Mission: Israel!

So there is less than a week left until my flight and I am excited beyond words! I have almost all the packing done; all I need to do is wait for the flight. In the last month or so the amount of support I’ve received from friends, family, and various assorted people has been amazing. The amount of advice I’ve been given is staggering.

Just a small piece of advice: if you are making aliyah, make sure you take plenty of time to make some good memories here before you go. Besides passing the time, it’s great to leave on a happy note. Personally, I’ve started my goodbyes already and yes, it’s hard. To say goodbye to almost everyone you know and love is a big deal. Make the most of it.

So, with only a few days left as a “chutznik” (somebody who lives outside Israel) I am making memories, having fun and possibly even enjoying a shenanigan or two. Nefesh b’Nefesh asked me to make a small clip to say what I’ll be doing, here’s what I submitted:

Aside from me making aliyah, there are many many many more like me who are making this journey together with me. Each of us has our own story behind what we are doing, yet we all arrived at the same conclusion. THIS IS WHERE WE BELONG! And that in itself is mind blowing.

Less than six days left. This chapter of my life is over, and another, hopefully more exciting one is about to begin…..

IM GOING HOME

I’ve just booked my Aliyah flight!! August 12th will be the start of something new and wonderful, 18 years in the making. Words cannot describe this feeling I have knowing I’m out in 2 months. I’ve started packing already that’s how excited I am!!

These next 2 months will be incredibly suspenseful. I just cannot wait!!

THIS year in Jerusalem!

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.

 

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?

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.