Shauna Harris 88 298.
(photo credit: MEREDITH PRICE)
Shauna Harris, 18 - From New Hampshire to Kiryat Shmona
'I was raised Jewish, but it was never anything special," says Shauna Harris as she straightens her green Israeli Defense Force fatigues.
"I never liked Hebrew school as a little girl, and I think my Mom and I were literally the only Jewish people in my town in New Hampshire."
For a non-practicing American Jew with no prior connections to Israel, making aliya usually seems too scary, too impossible or both. But for Shauna, it fulfills a dream that began at the age of 13, as soon as she stepped foot in the Holy Land for the first time.
It was actually to avoid the complication and expense of throwing a large family celebration that Shauna and her parents decided to make a trip to Israel for her bat mitzva.
"I didn't even want to come," she says. "It was the middle of the summer of 2001, and I wanted to hang out with my friends, go to parties and see movies."
The land of Israel, with its stereotypical bearded rabbis and sand-colored camels, was far from appealing to Shauna. But as soon as she and her parents boarded the plane, her feelings started to change.
"By the time we landed at Ben-Gurion and the wheels of the plane touched down, I was in love with this country," says Shauna. "I told everyone that I was coming here one day to make aliya. Most of them thought I would soon forget all about it and sarcastically suggested that I at least leave the airport before making a final decision."
But four years later, she was on a different plane - this time to stay.
Shauna made aliya on July 13, 2005 with the help of Nefesh B'nefesh. Yet while many immigrants make this life-changing transition with their families, 17-year-old Shauna came alone. For the first three months of her stay, she lived full-time on Kibbutz Yiftah in Kiryat Shmona with about 80 other young immigrants.
"We had seminars and Hebrew classes, and they really made our move easier by explaining things, answering any questions and helping with the bureaucracy."
Shauna's mother, a micro-biologist for the state of New Hampshire, grew up in Connecticut, and her father, who works as an operational director for Signal Technologies, was raised in Texas.
"My Dad isn't religious at all and my Mom is really Zionistic, but being Jewish was never really important unless someone was saying something against it."
An only child, Shauna and her mother are extremely close, and her Mom plans to make aliya as soon as possible.
Although Kibbutz Yiftah is a great place to catch up on sleep over the weekend, Shauna spends most of her time during the week at her boyfriend's house in Herzliya Pituah.
"My room on the kibbutz is similar to a dorm room," says Shauna. "I have a roommate and share a bathroom. It's really nice, and I love to go there on weekends to hang out with my friends and relax. Oh, and on Friday nights there's a cute pub with cheap drinks too."
Then she mumbles something about the drinking age at home being 21, "which has nothing to do with making aliya!" she laughs.
Over the past six months, Shauna has made friends from all over the world. Some of them are also new immigrants, and many of them are in various stages of army-university tracks. One of her girlfriends from Canada is in a combat unit, and another close friend of hers also made aliya from New Hampshire.
"I have met so many inspiring, strong people here," she says. "Even though everyone has their own problems, we are all going through similar things, so we learn from each other and help each other. It's like a big family, and I'm so happy to be part of it."
Being a new recruit in the Israeli army means long hours and early morning wake-up calls.
"I usually wake up at 6:30ish, put on the exact same uniform, take the 7:15 bus to my base and work from eight until 5:30," says Shauna. Being in the army means that your time is no longer really your own, and free time is a rarity.
"When I do have time away from the base, I'm so exhausted I'm usually sleeping," says Shauna. On the weekends, she finds time to see movies, play video games and go out to dinner with her boyfriend.
In September, Shauna started her service in the army at a base in Northern Tel Aviv. She works as a liaison in international relations but cannot discuss the details.
"One thing I can tell you," she says, leaning secretively into the table as the army emissary sent to chaperone our interview eyes her suspiciously, "is that I love wearing this uniform because of what it symbolizes. I beg to take my M-16 home, and I love the fact that the police here don't look at me as a security threat even though I'm carrying one of the biggest guns I've ever seen!"
"The Israeli culture suits me much more," says Shauna. "I really like the US, but I feel more comfortable with myself here, and although I'm still an amateur at the Israeli pushiness, I love the fact that I'm accepted here."
"I am a Zionist with strong opinions," says Shauna, "and although I am not extremely religious and don't really care about keeping kosher, I have a ridiculous respect for those who are deeply religious."
Raised in a reform/conservative home, Shauna's family never placed much emphasis on religion.
"I did end up unwittingly fasting on Yom Kippur this year," she says, "and I think I'll continue to do it. I love the way religion is celebrated here, and I love feeling part of it."
Although she did attend Hebrew school as a child, her Hebrew was close to non-existent when she arrived last July.
"I thought I knew Hebrew because I could read a menu," she says. It didn't take her long to realize she was wrong. Now, she can communicate relatively well.
"At the base, I am forced to speak in Hebrew so I've improved a huge amount since I started," she explains. And although she's been told to curb her use of the word slicha, her commanders say she's a quick study and will soon have both the language and the culture under her belt.
"Call me in like 10 years," says Shauna in response to a question about marriage and children. "All I know right now is that I want to stay here. I'm not going anywhere."
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