Who Are You?

 It’s an interesting question, to be honest. What do you identify yourself as? An American? A Democrat, Republican, or Socialist? Are you a religious person? Honestly,  what do you describe yourself as?

Personally, I identify as a Jew more than anything else. Yes, am Canadian by birth and sort of conservative in my political views, but that is not who I am. Those are merely aspects of who I am.

This is probably the basic reason I am making aliyah. Simply because a Jew lives in the Jewish homeland, serves in the Jewish army, and lives in a Jewish society. When I was at my seminar last weekend, we were asked why we wanted to join the army. My reason was primarily because I am Jewish. Because of a slight technicality, such as the fact that I happened to be born outside of Israel should I “get away” without serving in the Israeli military like Jews who happened to be born in Israel? No way.  Also, there is a certain romanticism about serving as a combat soldier, at least in some teenage boys minds. Boys will be boys, eh?

But in all seriousness, this is probably a crazy idea. Scratch that, it is a crazy idea. I opened my Aliyah file with nefesh b’nefesh last week and that, combined with the recent seminar…… It’s really scary, to be honest. I’d be lying if said that this wasn’t scary. This is also most likely the biggest move of my life.

If I were an adrenaline junkie I’d be having a field day. Or a field year, really.

But that’s not who I am. I am a Jew. I am a Jew who is going to move home. Freaking out about it, but still excited to go through with it.

 

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Expectations…. Surpassed!

So, the weekend is over, and I’m back at home at my computer.  I had an amazing weekend, and honestly it was not what I expected in the least. When I got off the shuttle bus at the hotel I may have seemed calm but inside I was freaking out. Thankfully everyone was really nice and we all hit it off, even before the dreaded “icebreakers”.  Very soon after we arrived at the hotel it was time to get ready for Shabbat.  I shared a room with three other guys, and we became friends over the weekend.

The Shabbat experience I had with these people was pretty awesome. We mostly have different backgrounds and it was really nice to see the whole group praying together. Besides for the Shabbat stuff, we had plenty of icebreaker games and even more information fed to us.

The icebreakers were actually not that bad, in fact, they were pretty fun. I lost the best soldier award by one pushup! Go figure. With all these games and “feeling circles” we got to know each other much better and everybody brought something unique to our group, from being an expert on Yiddish writers to being able to dislocate a shoulder almost on command to knowing the 44 presidents in order, by heart – everybody’s uniqueness made my weekend into what it was.

What was really interesting for me, and I must have mentioned this a hundred times over the weekend, was how people from such different communities and walks of life could be so different and yet still reach the same, life-changing choice. I spent more time talking with some people than with others but it is my hope to be able to get to know everyone really well.  Surprisingly, both nights I ended up staying awake until late, just talking with my room-mates.  I learnt I need to improve my Hebrew, if anybody wants to send me a copy of Rosetta Stone Hebrew…… I wouldn’t complain.

Besides for all the team-building and fun, much practical information was shared with us. Contrary to what I thought before the seminar, Garin Tzabar is a program that you do once you make aliyah and land in Israel. You still need to make aliyah through Nefesh b’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency. If you are making aliyah, like me, you get many benefits from many different parties. I feel like there are organizations that seem to want to throw money, more specifically shekels, at olim.

While I am still not 100% sure about all the benefits you get, I can tell you what I know. As a chayal boded, a “lone soldier” with no parents in Israel, you are entitled to extra days off from military service, you get double basic pay, which isn’t much but it’s something, you receive rent assistance monthly, and you get an adopted family to host you on kibbutz.  Aside from that, when you make aliyah you receive a significant amount of money  from the Ministry of Absorption over a 7 month period. In addition, Nefesh b’Nefesh gives you a huge wad of US dollars when you get to Israel. So you do have something to keep you afloat for a while, especially seeing as while you’re in the army you have very few expenses.

A decent amount of the seminar was in the form of games, so it seemed fitting that we should end off with one. Before we parted ways this morning, we played the web game. It’s a game where we all sit in a circle and one person explains what parts of the seminar they liked, which they didn’t, what could be changed, and what they are taking away from this weekend. They hold on to a string and pass the ball of string to the next person, who says what they feel and passes the string again, until we’ve all spoken our minds and there is a web of string inside our circle. Kind of like a feeling circle on steroids.

Our madrich took a pair of scissors and cut the web into pieces of string. He told us to wear them as a bracelet or to tie it on our arms to remind us of what we were deciding to do. For me, this bracelet reminds me that this decision is becoming who I am. It is yelling at me in its neon yellow voice “Aryeh, you are going to do this. It might be scary but you are going to do this and you are not going to do this alone”.Image

Yes, that is the bracelet. Just in case you might have missed that.

I want to thank all of my garin members who made my weekend what it was. Give yourselves a pat on the back – you are all much more awesome than I expected. I look forward to the next time we all see each other.

If we’re crazy we may as well be crazy together right?

First Impressions….

I am writing this as I am packing to go meet my garin (group) in Newark for our first seminar over this weekend. It’s quite exciting knowing I am about to meet the people I will be spending the next chunk of my life with. Well, I hope there are at least a few people that I like. 

I have to pack and get some sleep, as I hope that these people are interesting enough to keep me up late while we all get to know each other.

Hoping for some great stories to update you with after the weekend.

Wish me luck everyone!

Shabbat Shalom!

Side note: I just wrote an article for The Times Of Israel, check it out.

Caution: Big Year Ahead

It’s 2013!2013-Wallpaper-HD-10

Well, 2013 is finally here, and boy is my schedule packed with things to look forward to! At the top of the list is making the 6000 mile move from Spring Valley, New York to Israel, my people’s homeland. It’s pretty scary to think that in just eight short months I’ll be moving away from all that I grew up with, and moving to the land where my ancestors and their ancestors called home.

The Garin Tzabar Program, through whom I will be making Aliyah, has a series of seminars to help prepare young olim for life in Israel and in the army. The first seminar is only a few weeks away, and I can’t wait to meet my fellow crazy young adults who have decided to become my second family (whether they know it / like it or not).

For anybody interested in the program, please visit Garin Tzabar. Tell them I sent you. Or don’t. Your choice.

In addition to all these exciting events, I have been doing some research into cell phones in Israel. I have already found a decent cell phone plan, and I plan on buying an unlocked iPhone before I ship out. The plan is from Golan Telecom, a relatively new player in the cell market, and they have a plan for 99 NIS per month that includes:

  • Unlimited calls
  • Unlimited sms/mms
  • Unlimited internet browsing 3G+
  • Unlimited calls (53 Countries)

In addition, they will ship the SIM card to your house, and they let you pick your number for no added cost. Check this plan out at GOLAN TELECOM.

By this time next year, I’ll be a proud member of the Israeli Defense Force. What will YOU accomplish within this next year?