Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Letter to My Friends

Dear friends,

I hope this letter finds you well. As you might know by now, I am making aliya (immigrating to Israel) and joining the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) at the end of the summer, with a program called Garin Tzabar. The purpose of Garin Tzabar is to help people like me (without immediate family in Israel, called lone soldiers) undertake the transition and process of making aliya and doing army service. I will be living on Kibbutz Beerot Yitzhak (in the center of Israel) with a group of fellow lone soldiers (the garin), and serving in the military for approximately two years. I don't yet know in what capacity I will be serving.

A little bit of background for those friends of mine who I haven't been able to keep in touch with over the last few years: I just graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in computer science. During college, I developed certain parts of my identity which had previously been lying dormant. I was born and raised in a Jewish household, but only in the past four years have I seriously explored my Judaism and started learning and practicing the precepts of my religion. I have found in Judaism a wealth of wisdom and truth, which I have chosen to make a large part of my life.

Also in college I became interested in Israel. My dad is Israeli, I have extended family there, and I have visited every few years since my childhood, but I always took Israel for granted, both as an idea and as a reality. Israel as an idea is Zionism: the national liberation movement of the Jewish people for self-determination in our homeland. Israel as a reality is a fascinating, complex, and beloved place where the Jews as a people have the brightest future and each Jew individually feels at home. Interestingly, it was the virulently anti-Israel activists at Berkeley who caught my attention, sparked my interest, and made me start thinking and questioning about Israel. In addition to my personal learning and reading, I became involved in and eventually served as co-president of Tikvah: Students for Israel, a Zionist activist student group at Berkeley. I also spent each of the last three summers in Israel, learning, traveling, and exploring.

For those of you who don't know, in Israel there is a mandatory draft to the military. While I was choosing where to go to college, the typical Israeli 18-year-old was preparing for his enlistment. Unfortunately, the homeland of the Jews happens to be located in a tough neighborhood, and maintaining a strong defense force is a necessity for Israel's safety. This burden falls squarely on the shoulders of the Israeli citizen, who puts on the uniform of the IDF to represent and protect not just the borders of Israel, but the Jewish people as a whole. The IDF is truly a people's military: the army experience is an Israeli rite of passage, an aid in assimilating immigrants, and the intersection between otherwise largely distinct segments of Israeli society.

For the last couple years, it has been clear to me that after graduating from Berkeley I wanted to go to Israel, at least to spend an extended period of time, if not to live permanently. In the last few months I made the official decision to gain Israeli citizenship and serve in the IDF. I want to experience what it is like to live in the one place where a Jew can feel that he belongs, to truly be home. I want to be in a country which shares my language, my calendar, my values, my history, and my identity. I want to be near my extended family - my aunts, uncles, and cousins, and the millions of Jews who are all my brothers and sisters. I want to be in the center of the Jewish world, to be a part of my people's history. I want to partake of the miracle which is Israel, a state built in a few decades out of ruins, swamps, and sand dunes into a thriving first-world country. A state which transformed its inhabitants from martyrs and refugees into pioneers, fighters, and leaders. A state which has revived the ancient Hebrew language as a vernacular, become the world center of Jewish learning, and restored pride and hope to the Jewish people. I want to be a part of all of that, to be uplifted by it, and to do my small part in helping with the upbuilding of the state of Israel and the Jewish people.

I see my service in the IDF in a few different ways. First, as my duty to Israel to participate in the defense of the nation. Second, as a way to acculturate into Israeli society. And third, as an experience of personal growth. The guidance and assistance that the Garin Tzabar program, the kibbutz, and my garin will give me throughout the entire experience will be invaluable towards achieving these goals.

For the next two months I will be living in Berkley. I am working full time as a software engineer at an exciting HTML5 startup, which I will be sad to leave. On the side I am working on my Hebrew, tying up loose ends in Berkeley, and preparing for Israel.

This is not a goodbye letter, but it will likely be a while until I see most of you again in person. So I feel that it would be amiss to conclude this letter without saying thank you to everyone who has been a friend to me, during my time at Berkeley and before. Your companionship and support have meant the world to me, for which I am very grateful, and I'll miss you tremendously when I am in Israel. All the best, and please stay in touch.


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