Only four and a half years in Israel, and Tamara Seselovsky speaks Hebrew at lightning speed.
Growing up in a secular Zionist family in Santiago, Chile, Seselovsky went to a Jewish day school and high school and was involved in a Jewish youth movement. She says she learned a “bit of Hebrew” but could not carry on a simple conversation.
After high school, she did a gap-year program for youth group counselors in Israel and fell in love with the country. Her encounters with antisemitism and the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in Chile made living in the Jewish homeland very compelling.
“I returned to Chile after that year in order to get my engineering degree, continue to work in the youth movement leadership and because my entire family was there.”Tamara Seselovsky
“I returned to Chile after that year in order to get my engineering degree, continue to work in the youth movement leadership and because my entire family was there,” she explains.
After two years at university, Seselovsky felt that something was missing in her life. She yearned to return to Israel, although she knew that it would not be easy.
“I just felt so much more connected to Israel and to the opportunities for me,” she says.
Making aliyah: First stop is mastering Hebrew
In July 2018, she made aliyah on her own. Her first stop was Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem. She lived on the campus with young professionals from all over the world, determined and motivated to learn and master Hebrew.
“There were so many different people there, from Asia, Europe and North America,” she says. “I learned so much about different ways of looking at and practicing Judaism.”
Following her time at the ulpan, Seselovsky’s next step was to join the IDF, which was an important goal for her. She served in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, dealing with the foreign press.
“I had to pass some very difficult tests in Hebrew and in English and then do a training course in speaking and communication after I was accepted,” she says. “A large part of my job was to receive operational updates in real time and then explain this to the press. The work was challenging but very, very meaningful for me.”
Seselovsky says that the most important goal in this position is to strengthen the legitimacy of IDF activities and the State of Israel in the perception of the international community.
“This was really personal because I experienced many cases of anti-Israel sentiment in Chile,” she continues. “My service gave me the opportunity to make sure that the Israeli side of the conflict was explained to the media.”
During her army service, Seselovsky was given lone soldier status, as she had no immediate family in Israel. She lived in an apartment with two other new immigrants from South America, and they are still best of friends. She managed to study intensively for her college entrance exams, and the soldiers in her unit helped her to bring her Hebrew up to par so that she didn’t have to take an additional course. Her dream was to go to the prestigious Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and study computer science.
FOR SESELOVSKY, living in Israel and being fully independent was not easy. She says that it made her see life differently, the bright and the positive alongside the challenges and difficulties.
“One of the difficulties was learning a new language that is completely different from my mother tongue. Another was working to support myself; and, of course, everything it took to connect with new people, a new society and a new culture, a culture that was filled with different norms and seasoned with Israeli chutzpah – a must to learn if one wants to succeed here,” she says with a laugh.
Seselovsky finished her army service in December 2020, at the height of the COVID lockdown. She found gig jobs to support herself, with her eye on going to university.
Attesting to her brilliance, she was accepted to the Technion without having to do a pre-academic preparatory program (mechina), which almost all new immigrants must do. She is majoring in computer science with a specialty in bioinformatics.
“Bioinformatics is an emerging field that uses computer science to understand biological processes,” she explains. “Not only is this fascinating, but it is relevant for the future and opens so many doors for meaningful employment opportunities and for contributing to Israel’s hi-tech sector. I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time.”
Seselovsky turned to Atidim’s Takeoff program to help her to obtain her degree. Takeoff helps bright new immigrants studying engineering or science to get their undergraduate degrees through providing all-encompassing support – tuition, living expenses, tutoring, high-level tutorials and empowerment activities.
“When I was a lone soldier, I felt that my commanders and the army had my back. When I completed my service, it was very hard to be alone again. My study load is so intensive. I feel that Takeoff is like family and will help me to succeed in my studies and to be the best person I can be.”
Seselovsky’s family remains in Santiago, although one of her sisters is thinking of joining her in Israel. Her mother, an architect, and her father, an engineer, have a small contracting business and cannot afford to leave, although they are happy that their daughter is building her life in Israel.
“Maybe one day they will come,” she says hopefully.
Seselovsky has been embraced by her boyfriend Amir’s family, and she loves the warmth and passion of Israelis.
“I am here to stay,” she says, “to be a Jew in Eretz Israel.” ■
Tamara Seselovsky, 26 From Santiago, Chile, to Haifa via Jerusalem, 2018