Reports last week said that the scope of immigration to Israel had reached a 10-year high. I was one of the sea of immigrants who chose to move here this year, arriving from Kenya with the help of the Israel Scouts youth movement’s Garin Tzabar project. I’m currently waiting to be drafted into an IDF combat unit. Our aliyah carries added value, because all of the 400 young Jews who moved to Israel this year under the auspices of Garin Tzabar did so with the intent of being drafted into the Israel Defense Forces and performing valuable service as lone soldiers.
Talking with my fellow members of the garin (a group of people immigrating to Israel together), I always seek the true reasons that led us to take this brave step. Many talk about the anti-Semitism that is rearing its head in recent years, forcing Jews to hide their identity, about fear of discrimination or about anti-Semitic incidents. A few even speak in whispers about a new threatening atmosphere that reminds us of stories from Jewish history we read about and heard Holocaust survivors tell chokingly. Others talk about the economic crisis Europe and the U.S. have undergone in recent years, which is even affecting the well-to-do Jewish communities.
Despite all this, all my garin comrades would certainly agree that none of these were the catalyst that caused them to leave their families and everything else behind, immigrate to Israel and be drafted as lone soldiers into the IDF, where they might risk their lives. Most of us have not personally experienced unusual anti-Semitic events, most of our parents haven’t been seriously affected by the economic situation, and to be honest, most of us had a comfortable, well-planned life ahead of us.
The truth is that the real reason is very simple and contains two parts: First, the Jewish genome. None of the young people of Garin Tzabar, myself included, have given up — despite the many temptations — on our right to take on the burden of protecting our Jewish identity. We were never willing to cut the historic, cultural, or religious ties that bind us, even if some of us had only seen Israel on postcards. We always fought — in school, at conferences, in forums, in conversations with friends — to tell Israel’s side, despite the criticism we got for it. This is the Jewish genome that ties our hearts to this place, despite the distance and the criticism.
The second reason is the warm Israeli embrace. The project has given all of us a warm surrounding so we feel confident in our aliyah. As soon as we got to Israel, we found that the caring and mutual concern weren’t qualities of the youth movement alone. Our sense of belonging to the state and to the Jewish people grows constantly stronger with the love that is poured down on us and every moment makes us understand more how right the choice to move to Israel and fight for this place was.
Rom Lerner is a member of the Israel Scouts Garin Tzabar project.