Ten down … no more counting

As I got off the El Al flight on February 17, 2003, I smiled nervously…I had done it. I had done what my parents had done some 20 years earlier. I had come home. I was nervous but I had wanted this for over three years, and I was ready to make it happen. Ten years later, my enthusiasm and love of Israel has not diminished. It’s been a great journey—filled with many highs and challenging lows, with the sole regret being that it took me so long to realize I had to come back home. When I thought of how I wanted to go about this entry, the memories started rolling in: the year in Arad, the year in the army, the wars, the professional journey at IDT, meeting and marrying my dear wife, fatherhood, elections, and so much more. Yet, one ten-year-long “only in Israel” experience stands out, and this is what I want to share.

For my first weekend in Israel, I decided I wanted to go visit some family friends in Kochav Yair. I took a bus to Kfar Saba, and as per instructions, waited nervously at the Kochav Yair trempiyada (hitchhiking station). I was unsure about the idea of taking a tremp with some random stranger, and in the back of my mind I kept on thinking about the many horror stories of trempim gone wrong. As I turned my back, someone yelled at me, “You want a ride?” Despite seeing the Kochav Yair sticker on his car, I asked in my strongly accented Hebrew if he was heading to the town. “Yup – get in, Shabbat is coming in soon.” Elad started firing away questions once I told him I had just made aliyah a few days ago. He, like I, was a passionate Zionist and had dreams of serving in an elite unit in the army. After talking nonstop for 20 minutes, we had arrived. I said goodbye.

Fast-forward nine months to Bakum, the army’s induction base. I was in shock—I was told I was going to do Field Intelligence, and while it was something that definitely interested me, I wanted Golani. Unsure of what to do to get what I wanted, I made the mistake of getting on the bus toward a base deep in the Negev. The first few days were difficult adjustment to the army reality: shaving every morning at 6 a.m., polishing my boots, and getting shouted at by some 18-year-old kid. As I was walking one afternoon to the shooting range, a soldier ran up to me, “Avram!” I looked at him, and smiled. That same kid who gave me a tremp was on my base. Though we weren’t in the same company for basic training, we’d be in the same Field Intelligence course. The few months Elad and I spent in that course solidified our friendship. We helped each other through the tough times, and enjoyed many laughs. Once the course ended, we went our separate ways. Unlike last time however, we stayed in touch. That tremp and that unlikely meeting in the army was what created a wonderful friendship. Since the army days, we’ve both gotten married and had children. As our families grow to know one another better, we always find ourselves laughing about the many fun times we’ve shared.

So the ten-year milestone has come and gone. I love this country. I love the languages I hear daily. I love the foods that are available on every street corner. I love the quiet Shabbat brings. I love the pride Israelis display in the remarkable country they’ve built over the last century. I still love promoting this country to potential olim. Yet as I look at Israel and the difficulties she’s facing internally and externally, I find myself more and more concerned. What kind of Israel are we building for our children?

I watched Naftali Bennett’s charismatic Knesset speech earlier this week, and I totally agreed with his closing statement. “The mission of this generation,” he stressed, “is unity.” I just hope that as I continue to strengthen my roots in our eternal homeland, I get to see our people unify and fulfill our potential in all fields on this special land.