It took me nearly a week to empty all of my suitcases, and for those of you who know me well, you know there were many things to unpack. When I came back to Israel for two weeks in February, I was so nervous to see everyone because I knew I only had limited time.
Coming back to Israel at the end of August after spending two wonderful months working at URJ Camp Eisner in Massachusetts, I knew that I had all the time in the world. And just like in February, I got off the plane, hugged my parents and felt like nothing had changed. The weather in Israel was still gorgeous. I got to travel a lot with my friends (mostly to the Golan Heights in the north) and even took a short vacation with my mom in Eilat, the southernmost city in Israel. But just like in February, I was starting to get a little bored after two weeks, so I was very lucky to have my recruitment day to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) exactly two weeks after coming back.
On Sept. 5, I packed again, this time for a shorter time but the meaning of this packing was not the same; I’m about to add another important piece to the puzzle that is my life. In Israel, every 18-year-old man or woman must join and serve in the army for two to three years, contributing to their country in different jobs. After spending a year with the Jewish community of Boston as a Shinshin, a young ambassador for Israel, seeing how much the community appreciates and admires the IDF soldiers, there was no one prouder than I was to become a part of that and serve my country.
There were 45 girls in my department, and every five or six girls had their own room and commander, but we all shared the same bathroom and showers. Wearing the uniform wasn’t as exciting as I imagined, perhaps because I was already used to wearing a khaki uniform from spending nine years in Israeli scouts.
We started every morning by cleaning our rooms and shared bathrooms. We could only walk in a two-line formation and had to stand in a u-shaped formation while the commander made sure there was an equal number of girls on each side. There was a lot of discipline because that is one of the main reasons to have basic training: teaching all the new soldiers how to listen to their commanders and follow orders. We had many lessons, including the IDF leading values, how to guard, the different ranks and how to recognize them, as well as a few lessons in first aid.
For some of the girls who were with me, it was their first time sleeping outside of their own home, while others struggled with being ordered what to do. All of us had to adjust to the very strict schedule the commanders required of us. We had a certain amount of time for every task we had to do, from cleaning to getting places. The difficult part was that these times were usually very short 60-second periods to wash our hands and stand in two lines outside of the dining hall, for example.
One of the most exciting moments was two days before we finished basic training and had a ceremony called “Ha-Sh-Ba’ah” (the oath). That afternoon, each of us got to invite her friends and family to come to the base to hear us pledging allegiance that we will do everything we can to protect our country. The words we all said together were the same as those said when the IDF was founded by its first soldiers.
But my personal favorite moment from these three weeks was much simpler and less army-related. Before I left Boston, my wonderful supervisors had presented my Shinshin partner Bar and me with a gift: a blanket covered with pictures from the year we had just completed. I was sleeping with that blanket every night, and on Saturday afternoon, one of the girls in my room noticed it was covered with pictures and asked me about it. And that’s how I found myself, sitting there with my four roommates, telling them about my gap year.
I was telling them about my host families in the Boston Jewish community, my supervisors, the schools and temples I worked at, the volunteers from CJP’s Boston-Haifa Connection Living Bridges Committee and a community that became my family. They were asking questions and were truly curious to hear about the Jewish community in the diaspora.
This was a special moment for two reasons. I always heard about people finding friends for life in the army, but at first it was hard for me to believe I could create such bonds because we were all so different. One of my roommates came from a small village next to the Gaza Strip and is a huge soccer fan, another is super into makeup, one of them studied art in high school and one did electronics; it was hard to find things in common. And still, we managed to become real friends who miss each other over the weekend when we go home, who stay late just talking even though we need to wake up in less than five hours and who take care of each other.
The second reason I found this to be such a special moment was because people always told me to bring the Jewish community of Boston home with me, and I felt that sharing it with this group, who had never heard about the Shinshin program before and had no idea what being a Jew in the diaspora is like was more meaningful than sharing it with my close friends and family who heard about it all year long.
I think about my year in Boston every day. I miss everyone who took even the smallest part in it and am grateful, once again and forever, for this opportunity I received.