Ever since I came to Israel four years ago, my time here has been marked by catastrophic disruptions.
First, when I arrived here as part of my gap year to do volunteer work, the COVID-19 pandemic caused my volunteer site to shut down. Following the end of the first lockdown, I found a new volunteering opportunity in Tel Aviv. As the summer came to an end, I found myself on a plane back to Brooklyn to start University in the comingfall semester. However, it didn’t take me long to understand upon my return to New York that Israel was handling that crisis better than most and I rather live in a topsy-turvy Israel more than anywhere else in the world. I then applied to the international program at Tel Aviv University and we handled the on and off periods of shutdown in stride.
Despite the quarantines, green pass mandates, extended periods of rocket sirens in Tel Aviv during the 2021 war with Hamas, and the rising political tensions between the citizens and leaders of Israel, those three years in Israel were the best of my life which compelled me to make Aliyah with Nefesh B’Nefesh while in Israel. My friends at school — all from very disparate backgrounds — all had one singular thing in common: We were in Israel because we chose to be and for this reason, we quickly became each other’s family.
Together, we hosted Shabbat dinners, traveled the country and learned why this place is so special to the millions of people who live here.
The second large disruption came on Oct. 7. Like many Israelis, we could not anticipate the nightmare we’d encounter as we groggily woke up from celebrating Simchat Torah the night before. That morning, we saw what pure evil looked like.
For most of the day, we were paralyzed by shock, but on Oct. 8 we sprang into action. Together with my former roommate of almost three years, Jordyn, we put up a post on social media asking for donations. Over the next few days, the contributions we received grew exponentially. Eventually, we were able to raise almost $90,000 from Jews all over the world who wanted to help. Before Oct. 7, Israelis were at each other’s throats. The next day, strangers were giving other strangers money. It was miraculous to witness.
While Jordyn and I both decided to enlist in the IDF through Garin Tzabar following the completion of our studies at Tel Aviv University — a decision we made well before Oct. 7 — we felt our impending service was not enough and that volunteering while we waited to be called up was the responsible thing to do in the wake of such atrocities. From mattresses to ceramic bullet proof vests, the cars of volunteer drivers who had reached out to us to help have been full of supplies for soldiers and much of our days have been spent shuttling back and forth to ensure that soldiers have what they need as they fight a very difficult war on three fronts. After almost two months at war, Jordyn and I have spent essentially all of the money we raised on items ranging from deodorants and freshly baked cookies, to hundreds of tactical uniforms, night vision scopes, knee pads, ballistic glasses and helmets. We have supplied various units in Israel from Golani and Nahal, to the elite units of Duvdevan and Yahalom.
While I’m eagerly anticipating beginning my military service, I’ve also spent the days being grateful for what we do have. Specifically, as an only child I’m grateful to Jordyn for being alongside me during this harrowing time. And although we disagree on much, as good friends often do, we’ve been lockstep in the decisions that are most important: where we want to live, why Israel is so important to us and that defending the Jewish people is what should be done to ensure we continue to hold onto this country we yearned for so much.
Similarly, after meeting members of my Garin who are waiting to enlist, you couldn’t find a more diverse array of people. Yet, our passion for Israel and understanding that it’s a privilege to protect it has brought us closer together and made us one Garin, ready to support one another through this challenging yet incredibly fulfilling and meaningful time in our lives.
Israel was brutalized on Oct. 7, but I hope the world remembers us not for the horror we experienced that day but how we rose up as a nation on Oct. 8 to contribute, volunteer and take care of each other in such a cohesive way.
While upon landing in Israel to embark on a gap year adventure I certainly didn’t expect to move here. I didn’t anticipate that following this decision, I’d experience my first years in Israel in the midst of a pandemic and the most critical war in Israel’s history. Yet witnessing the solidarity of this country is one of the reasons why I know I made the right decision to stay. It’s the reason I’ll continue to stay here. Along with other like minded individuals, I’ll do my best to help this country grow and remain the center of life for Israelis and Jews across the world.