Dovid Alon 88 298.
(photo credit: YOCHEVED MIRIAM RUSSO)
Dovid Alon, 29 - From Cherry Hill, New Jersey to Kibbutz Shoval
'I made aliya on September 16, 2003 at 8:07 am," says Dovid Alon. "It was the happiest day of my life."
Alon - born David Schwartz in a suburb of Philadelphia - is described by friends as "the most gung-ho Zionist" they've ever met. Alon's passion for Israel is absolute. Having already compiled about 60 pages of a book he calls Aliya Achshav (Aliya Now), he says his vision is that millions of American Jews will make aliya.
"The book is a treatise like Herzl's The Jewish State," he says. "A rational discourse on why aliya is the only real option for American Jews."
Three of Alon's grandparents were born in America.
"My father's father came from Russia, went through Ellis Island and settled in Cleveland. My mother's mother was a German Jew, from the Rothschild family. I grew up in the Reform movement. As a kid, my most influential experience was Reform's Camp Harlam. I started as a 5-year-old camper and ended working as a counselor. I loved every minute, but only recently have I realized why I loved it so much - Camp Harlam was a small version of Israel. Everything and everyone there was Jewish. Everything we did was Jewish. There, I existed in a totally Jewish world and I absolutely loved it.
"As a kid, I always hated December," Alon says. "Every year, I'd tell my mom, 'I can't stand the carols, the TV programs, the whole thing. I feel left out, I don't belong.' And every year, she'd tell me the same thing 'Well, if you don't like Christmas, you'll just have to go to Israel.' She was kidding - but it stuck. My mom has always been the rational force in my life. She tried very hard to discourage me from making aliya, which was fine. Like Chaim Weizmann said, 'You don't have to be crazy to be a Zionist, but it helps.' I'm a little crazy in my love for Israel."
"I didn't grow up planning on aliya. I saw myself as the ideal Diaspora activist. I'd be on the synagogue board, I'd support Israel, I'd raise money. I got my BA degree, then came to Israel for a year with Otzma, living, studying and volunteering in four different locations. I'd decided I wanted to be a rabbi.
"I thought I'd have made a perfect rabbi. I was a leader, had organizational experience, was a good speaker, I liked teaching. Every rabbi I met encouraged me. But when I applied to Hebrew Union College, my application was rejected. I was absolutely devastated - that rejection changed my whole life. They said I should reapply in a few years, but my whole concept of myself and my world had changed. I grew up.
"I was back in the States, and all the news of the intifada, the attacks, was just driving me crazy. I was consumed with this feeling that I needed to be in Israel. I was enrolled at Brandeis, getting an MBA in non-profit organization, but by that time, I knew I belonged in Israel. I started visiting the shaliah every month. I decided that the moment I graduated, I'd make aliya.
"A month to the day after graduation, I was on El Al. I traveled light - one suitcase."
A name change was part of the process.
"I wanted an Israeli name. That old Diaspora name was no longer me. I needed to reflect my Israeli identity."
Alon began at the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) in Arad.
"I had two initial objectives: The first year, I'd master Hebrew. For the second, I'd serve in the army."
"I went directly to WUJS from the airport. It was perfect. I had the best ulpan teachers in the world."
"I was still at WUJS when I got my army notice ordering me to report November 1, 2004. I put on the uniform, looked in the mirror, and absolutely couldn't believe it was me. As I kid, I never thought of myself as being in any army, let alone carrying a weapon.
"I first trained in artillery, which I loved, and then was assigned to guard duty, which I hated. It was cold, tense and I didn't think my abilities were being used very well. I wasn't prepared, either, for the total loss of personal freedom. But, I made a lot of friends and I felt more integrated into Israel."
Alon lives and teaches at Kibbutz Shoval, an agricultural kibbutz in the northern Negev. The kibbutz itself is exquisite - trees, homes and buildings all connected by winding walkways. But his living quarters are kibbutz-austere. He has one small room with a bed, desk and a couple of chairs. A nook contains a small refrigerator, but no cooking facilities, since he eats in the dining hall.
"It's a little tough," he says. "I'm used to something a little less modest than this."
Days start early for Alon, who teaches English to several classes of rowdy youngsters in grades seven through 10.
"I get to my classroom at 7:30 and start teaching at 8. Some classes are better than others, but I have a hard time keeping order. Israeli schools are very different from anything I've seen before - there's no respect for the teacher. It's hard, but I love the kids, I love teaching. There's that rare moment when you reach one of them. It's priceless."
Evenings, he makes lesson plans, studies or works on his book.
"On the kibbutz, I am my own age group," he says. "There isn't anyone else here my age. So I go to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem maybe two weekends a month. I have a lot of friends from the army, from WUJS, from all over. Twice a week I take classes at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, so I have friends there, too."
"I couldn't afford to teach if I weren't living on the kibbutz," Alon says. "Teachers aren't paid much, and I have to rent my apartment because I'm not a member. I wouldn't mind not getting paid much if I weren't working so hard, but I'm wearing out. It's hard to work to exhaustion and have very little to show for it. It's discouraging."
"I'm Israeli. Completely. My biggest regret is that I can't be a sabra. When I marry, I want to marry a sabra. I don't want my kids to have two American parents, or to speak English. I really admire the Israeli character, and I want my kids to have it all, in that respect."
"I'm secular. I'm an Israeli Jew, not at all religious. I love the Torah, which is Jewish history. I don't think it's inspired or anything, but it is the foundation of our people."
"I'm fluent in Hebrew, which is one of my biggest accomplishments. When I was making aliya, my mom kept telling me I'd never learn Hebrew. But I worked hard. I made up thousands of flash cards, and studied day and night. I speak only Hebrew, even with friends from America. It's very important to me."
"I used to say, 'I have two goals: First, make aliya, and second, everything else.' Now I'm in the 'everything else' part. I plan to buy a car - if I were more mobile, life would be better. My biggest dilemma is to decide what I'm going to do next year: teach, which I love, but which leaves me broke and worn out; or get a job doing something else - which would pay me more, but might not offer the same satisfaction.
"I want a family, too. I'm 29 now, and living here on the kibbutz, it's hard to meet someone. I love it here, but I'm thinking maybe I'd be better off in a bigger city."
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