Moving to Israel from America is extremely difficult. Without much preparation I had to stop my life, get on a plane, and start living in a new place. Without realizing it, cherished traditions like “family dinner night” and Thanksgiving Dinner became figments of my past-life, and there seemed to be little hope of rekindling my customs. Luckily for me, a strong family is considered a Jewish value and upon moving to Haifa I was adopted by a loving “host-family” called the Rabiners.

At first, they invited me into their home for Shabbat dinner. The food was delicious. Chicken, rice, challah, soup, cookies, I could hardly contain myself as this meal was far and beyond what I normally prepare for myself on my hot plate.  Even better was that no matter what I ate, there was always more food!  Whether intentional or not, a family feast broke the ice and I began shamelessly asking them about their lives. I quickly realized their family was mostly male as the parents had 3 boys and a “grandpa Lu” who has very close to them and that each member of the family was deeply committed to national service.

The first person I became connected to was Omer. Omer was my age, about 24 years old and he is the one who connected his family to the CJP’s Boston-Haifa Connection. He participated in the 2012 Hatikvah Officers Mission to Boston, in which he took part in the Jewish community’s Yom HaShoah commemoration. This mission allowed him to share his experiences as a young israeli officer with thousands of people.

His background was pretty impressive; he completed his standard army service and was now enrolled as a Lieutenant in the Israeli-Navy. He attended the prestigious Leo-Baeck high-school, and was determined to set a good example for his younger brothers.  Like most members of his family, he speaks English at a high level, so rather impressively he explained all of this to me himself without the slightest bit of difficulty.

Omer’s younger siblings are Shahar who is 19 and Nadav who is 15. Like most kids they enjoy relaxing with their iPhones. But unlike most children, they make a point to go into the world and contribute.  Nadav is currently serving the Haifa community through the Israeli boy scouts and makes a habit of clean-up projects and helping children younger than him. Shahar on the other hand is ending his one year deferment from army service and in April will follow in his brother’s footsteps and join the naval officer academy.

The boys of the house are full of energy and a sheer delight to be around, but my favorite conversationalist has to be “Grandpa Lu”. Lu was born in the United States, but during Israel’s war for independence in 1947 he felt obligated to serve, and at age 17 he chose to make Aliyah to Israel. He joined the relatively unorganized bands of Jews defending their country and fought his way to victory in both that war and the Suez campaign of 1956. After he explained his war-stories to me, I paused and thought for a moment. I realized, Lu has been here for every moment of Israel’s history. He has seen every war, every Prime Minister, and every peace-deal. As an avid history fan, Lu had stories which are a gold-mine of information and personal insights.

Like all families, the Rabiners are held together by the respective King and Queen of their family. The mother to all these children is Tamar (Hebrew for date). She currently serves as the principle of “Bialik” Elementary School, named after the famous Jewish poet Haim Nachman Bialik. There she tends to the needs of her hundreds of children and ensures that the school runs effectively and appropriately. The father’s name is Gadi. He is a computer and information technology system manager for “merkavim” (the largest company in Israel). Merkavim played a critical role in developing Israel’s bus infrastructure and general transport systems. Gadi does not speak frequently about his work, but he enjoys personal conversations about life and is very friendly.

The Rabiners like to spend a lot of family time together, and from what I can see get along very well. As a family they watch the news and discuss current affairs with one another. They have weekly family dinners, and once a year they take a vacation to Eilat. As a family they invited me to their weekly Shabbat dinners and even offered to help with my laundry. This was incredibly useful as laundry services are both expensive and time consuming in Israel.

In all, the Rabiner family is very caring and exciting to be around. Each of them connects to Israel through their own unique form of service. Each time I interact with their family I always learn something new and I always have a sense of belonging. I’ve come to accept that until I return to America, my family life will be different, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The Rabiner family has their own tradition of Friday night dinner and as long as I’m invited, it’s a tradition and a family I’m elated to join.