Julia Koby Spiegel

A Lone Soldier’s Peptalk to Herself

Dear Julia,

You’ve passed more than that year mark in the army (only 9 months left) and that shvizut is really killing you. You’re feeling unmotivated and unsuccessful and you’re just ready for all the bullshit to be over and you can just be left with the good memories and forget about all the stress. I think most people get to this point sometime in their army service and so I’m going to give you a little pep talk and a reminder of how you’ve gotten to where you are now.

In September of 2014 you arrived in Israel for your gap year. You had never been here before and you really had no clue what you were about to experience. You had heard gap year stories since you were a kid but until you experienced it yourself, you didn’t really know what was in store. You were signed up for only 5 months but after just 3 months you were absolutely positive that there was no way you could go back to America before the full 9 months of the program were over… You were just too happy and having too much fun. You felt yourself learning and growing in a way that you hadn’t ever before. You were learning about yourself and your values and your strengths and weaknesses. You were learning about the world and you were slowly learning that Israel is far from perfect. You started to fall head over heels in love with a place that made you angry and confused and frustrated and at the same time, passionate and hopeful and excited and truly happy. You got a taste of Tel Aviv and kibbutz life and Jerusalem and traveled as much as you could. Fast forward a few months and your year was coming to an end. You couldn’t imagine leaving this place that you learned to love with your whole being. You couldn’t imagine leaving a place that you felt like you were your best self. You asked yourself questions like “can I make as much of a difference for Israel advocating from America or is this the place I need to be in order to do my part?”. You asked yourself what it means to find meaning in life and you asked yourself what passion is. After many tears and research and long phone calls and difficult conversations you decided that Israel was where you wanted to be and not only did you want to live here permenantly, you also believed in the importance of serving in the army like every single other Israeli in order to fully be immersed into this new country.

After finishing your gap year you went back to America for a few months… just enough time to give everyone you know a high five, do laundry and pack a new suitcase for your ulpan at Kibbutz Maagan Michael.

In July 2015 you flew back to Israel and arrived to the kibbutz. You didn’t know a single person there. It was a gorgeous kibbutz and you had the privilege of going to the beach every night and watching the sunset. You learned Hebrew in ulpan every single day for 4 hours and then worked in the kibbutz’s plastic factory. The plastic factory was boring and the classes were exhausting. There were people in your ulpan from all over the world. Some came to make aliyah and others just for the experience of living in Israel for half a year. You quickly learned that not everyone comes to Israel for the same reason. You learned how to deal with feeling alone. You learned how to ask for help. You called Nefesh B’nefesh and told them you want to make aliyah and you collected your papers and traveled to Jerusalem to get a signature of a lawyer and then to Tel Aviv on November 3rd to receive your teudat zehut. You started a list of every single person you knew in Israel that you could call if you needed a place to stay for shabbat or just a peptalk. It consisted of around 10 people. And just like that, you transformed from being an American visiting Israel on a visa to a full fledged olah chadasha. You went to the bank and opened a bank account and struggled with your broken Hebrew to explain what you needed there. When you were sick you didn’t call your mom, you went to the doctor and dealt with taking care of yourself like an adult. You went to garin tzabar seminars and were accepted and in the end of December 2015 you moved to Kibbutz Hanita to live with a group of 18 people that you had never met before.

In Hanita you learned as much about the army as you possibly could without actually being in the army yet. You were terrified that your Hebrew wasn’t good enough and that you would never really be fluent. You went to your tzav rishon and realized early on that nothing in the army would be easy or simple. Those 18 people that you had never met before became your family and you met incredible people who changed your life forever. You cried and laughed and bought way too many pairs of socks and tshirts because that’s what you thought you were going to need for the army. You met your host family in Hanita and they too became your family in israel. Your list of people who you knew in this new country grew from 10 to over 100 people. You watched your best friends draft to the army and you waited until your turn came.

On April 17th you arrived to the lishkat giyus in tveria and your name was called to get on the bus. You were transported to the bakum and were given a uniform and a nice finger prick and an army ID with a horrible photograph because you didn’t understand that you were being photographed. You were so overwhelmed that you didn’t even eat the disgusting sandwiches that they gave you and when you arrived to Michve Alon around midnight you had no clue what was going on. You were assigned to a tzevet and a mifakedet and they explained to you how to speak to your commander and how to stand in a chet. You laughed when they told you to pick weeds and quickly learned that there’s absolutely zero הגיון in the army. You took a Hebrew test and were assigned to the highest tzevet and had no clue how you got there. You doubted yourself. You raised your hand during classes and were so uncomfortable with speaking Hebrew that you “forgot what you wanted to say” when you were called on. You didn’t sleep or eat very much and you cried… a lot. You cried when you lost your watch one morning and you cried when there wasn’t toilet paper in the bathroom. You cried when you had to close Shabbat and you saw your friends leaving. You hated your mefakdot with your whole heart. You felt alone and confused and frustrated. You were told that you’d never get to a course and that your job options weren’t so promising. You cried some more. You were a total chutzpanit. You lead meditation for your tzevet when you were assigned to lead an activity and you sat with your mefakedet beforehand to make sure you knew all the words so you’d be able to explain what to do because your limited vocabulary didn’t consist of “inhale” and “exhale”. You came back to Hanita on the weekends to be with friends that really loved you and a host family that gave you hugs and support and yummy food. You went into your katzin miyun and hoped for the best.

In July you started course chinuch to become a mashakit chinuch. This was the exact job you had dreamed of. Your Hebrew wasn’t very strong and you were one of 2 olot chadashot (the other was 23 years old and from Russia) and you barely understood what was going on around you. You sat in lessons from morning until night and tried your best to participate in discussions (and didn’t succeed very well) and you tried to read in Hebrew and take tests and failed every single one and you retook the tests and when they made you have a conversation with the officers of the course because they didn’t think your Hebrew was strong enough and that you weren’t capable of being a mashakit chinuch you explained with fire in your eyes that you are the most motivated person there and you will do anything in order to finish the course. You cried and didn’t sleep very much and felt like you couldn’t “be Julia” in Hebrew. You felt alone and like the girls didn’t understand you and didn’t really get to know you because you couldn’t fully explain who you were and what you felt and what you really thought. You were so frustrated and overwelmed. You returned to your room at night and didn’t even have energy to speak to anyone because your head hurt too much from hearing/speaking/struggling to understand/reading/writing in Hebrew all day long. You lead activities and discussions and a hike in Hebrew. You did all the same assignments as all the other girls in the course even though it was 700 times harder for you. You worked in your bed with the flashlight on your phone after שעה טש was already over so that you could finish your work. You didn’t give up. On the last day they told you that you’re going back to Michve Alon to be a mashakit chinuch there. You cried. You cried for hours and hours and talked on the phone with your host mom and your garin and your mefakedet from tironut and really really really did not want to go back.

Your parents came to visit Israel and they saw with their own eyes the beauty of Hanita and a glimpse of the new life you were building for yourself here. They went to your final ceremony for your course and didn’t understand a single word and were still the most proud people there. They supported you and your decisions and bragged to everyone they know that their daughter made aliyah and was in the IDF even when people looked at them like they were crazy. Your friends and your sister who always understood you didn’t quite get it anymore because what you were going through was so different than anything they were and they loved you and sent you support and hugs despite that.

You were absolutely sure it was going to be awful to return to Michve Alon and that no one would take you seriously or see you as anything beyond an olah chadash because there are so many of those there. You thought there would be no work and they wouldn’t need you but you still went to base on the day they told you to go with a determind and nervous smile across your face. You had almost no help when you got there and didn’t understand at all what your job was and what you needed to do. You felt like there wasn’t a lot of room for your creativity so what did you do? You tried to create a tafkid that didn’t exist. You planned successful trips. You brought interesting speakers that people loved. You were yelled at and were pushed down and you got back up again. You made stupid mistakes. You thought of brilliant ideas and were told no. You fell and you got up. You felt like you were useless and you found where you could be useful. You were told you are disorganized and your friends made you a journal to help you work on that. You felt like you were losing your motivation and like you wanted to give up. You cried and you fell and you got back up again.

You went back to hanita on the weekends and things weren’t always perfect. You had ups and downs and nothing was simple. Being a lone soldier has it’s wonderful times and it has it’s harder times. Your heart got broken and you fought with your friends and sometimes Hanita didn’t feel like the home it once did.

What makes this all worth it? What makes you get up after the millionth time falling? You’re a fighter, Julia. You’re someone with tons of passion and hope. You chose to see the positives in every single day and you know that the worst days are the ones you have to actively remind yourself of the positives. You’ve made incredible friends in this place. Friends that look at your face and already know how you’re feeling without even having to explain. You’ve met people who have opened their homes and hearts and souls to you. You’ve been blessed with gorgeous views and incredible sunsets. You’ve traveled from north to south and felt truly free. You have told people how you feel and what you think even when that scared you. You learned a language from almost nothing. You’ve begun to learn how to navigate an entirely new culture.

Sometimes you lose sight of these accomplishments. Sometimes you forget all the progress you’ve made and sometimes you feel like you aren’t totally sure of yourself like you once felt. Sometimes you really miss your family in a way you didn’t expect you would.

I am wishing you that same energy that you had when entered into that meeting during your course when they tried to kick you out. In your most difficult moment you found your passion and you were able to show it. I hope you remember that your experience of joining the army has given you much more than just what happens during your day to day routine on base. I hope you continue climbing those mountains because even though your sweating and your legs hurt, the view at the top is more than worth it. I hope you continue to make memories that are impossible to capture in photographs. I hope that you challenge yourself and I hope you fail so that you can prove to yourself that even when you’re at your lowest, you are always able to get back up. I hope you continue writing and crying and appreciating the small things. I hope you continue to take risks and that you understand that the whole point of a risk is that it could end up to be great or awful, but the possibility of greatness is worth the possibility of awfulness. I hope you love with your whole heart dispite knowing it could so easily get crushed and broken. I hope you remember the reasons you decided to make aliyah and feel Herzl looking down on you and seeing his pride that people like you made aliyah to this country. I hope you continue to strive to be better and to dream and to hope. I hope you make the choice to take each day as a growing experience and to trust yourself.

I know you have what it takes to survive here and to make the life you want for yourself. You rock and don’t you forget it!!

Love always (from the person who knows you best in the whole world),

About the Author
Julia Koby Spiegel. Twenty year old olah chadashah and lone soldier from Bethesda, MD.
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