my existence. In September of 2016 I reapplied to Garin Tzabar and booked my second trip to Israel. This time I participated in Sar-El, a volunteer program on an army base. While in Sar-El I was given the IDF uniform to wear which got me excited for my future.

Upon returning home I had my first Garin Tzabar weekend seminar in the US. I met an amazing group of people and knew I had to be a part of it. I impatiently waited but eventually I got the letter informing me I was invited to the second seminar. At the second seminar I was interviewed by a highly ranked army officer which was quite intimidating. A few days after the second seminar I finally received the letter informing me I was accepted into the program. This news came December 7th 2016, exactly three weeks before my Aliyah flight.

That Aliyah flight is a whole other story because like all the bureaucracy in Israel it was a long and grueling process. I won’t bore you with the details but in short all the issues centered around my age. I wanted to make Aliyah as soon as possible upon graduating from high school but as a November baby I had to wait until I turned 18.

Fortunately everything worked out for the best. I have an amazing support system and have met incredible people. I will be drafting into a more intensive army ulpan in April. After this I plan on drafting into palchatz (search and rescue), a unit that I believe suits me well and will enhance my service.

I want to write about my experiences because I hope my story inspires you. Maybe not to join the IDF,  but perhaps to take on one thing for the state of Israel and for the Jewish people.

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