judy kiguelman 88.298.
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Judy Kiguelman, 21
"Israel was never really a part of my life growing up," Judy says. It was only after her older sister spent a year in Israel on Young Judea's Year-Course program that Judy became at all interested in the country.
"My sister came back at the end of the year and raved about Israel and the program, and I wanted the same opportunity to get to know the country of my heritage," she recalls. For Judy, that was all it took.
"I came on the program and fell in love with the country, with the culture and with the warm hearts and free-spirited souls of the Israelis," she says. "I realized that I not only wanted to live here one day, but that I wanted to start my life here.
"Then, when I made the decision to move here and began to think everything through, I also realized I wanted to serve the country and protect it, especially if I was going to raise a family here one day."
Judy's father's parents hail from Argentina, while her mother's family lived in Colombia. Her mother immigrated to America at age 19 - the same age Judy was when she came to Israel.
"My dad's family moved from Argentina to Israel when he was 10," Judy says. "They stayed for three years and left for America the day before the Six Day War."
Judy's parents met in New Jersey, and "lived happily ever after," Judy jokes, smiling.
Now living in Wayne, New Jersey, with six kids, her father owns a plumbing supply company and her mother stays home with Judy's younger siblings.
Growing up, Judy went to public school and spent most of her free time playing soccer, swimming competitively and dancing. Though not actively religious, she went to Hebrew school and was active in her local chapter of BBYO.
"I finished Year Course and had a great time, and then I went home for two and a half months to make sure that making aliya was what I really wanted," Judy relates, adding that her family supported her decision.
Judy contacted an aliya center in New York and attempted to make aliya through them, but because her father had Israeli citizenship the process was more complicated and they couldn't help her.
"I just came back to Israel and went straight to the Interior Ministry, which was on strike at the time," she says. "But I went into the offices and made everyone listen to my story - I was 19 at the time and alone here - until finally I got to the person in charge and she agreed to help me, because I couldn't do anything here without a teudat zehut."
Next, Judy went to the army recruitment offices and told them she wanted to join the army.
"Two weeks later, I found out I was going into the service in three months," she remembers. Judy spent the next couple of months learning Hebrew in ulpan at Hebrew University and making friends.
Tough and determined, Judy knew she wanted to be a fighter, and decided to join the Border Patrol. Now two years into her service, she just completed the challenging commander's course.
"The obstacles I've overcome and people I've met here have shaped who I am, and the service has forced me into Israeli society - in a good way," Judy says. "I'm very happy that I did it, I don't regret a single day."
The only down side, she admits, is the political aspect.
"In the service, you're forced to deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict in our daily duties, which isn't easy," she says.
"It's also very challenging being a female fighter and being American," Judy adds, "because I had to work hard with my Hebrew and with acclimating. But I feel people appreciated my work because of that - and all my commanders and fellow soldiers helped me along the way."
Judy lives in an apartment near the beach in Herzliya with two of her best friends from the Young Judea Year Course program.
"I come home once every two weeks and we've gotten to know the community there, everyone's very nice," she says, "especially to soldiers - the laundry guy even does my laundry for free."
"Other than my American roommates and a few American friends from ulpan, my friends are all Israelis," Judy says.
"When I'm home, I get together with friends for coffee, watch movies, relax and get all my errands done," she says.
"When I'm in the service, we have a rotation of eight-hour guard duty, so sleep fluctuates, but during our down time when we aren't guarding we hang out on the base and train."
Already fluent in English and Spanish, Judy is now also fluent in Hebrew.
"It's all because of the service - I'm forced to speak Hebrew 24 hours a day there. But even out of the service, I speak Hebrew because I don't stick to the American crowd."
"Judaism and Jewish culture are very important to me, but I still have a lot to learn," Judy confesses. "I wouldn't consider myself completely religious, but I keep holidays and I keep kosher and I consider myself a work in progress."
"Because I'm a lone soldier, the [Defense Ministry] pays for my apartment and helps me out, but my parents also help me when necessary."
"I would call myself an Israeli American," she decides after a moment of deliberation. "Because although I'm so wrapped up in this country, my background is so American and my mindset is still American."
Judy still has a year left of security service, and she says she does not plan on lengthening her service.
"When I finish my service, I want to travel for six months and then start studying in university," she says, adding that in the future, she would like to work with disabled children.
"But in the long term, eventually I want to get married and build a huge family and live in Israel," she states decisively. "Forever."
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