My Story

You are the sum of all your experiences. At least, that’s what my mom tells me. To some of you who are reading my blog I am probably a friend or a son of a friend, or maybe to you I’m just a 17 year old kid who’s got a story to tell. Well, I’ve decided to tell a story. The story about how I got to this point. It’s not like I just showed up one day as a 17 year old, I had some sort of a childhood.

Those of you who are great at math probably figured out I was born in 1995. For those who didn’t know, consider yourself informed. I was born in Montreal, Canada and I stayed there for quite a while. To be honest, I didn’t have such an interesting childhood, but it had its moments. At the age of 3 I started attending Yeshiva X in Montreal, and I was there until 9th grade. I had an interesting time there, to say the least; it was a very right wing school. They never called it Israel; it was always “Eretz Yisrael”. I was raised by my mother to be a Zionist, and Zionist I was, Zionist I am, and Zionist I will be. Therefore, every Yom Haazmaut I wore kachol velavan (blue and white, the state colors of Israel) and I suppose my peers thought that a bit strange. But then again, I don’t think I was Mr. Popular in elementary school.

I was ten years old when my parents told my siblings and I that they were separating and were going to get a divorce. Thankfully, my parents always have worked together in their children’s best interests. But being that I was a child I didn’t see it that way all the time, and there are some things that I still either don’t know about or don’t understand.

In 6th grade, when I was preparing to graduate elementary school as a valedictorian (the school system is different in Montreal, elementary ends in sixth grade, and high school ends in eleventh) I wanted to switch schools. I was getting tired of the feeling of being brainwashed all day, and I wanted to switch somewhere a bit more modern and relaxed, where they might better suit my academic needs. But for whatever reason, this request was denied and I was stuck in that place for 3 more years. After seventh grade I pretty much just gave up on the school. I had been “learning gemara” for about three years by then, but truth is I never really learnt how to learn. I never liked learning – it’s just something I did to make them happy. But I pretty much gave up on that afterwards. I struggled to keep my calm for the next two years, when my mom married my stepdad and my brothers and I moved to Monsey, New York.

Monsey was great for me. I had a new beginning, new school, new friends, new house – same old problems. I loved my new school, Yeshiva Y of Monsey. Well, most of the time. My first year there was tenth grade and I started to learn again and I enjoyed it once in a while. Being that it was a small school, almost every decision made by the hanhala (leadership) affected us students directly. Midway through my second year, the schools changed direction of sorts, with which I was not so comfortable, so I looked elsewhere for academic opportunity.

This brings us to the present. This year I am getting my high school diploma and preparing to move to Israel (I’m sure you knew the Israel part by now). I suppose if this was Hollywood they would call it “an adventure 17 years in the making”. But that’s true. Everything in my life so far has just been preparation for my big adventure. Leaving home. Being independent. Joining the army. Honestly, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. But I’m not going to say that. Because I’m plenty scared – but I am doing this anyhow. Why? You may ask. I’ll answer right now: because I believe it’s the right thing for me to do.

Thinking Can Be Dangerous

I was walking home Shabbat afternoon and of course I started thinking. Apparently nobody told my brain that it had the day off but nonetheless I’d like to share my thoughts with you. The idea somehow popped into my head that I should probably visit Israel once more as a “tourist”, well as much as one can be a tourist in their people’s homeland anyhow. But this idea started to develop more and more and now it’s reached the point where I’m planning to look into travel dates during my mid-winter vacation.

I remember when I went to Israel shortly after my barmitzvah. Until that point, Israel had been some faraway place you heard stories about, but the second I stepped off that plane early that September morning, it became a moving reality. I remember as I was going in to the airport, I heard a few people cheer out “we’re back”!! It was really wonderful start to my Israel experience.

Over the week I was there, I crammed many things into my itinerary. The first day I was there I went to the Kotel. Looking at the only remnant of God’s great temple, where Jews of all colors and stripes come to pray to the Almighty, I felt a deep spiritual connection. The kosher Burger King on Ben Yehuda Street convinced me that this place wasn’t bad at all. I probably visited more kosher fast food joints than I did family.

The next day was Friday. My mother and I went to have breakfast with my aunt and uncle at a winery close to their kibbutz. After a delicious meal, we headed back to the kibbutz so I could meet my cousins, some of whom I had never met before. While we were on the road, I looked out at the beautiful scenery all around and I turned to my mother and with tears in my eyes I said “I belong here”. And it was at that moment that I decided I would make aliyah – even though it wasn’t a conscious decision.

I spent my Shabbat with my other aunt and uncle on their yishuv near Modiin, and I have to say it was a very memorable Shabbat. To date, it’s the only time I’ve been to shul while the other attendees were toting assault rifles, but it’s an unfortunate need that I assume I’ll get used to in no time at all. Shabbat afternoon I attended Bnei Akiva with my cousins, which I found quite amusing because me, the good yeshiva boy I was then, had no knowledge of Ivrit whatsoever. Try playing a game and not knowing what everybody is saying, not much fun, but it was an experience.

Over the rest of my stay, I spent some quality time visiting my grandparents in Netanya, visiting my great-uncle on kibbutz, as well as a wide assortment of cousins. During my stay there, I fell in love with Israel. I loved the holiness, the history, and the fact that I will get to carry a gun was pretty cool too, although I’m assured I’ll get used to it….. Right.

All this has led me to where I stand now. 9 months left until I walk off that plane onto Israeli soil with the biggest smile on my face. 9 months until I come home. But I’d like to make that final “tourist” trip home before I officially come home.

Done With My Interview

Sometimes in life, we worry way too much. We get nervous about certain things that turn out to not have required much worrying about in the first place. This being said, I have no idea why I was nervous about my phone interview with the people from Garin Tzabar. I’m writing this just minutes after getting off the phone with the interviewer, and I’m ready to move on to the next stage of my aliyah process- more forms.

During this interview, I found out a lot more about the Garin Tzabar program. There are three phases of the program. Phase one is mostly informational. There are three weekend-long seminars, where there will be presentations and discussions with Garin Tzabar personnel and alumni, as well as people who have served with the Israeli Defense Force. During these seminars, I will be meeting the group with whom I am going to make the biggest trip of my life with. Together, we will fly to our new home, our nation’s homeland, in mid-August.

This brings us to phase two: the absorption process. Our group will all be going together to a kibbutz chosen by the powers that be. We will attend an ulpan program to help us build our Hebrew skills. We will all have adopted families on kibbutz (any volunteers?) and we’re going to work on the kibbutz as well. Best part of all this? FIELD TRIPS!!!

After all this “fun and games”, we move on to phase three. We go to our first draft and we enlist in the army of the State of Israel. Based on differing personal limitations, we will serve for between 2-3 years, in whatever unit we get into.

That, my friends, is the Garin Tzabar program in a nutshell. For more information on the program and for applications, go to GARIN TZABAR.

On a slightly different note, this blog has barely been up for 48 hours and already there have been over 1000 views, and a significant amount of congratulations and wishes of luck, good fortune, and places to stay. I can’t even begin to say how much this means to me, so thank you so much everyone, thank you for supporting me in my journey towards the next three years of my life. It means so much to me that not everybody out there thinks I’m crazy! Stick around, ok?

Am Yisrael Chai!

Interview Nerves

There’s always moments where we are nervous for one reason or another. Sometimes it’s because we are scared, other times it’s because we are really happy. Feelings are tricky things- they can very easily be mixed. Like, for instance, now. I’m happy I found the Garin Tzabar program, and I have a phone interview with them later today. But at the same time I’m also scared. What if I’m not the type of kid for the program? Then what?

As all of this is running through my mind, another little voice of emotion speaks up. This emotion or feeling or whatever you want to call it, this thing is belief. Belief in destiny, belief in fate, belief in myself. It tells me I will do whatever it is I’m supposed to do. That everything is for the best. I’m positive that I am on the right track and while I may run into a few speed bumps along the way, it’s all part of God’s plan, I’ll be fine.

But even with all these different feelings inside, there is one that stands out more than anything. Pride. Being proud of my people, my country, myself. And that’s something I don’t think anybody can ignore.

Israel or bust!

Think Israel in NYC

Me with the other people at the Army info session at the Think Israel event. (Photo Credit Shahar Azran for Nefesh B’Nefesh)

When you have an important decision to make, it’s important to be well informed. Now, making aliyah is probably going to be the most difficult and important decision of my life. Therefore, I feel like I should probably be as well informed as I can be.

This past Sunday, my mother and I went to the Think Israel event in the Federation UJA building in Manhattan. They had booths for many different organizations and groups all geared toward assisting people with their aliyah process. While I was there, I spoke to people from some of the organizations to try and find the one that best fit me. That program turned out to be the Tzofim Garin Tzabar program, which takes a group of “crazy” young adults (like me!!!!) and helps them go through the aliyah process as a group. This group of young’uns make aliyah together, they go to kibbutz together, they attend an ulpan program (Hebrew crash course) together, and after 3 months on kibbutz they get their Tzav Rishon (first draft to the army).

When I join the army, I will be considered a Chayal Boded  – a lone soldier:  someone with no immediate family in Israel who volunteers to join Tzahal. At the Think Israel event, there was a presentation given by Adina Bennett, Nefesh B’Nefesh, Lieutenant Colonel Yossi Matzliach, Israeli Defense Force, and Einav Zamir, Director of the Tzofim Garin Tzabar program. They each explained the various functions that their respective departments served , what we can expect as olim, the various benefits a Chayal Boded receives, and how the entire process works. Aliyah for dummies. Who knew?!

Mrs. Bennett repeatedly pointed out the fact that the Lone Soldier program needs a new name, because Israel’s soldiers are never alone. I want to add to that.  Not only are there many people ready, able, and willing to help the chayalim along the way, there is also the Almighty guarding and protecting those that protect His people from harm.

THIS IS MY STORY

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Hi, my name is Aryeh. I’m currently 17 years old, and I plan on making Aliyah within the next year. Ever since September 2008 when I first visited Israel, I’ve dreamed of going back, moving to Israel, becoming a citizen and joining the Israeli Defense Force. From then on, armed with this goal and the support of my parents, I started looking for the right way to make my dream a reality.

People sometimes think I’m crazy simply because they can’t see what my reasons for wanting to do this could possibly be.  For all those people who want to know my reasons, here they are in black and white: I am a Zionist. I believe in what the State of Israel stands for.  I feel that I should be doing my part. I want to do just what my brothers in the Holy Land are conscripted to do. I want to defend my land, my people, my heritage, and most importantly – my beliefs.

However, there is one difference between myself and my brethren in Israel. This is my choice. I am volunteering to move to and defend my homeland, simply because that is what I feel is right. Because for a Jew, Israel is more than just a country. It’s somewhere where you can figure out who you are. A place where you see what you truly are. A place where it all began, and only with the will of God does it keep on going. For a Jew never travels to Israel.  A Jew simply returns home.

This is my story.