David Singer has a dream to create a community where lone soldiers and new immigrants can be nurtured, for as long as they need, until they get their bearings in Israel. It’s a dream he’s had since his own aliya.
Singer was raised to see Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. He imagined it as the Garden of Eden, full of mystical places. As a child, he believed that to getting to live in Israel was like winning the lottery. Indeed, his first trip to Israel, traveling with his mother during his high-school years, left a very deep impression.
“I knew right away it was home,” Singer recalled, “but I didn’t feel ready to live here at the time. I didn’t start thinking about living in Israel until 2003. Initially, my motivation for coming to Israel was to join the army. In the army, love for the land and for the Jewish people sunk into my very being.”
Toward the end of his army service in 2007, he found himself surprisingly unclear about his future. “I was in the Negev at sunset, just enjoying the beauty. In a few months I would be finishing my service. I thought about going back to Baltimore, but I realized that wasn’t my future. Israel was my future. Staying here and building a life here.”
Man plans and God laughs. After finishing the army, Singer returned to Baltimore for a two-month visit. Two months turned into eight months while he completed a course in sound engineering. Waking up, as if from a trance, he said, “I asked myself, ‘How did I get here again?’” That awareness jolted him and sent him running back to Israel.
By 2012, the nascent idea of creating a special village in Israel began to take shape. “I decided to be proactive and make a Facebook group to get people’s attention to the idea and try to get a small group of people to meet, talk and advance the initiative.”
The initiative has several simultaneous goals. At its core, the village is intended to provide a soft landing for new olim and lone soldiers. There is also a goal to build it green, as well as to create a pilot that can be duplicated in other areas throughout Israel.
This idea, now called Kfar Olim, has begun to gain some traction. Singer is actively looking for a host community - an existing city, moshav or town that will adopt the small group and help it expand to its ultimate goal of 300 housing units. Ideally, the host community will welcome the concept and recognize its potential for growth. Although it’s too early to say where the permanent location will be, Singer wants to help settle the south, so Kfar Olim will likely be somewhere between the Lachish region and Beersheba.
In addition to searching for a host community, Kfar Olim is also looking for individuals, couples or families of all ages to join the garin (pilot group). The project is open to singles and married couples who are religious or secular. There is no age limit and former lone soldiers are especially welcome. The most important criterion is commitment to the vision. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to help olim and lone soldiers build their lives in Israel,” Singer said.
Toward that end, Singer is actively meeting with organizations such as Nefesh B’Nefesh, the Or Movement, which works to build up the Negev and the Galilee, and the army to establish partnerships and identify needs that Kfar Olim can help meet.
“I could only have accomplished all of this with tons of help from garin members like Gershon Fischer and the whole group.” Singer also credits “the most amazing mentor, Anita Tucker,” former resident of Netzer Hazani, who became an activist after the 2005 disengagement from Gush Katif and “most importantly, help from above.”
Singer speaks Hebrew and Spanish, and while Hebrew is the operating language of the community, there is great interest in recruiting members with additional language skills.
Drawing on his experiences as a lone soldier, he is especially motivated to create a safety net for them. According to Singer, a lone soldier who finishes the army but doesn’t know the next step needs more than 30 to 60 days to decide whether to stay in Israel, go to university, make aliya or return to their home country. These young men and women have gone through the whole experience of military service, but, Singer asserted, they aren’t given the tools to know how to manage civilian life.
He wants to change that. In Kfar Olim, “People can get time, space and the opportunity to consider aliya seriously. Many organizations provide their own set of services to lone soldiers, but there’s very little integration among the lone soldier organizations.
“We want to help everyone who helps lone soldiers to work together by coordinating all these resources, so that not even one soldier loses out on services. We want to make sure every lone soldier knows about all the benefits available and make it so they don’t have to run around to 10 different organizations and reapply for all different services.”
In addition to having a core of permanent residents who will provide a supportive transitional housing option for lone soldiers and new immigrants, Singer intends that Kfar Olim will be built as an ecological village. The plan is to build based on green construction, to take advantage of the sun and the wind and reduce residents’ dependence on air conditioning and heating.
Singer’s commitment to Israel and to the success of new immigrants drives his passion to build Kfar Olim. “People need time to get used to living here to process the changes. There needs to be an open, general format where any Jew can stay for as long as they want, until they settle.”
Eventually, he would like to set up intensive Hebrew language study, classes on Israeli culture, job training and events where lone soldiers and new immigrants are interacting with native Israelis at Kfar Olim.
Kfar Olim is a labor of love and commitment for Singer, who earns his living working in hi-tech.
“After trying to get a decent job, I stayed in Israel, persevered and now I have a salaried position, because I stuck it out. Many times, during points of weakness, I considered leaving. The only thing that leaving Israel would do is cause me to miss it. I’m married to the Land.” As an expression of his deep connection to Israel, in addition to getting Kfar Olim off the ground, Singer dreams of marrying “a nice Israeli girl.”
“I’m here for better or for worse. Now I’m making better money in Israel than I ever made in America working in hi-tech business development.” His tip for any immigrant who is thinking about leaving Israel? “Whatever challenge you are facing, try to be patient and wait and see.”
Singer concluded with a broad vision for Israel and the Jewish people. “I think that aliya is not just about every Jew’s personal life. It’s part of a much bigger, much greater national mission that stands far beyond time and far beyond individuals. It’s a huge privilege and an unbelievable opportunity not to be missed, especially now. It’s a special time in history. After thousands of years, the Jewish people are really building a nation here. It’s a national mission that’s [for] all the Jewish people on planet Earth and ultimately we need all the Jewish people to do it.”