It all started a while ago; when I was teaching in one of the Jewish day schools around the area. Sapir Reznik (the other Shinshin) and I were asked to teach several sessions about the IDF. We wanted to share with them different stories and experiences from serving in the army. We showed them some videos and we asked some difficult questions – the usual. Nonetheless, after trying to do my best to explain what is it like to be born and raised in Israel; with all the privileges and the obligations which are included in this lovely package, I felt it wasn’t perfect.
Afterwards, one of the teachers approached me and said, “Listen, their lives are completely different, it’s hard for them to understand what it means for you to have to protect your country.”
That’s completely true, isn’t it? By living in a country that is 445 times bigger than Israel it is pretty hard to think about dangerous times and hostile borders.
And then it hit me once more. I was born in a country where the usual life path is kindergarten, school, IDF, post-army traveling, and then college. I personally (along with 3000 other Israeli teens this year) added one more year of service to my path, after high school but before the IDF. In the States the life path isn’t the same.
In my last adult learning class I spoke about my favorite fact about Israel: serving the community. Israel is the top country in the world in terms of community service. From the 180 volunteering hours that are required of every high school student, to the 3000 high school graduates doing volunteer gap years, to the good deeds day (an Israeli initiative BTW), people in Israel are helping each other to grow.
That’s why, when I was asked during this last session “how is a 19 year old girl standing here in front of 30 adults and speaking about Israel?“ Besides blushing, my initial reaction was, “I’m here to serve my country, and I thought this will be the best way to do so this year.” I said it just because, however the rest of the people in the room were surprised yet filled with respect.
The reaction of my adult students to this answer inspired me to write this article. It’s not because I take serving my country for granted, not at all.
I think that the core difference is the fact that I was born and raised in a society which is built on the contribution of it’s members, and without the help of each one of us (at least in the mandatory duration in the IDF) Israel would not exist. Therefore, it was crystal clear to me that first of all I am here to help my country in a different aspect.
The Israeli cycle of life is entwined with volunteering opportunities. It starts from the educational system. I was raised in Haifa, when I was in high school, as with every student in Israel I was required to volunteer at least 60 hours in my sophomore year in order to graduate (now it’s 180 throughout high school years). It’s hard to summarize all of the stories about our community service, it’s also very hard to pick one story. It seems to me that every incredible story I could choose to share with you will take the place of another remarkable story. That’s why I highly recommend for you to go and search about it online. However let me focus on my own story, mainly because I am the expert on it.
So I chose to be a medical clown, meaning I’ve been through training of how to be a clown – how to write skits, tell jokes, make balloon animals and so on. With this knowledge my group and I visited several places, such as hospitals and abused women shelters. By going to those places I’ve gotten to know a different population in the Israeli society, which made me feel highly connected to the people of Israel as a whole. I felt that I belonged more than ever because I accepted the different.
That feeling remained with me for several weeks. Yet, when I was present at one of the Hatikvah Mission (a CJP Boston-Haifa Connection IDF officers mission to Boston) events in May and heard the IDF officers speaking about their lives, I couldn’t erase my smile. I felt so proud that soon enough I’ll be wearing this olive uniform and I’ll be a part of an organization in which its whole purpose is helping the citizens of Israel, once more.
After wrestling with Israel this year, trying to find explanations to chapters in the history or present day that I do not agree with, I finally shared with you the core of my life as an Israeli. I want to finish with a my sibling’s wise epiphany.
My brother, Gilad, once described the Israeli society as Phoenix (the sand-bird from Harry potter) over dinner. This particular kind of bird revives itself every time it’s dying. Just like Israelis. Somehow, we are rising from the ashes again and again. After experiencing tragic situations we are rebuilding ourselves once more, we are fixing our own community, because no matter what, our hope will never vanish. עוד לא אבדה תקוותינו.