One day, nine-year-old Meir Fox announced that he was running away from home.
“Where will you go?” asked his mother.
“To the land of our people – Israel,” he replied.
When he did leave home for Israel 14 years later in September 2012, he didn’t have to run away. His parents, who had asked only that he wait until finishing college before making aliya, supported his decision to strike out on his own for the Holy Land. They, Meir’s twin brother Moshe and younger sister Aliza, flew in for Meir’s Givati Brigade swearing-in ceremony not long afterward.
“My family was extremely Zionistic and the idea of aliya was always in the back of my mind,” he said. Going to Zionist day schools in New Jersey and spending summers at Bnei Akiva’s Camp Moshava further ingrained the dream.
After high school, Fox did a gap year and a half at Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh in Jerusalem’s Old City.
“I gave it my all, wanting a full Israel experience. I studied in Hebrew and visited a new place every weekend, volunteered at Shaare Zedek Medical Center – really immersing myself. The more people I interacted with the more I saw myself as being a part of this country and wanting to grow here ideologically and personally.”
Keeping his word to his parents, he completed a bachelor’s degree in English literature and business at Queens College in May 2012. He took a job at a startup in New York City, but soon decided “to just drop everything and make the move. It dawned on me that if I didn’t make aliya now it would be way harder in the future. I was really looking forward to it, although I knew there were going to be a lot of challenges.”
He had no relatives in Israel, just three good friends who had set an example he wanted to follow. He arranged to stay on Be’erot Yitzhak, a religious kibbutz situated between Petah Tikva and Ben-Gurion Airport. About 30 lone soldiers also were housed there, and he was assigned an “adopted” family with whom he remains close.
Israeli soldier A couple of days after his Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight landed, Fox marched into the draft office in Tel Hashomer with his passport and new Israeli ID card. “I said, ‘Good morning, my name is Meir Fox and I want to be drafted into a combat unit as soon as possible.’ They were taken aback. They said, ‘Most people in this line are here to get out of the army and we’re not sure what to do with you.’ But thank God it worked out.”
Though he was required to serve only six months, he served 18 months in Givati as a light automatic machine gunner. “I really pushed myself to maximize my potential,” he said.
“For me the challenge was being 23 while most of the others were 18. They treat you like children at first to break you down, and I had to listen to a commander who was 19 years old. It was very different from what I imagined in the way my day was scheduled and the way things were run, but it very much helped me understand how to fit into Israeli society, not only in terms of language but also mentality. I think the hardest thing for people making aliya is adopting an Israeli mentality, and it really taught me to be more aggressive to get what I need.”
Stationed in hot spots like Jenin and Ramallah, his unit was the target of rock-throwing incidents and worse. “I began to understand the complications that go into decisions from an Israeli soldier’s perspective and how fast it all happens,” he said.
After his discharge he moved to Tel Aviv and later joined roommates in the Nahlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Israeli singer At least half Fox’s weekends over the past year have been devoted to performances of Kippalive, an a capella group that has appeared on TV on The X Factor.
“I took voice lessons since childhood and played guitar since I was 10, so music is an integral part of who I am. In college, my friends asked if I wanted to join an a capella group singing at bar mitzvas and weddings. They said it was a great way to make money on weekends, but I also enjoyed the creative process and the collaboration and I wanted to continue doing it when I made aliya.”
Israeli citizen When he’s not working or singing, Meir can be found running or biking around Jerusalem and enjoys all kinds of sports.
“My quality of life is great and I am very happy with my decision,” he said.
“I’m a really independent person, so living alone and doing things on my own was sort of intuitive and not too difficult for me, but it’s hard not being able to interact with my family and I miss the conveniences of home.”
In a way, he is carrying on a family tradition.
His maternal grandfather moved on his own from Spain to Morocco; his mother moved on her own from Canada to the US, and his paternal grandfather traveled by himself to the US from Poland. That grandfather, Joseph Fox, who died the year before Meir’s aliya, fought in the partisans during World War II.
“He was one of my inspirations to join the IDF, though he didn’t know it.
I think of how proud my grandparents would be if they knew I was a soldier in a Jewish army.”
Fox feels that living in Israel has strengthened his spiritual connection.
“In America I always felt like a Jewish person in an anonymous place, and in Israel I feel like a Jewish person in a Jewish place. It’s a subtle difference, but its makes a bigger difference in the long run.”
He encourages others to try living in Israel even without making aliya.
“I feel that people have a tremendous opportunity to come to Israel and have an influence. It’s easier to stand out here and be a leader. You really have the opportunity to get involved and make a difference in ways I didn’t feel I had in New York.”