Garin Tzabar: Your Instant Community in Israel

Kibbutz Matzuva. Photo by Max Nathans https://www.flickr.com/photos/matzuva/

One of the outcomes of the worldwide quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic is that many people are rethinking the trajectory of their lives. Some young Jews around the world are considering a new beginning in Israel.  Garin Tzabar provides these young people with a unique opportunity to make Aliyah as part of a community.

“Garin Tzabar,” means “the seed of a sabra.” A sabra, or cactus pear, is a nickname for Israelis. Like a cactus pear, Israelis are prickly on the outside, and sweet and soft on the inside. People who join Garin Tzabar become part of a garin, or small group of their peers, before they go to Israel. Prospective members of the garin spend about four months getting to know each other in their country of origin while participating in seminars hosted by Garin Tzabar. Participants can join more tailored garinim, as the Tzabar program has tracks for pre-college, post-college, and more religious young adults. This is an opportunity to make sure that they are a good fit for this program, and for military service in Israel. At the end of four months, the garin is formed, and the group makes arrangements to make Aliyah

They travel to Israel as a group with their garin. When they arrive in Israel, they are welcomed to a kibbutz. This is their home for the next year. At the kibbutz they learn Hebrew in an ulpan and are introduced to Israeli culture. They take trips around Israel to learn about geography, history, and culture. They celebrate Shabbat and holidays with their garin. If they choose, members of the garin may have an “adoptive” family from the kibbutz. This is a nice opportunity to meet Israelis and have another source of support. Garin Tzabar also assists the members of the garin with all the bureaucratic aspects of getting ready for military service in the Israel Defense Forces.

Mandatory military service is a rite of passage for Israelis. For those intent on moving there, military service is important to be accepted socially. It is also the melting pot that brings the strata of Israeli society together, including many new immigrants. For many, military service in the IDF is analogous to the college experience in the United States as a time for growth and development.  Because Israel is such a family focused society, and families typically support their young soldiers during their time off, it can be easy to feel isolated and alone for those who are serving in the IDF away from their families. New immigrants who come to Israel without their familial support network are designated as “lone soldiers.” Garin Tzabar supports these young lone soldiers before, during, and after their military service. It provides them with a home and a community during their period of service.  It also helps sort out any conflicts that may arise within the army if the soldiers’ rights are not respected. For anyone seriously weighing Aliyah as a life change, the Garin Tzabar community, seminars, and logistical assistance are invaluable.

At the end of their military service, members of the garin join an extensive alumni network. This continues to be a source of support as they adjust to life as civilians, students, and productive citizens of Israel. For many Garin Tzabar Alumni, the friendships they make during their time in the program are their “family for life.”

About the Author
Ronit Treatman is the food editor of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, and the creator of Hands-On Jewish Holidays.
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