And finally I have landed in Israel and after long lines and numerous ceremonies I am an עולה חדש! The flight to Israel was an odd conflagration of emotions; sentimentality of my previous trips here, March of the Living and Tiferet, nostalgia of the moments here with the friends that I left behind in the United States, and an overwhelming excitement to come here finally as an Israeli. To walk off the plane with the Israeli flag that I bought in tenth grade and walked through Auschwitz and Birkenau with, finally planting it back (metaphorically) where it belongs, was amazing. I, with the flag I carried, was coming home. The stripes and star, blue and white, waving in the heat and chaos on the tarmac of Ben Gurion Airport encouraged me ever more to defend her and the country for which she flew.
The last half-hour of the flight was the wildest ride I’ve ever seen on an airplane. All 125 soldiers-to-be and many more Olim were chanting and singing, news cameras walking up and down the aisles documenting everything. We sang every song from the contemporary Israeli rap to songs only heard at Bar Mitzvahs. The last song we sang of course, right as the wheels touched down on Eretz Yisrael, was Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem. Shivers ran down my spine as I sang, even shouted, the anthem that I could finally call my own. For so many people Hatikvah (The hope) is a call for unity and nationalism of Israel and as I took my first steps off the plane new life was breathed into me- I am no longer a tourist. My hope for so long to become an Israeli citizen was finally being realized.
I was approached by various news sources in New York to talk about my story; coming from college in Boston, being born to American, non-Hebrew speaking parents, to come to Israel and draft into the IDF. I guess the story spoke to people because they approached me once again on the airplane to do a live interview on morning TV on one of Israel’s largest news sources, Arutz 2. They asked me if I could do the interview in Hebrew and I said I would try. Thankfully, the time spent over the summer practicing the language with those in my Garin allowed me to be confident in the fact that I could at least hold a conversation and be interviewed in Hebrew. Without the countless nights of “practicing”, (informally speaking Hebrew), I would be completely sunk, unable even to hail a taxi to take me from the airport. The interview turned out okay, with help from Tal, a girl in my Garin. I hope it was okay, but I asked her what one of the questions meant on live-TV! The interviewers found it funny though and I hope I didn’t make a huge fool out of myself by having to ask Tal what they were asking me, but hey, I guess that’s what family is for.
It was amazing to be welcomed into Israel with such an honor. Just to talk about my story a little bit (even only for five or ten minutes) on live Israeli television spoke volumes about the character and spirit of Israel. Within the first 24 hours of being here as a citizen, already somebody wanted to hear what I, a new immigrant from America, wanted to say!
Sitting at Noam’s family’s house (a friend in the Garin) made me realize one of the things that make Israel so special. In the late afternoon, just before the sunsets, an odd quiet comes over the area, indeed a quiet that speaks to the soul, revitalizing it as if the air is blowing new life into the lungs of the recipient. There is sanctity in quiet, something seldom felt in the high-paced, upbeat lifestyle of the United States, especially Los Angeles. I sat and talked with Noam and his cousin for a while, relaxing and enjoying the quiet, the peace that I had so long been without. In Los Angeles, we go on trips to the beach or go hiking early in the morning to feel such peace, but here it is right outside. I am thankful for these moments and for being welcomed into this house as family, especially after such a long and arduous trip. After thirty-four house in airports and on airplanes, to stretch out and reflect quietly is a godsend. The feeling was continued, even amplified at Holit (my kibbutz) where it is always quiet (save for my Garin of 24 Americans). The peace and sanctity of the lifestyle here really puts in perspective my life. It is unimaginable to anybody in the United States, but even a place within walking distance of Egypt and Gaza is one of the most tranquil places I have ever been in my life.
The road to Israel has been long; filled with long lines and many pictures, speeches and tears, but finally I am at my new home. Soon I will see my brother and madrichim (counselors) from Tiferet and I could not be more excited. I miss already all those that are staying behind, but the immense support that I have received from all of my friends and family encourages me constantly to continue to pursue my dream here. Finally I have plunged headfirst into the unknown. I could not be happier.