Rachel Schneider 88 248.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Aliya date: August 2008
Family status: Single
If her great-grandfather Sam Greenspan could only see Rachel Schneider now, he'd be bursting with pride.
After all, the two shared a uniform of sorts, although Sam wore his as a member of the Jewish Legion back in 1917, when he ran off to join at age 17, and Rachel's wearing hers as a member of the IDF Education Corps, after immigrating from Cincinnati last August. Sam served but went back to the US when, as the family tells it, his girlfriend's parents back home didn't take a shine to his exploits. His own parents left eight kids back home and came to Israel, and were responsible for some extensive Tel Aviv building, but never got to see the state established.
But Rachel's here for good, as a member of Garin Tzabar, set up by the Scout movement and which offers support to lone soldier immigrants like herself. She's heading to Acre to work with young people in boarding schools, after completing her army training recently.
She claims she "knew when I was 12" she wanted to make aliya, after first coming at 11 and then celebrating her bat mitzva here as well.
Rachel, 19, attended Yavne Day School in Cincinnati and spent her "gap" year on the Nativ college leadership program of the Conservative movement, where she spent time working with young people in Yeroham. "I loved seeing how they lived and talking with them about their experiences," she says, and the time there made her gravitate towards the Education Corps.
She remembers her Nefesh B'Nefesh flight's arrival as "an overwhelming experience," with family friends coming to the airport and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to greet her and other Garin Tzabar members who came with her. "There was this environment of pride," she recalls. Then a day later she was whisked off to Kibbutz Sde Eliahu, where her program began.
"It was a little hard in the beginning, because I never, ever imagined myself living on a kibbutz - but now I love it," she says, though she doesn't see herself living on a kibbutz permanently.
Only a few months later, she was in the army during a war. At first, "it was very far off" because the young women were in a course, not near the fighting. "But it was hard to hear the media reports, all the girls had friends in the army who were in Gaza."
She's set to work with youth at risk who either have had problems with alcohol or drugs or cannot live at home because of difficult family situations. She'll be working in schools helping classes, developing programming for the youths, being available for them emotionally and socially, and helping them make their own decisions about the army.
While she'll be living in an apartment while in Acre, when she comes home weekends to the kibbutz, her favorite spot is "my room," but also the kibbutz's beautiful location. "You can see the Jordan and the Jordan Valley and the fields," she says. "The front by the fishponds is lovely. In the fall there were migrating birds, so that was spectacular."
When she's not busy in the army and gets time off, she uses it to catch up with friends in the US and to get some much-needed sleep. But for the most part you can find her hanging out with Garin Tzabar mates. "We've just become so close - I don't go a day without talking to a few of them. We're all in the army and know what each other is going through. We're all really proud of each other... I'm not a fighter, so I don't know what it's like to carry a rifle or be in the field, but I'm always there for them to talk about it."
"My huge passion in life is art," says Rachel, who worked a semester at the Israel Museum while on the Nativ program. "I love drawing, painting and art history." Seeing the contemporary art up close at the museum was a particularly fascinating experience, she says. When she's off from the army, "Facebook is my life," she admits.
Rachel speaks what she calls "choppy Hebrew" but has been picking up words at breakneck speed in the army. "All of my brain power is being used toward Hebrew," she says.
Her major accomplishment? "I had to give a 75-minute presentation on Greek mythology to my entire course in Hebrew, something I could do in English with ease - and I had no idea whether I was capable of doing it in Hebrew. But in the end, I did it."
Rachel's father, Harry, is an attorney, while her mother, Dianne, is a registered dietician working in a hospital counseling patients. She has a younger sister, Nina, 16. She grew up in a "strongly supportive Zionist home" that made her aliya much easier, she says.
Coming from a Conservative background to religious Sde Eliahu has posed some questions, as will the work at the secular Acre boarding school, "where they have discos for the kids Friday night."
"It's weird on my kibbutz because I come from a Conservative environment, so for me I can pray in a shul with a mehitza, but I'm completely comfortable not doing it, and I'd rather not because I'm very much of an egalitarian person," she says.
Talk of men and women praying together "shocks" the locals, she adds, and even many secular Israelis find it strange. "So there's that very big split here and I'm still trying to see where I fit in. I still want to stay very much a Conservative Jew."
She hopes to finish the army and then study advertisement design. In 20 years? "A family, kids, a job - working in art, doing what I love, and being happy and speaking Hebrew better."
While acknowledging she'll always "have a bit of me which is American" she feels more Israeli now that she's wearing a uniform. "The way people who knew me before see me now, they definitely see me as a more serious person. Because some people say yes, I want to make aliya, but in the end a lot of them don't... I made a big jump and I definitely fulfilled a dream."
Being an Israeli, besides her addiction to Pesek Zman candy bars, is "being pushy, being loud," which she doesn't see as bad things, but also her feeling of "pride in the country."
She wants to thank her great-grandfather for "planting the seeds" of her aliya, and stresses how important her parents' support has been. It's only been some six months, but already she feels she belongs, and that more than makes her whole experience worthwhile, even just the little things, she says: "Walking down the street, hearing Hebrew; knowing that I can be here and be a free person and an individual and have an opportunity to help this country - that makes me happy."
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