Moving to Israel alone, requires a degree of maturity and strength to "make it" on your own. I moved there thinking I did not need anyone, I was sure I could join the army and live in the country without a program like "Garin Tzabar." Boy was I wrong! Every now and then I hear of other soldiers who made aliyah and are considered lone soldiers. They didn''t join programs like "Garin Tzabar," they simply moved here and enlisted. I give those soldiers a great deal of "kavod" (respect) for it takes ample courage to move without a single helping hand. It also takes a bit of a loose screw, in my opinion.
Back when I first arrived at the kibbutz and met my "garin" I was overcome by emotions and excitement, somehow missing my family was pushed to the corners of my brain and thus for the first few weeks, I felt nothing towards what I left behind. Time, as it is supposed to, passed by and then, it hit me, the realization that it was morning time in Israel and all I wanted at that specific moment was to speak to my mommy, brother and sister. However, due to the time differences, I had to wait. I realized then and there, that even though I felt strong and confident in my ability to "make it" on my own, I was no longer living six hours away at the University of Florida, but rather 12 hours away, by flight.
The kibbutz provided each "garin" member a host family, a family to turn to when time differences didn''t allow you to speak to your "real" family, a family to go to for dinners, a family to provide emotional support. Oddly enough, my host family is, in fact, my family, somehow we are related. To be honest, the host family idea is superb, but for the right sort of person. It was difficult juggling the phone calls with my "real" family as well as with my "fake" family. At first it was awkward to suddenly have a host sister, brother, sister, brother and two new parents. I now realize that my approach to the whole idea was wrong, these families are not meant to replace what you have at "home" rather they are here to help and make you feel as if you are not entirely alone. They are also a great place to do laundry.
As time rolled on, I discovered I had new distant family members who popped up across the face of Israel, I have yet to meet most of them due to my army schedule, but the knowledge that there are people to turn to for such things as Friday night dinner is comforting.
Another comfort is that lone soldiers have some extra benefits than regular soldiers. The salary is higher, the army pays for a flight back home for 30 days, more vacation days, and for certain holidays, the army provides some perks. Overall, it may not sound like much, but any bit helps.
Often, I think back on life as a student, comparing my life now to then, with a part time job as a sandwich artist (seriously), I had a nifty bank account, my own car, and was quite comfortable. Now, I travel by public transportation, have to ask people if they can pick me up and drop me off, carry a large duffle bag which holds most of my life''s contents. Like a nomad, I come and go as I please, traveling the country visiting friends, and I survive.
This transformation from once being a daughter, sister and student to becoming a soldier who needs to live on her own, is and was not easy. There are no phone calls to your mom asking her to go to the bank and run your errands. You become responsible for yourself. The move to Israel, the decision to join the IDF, is the first real step toward adulthood. A process which would need to take place eventually no matter where you hail from.
Being a lone soldier has taught me a great deal about who I am, I am alone in Israel, even though I have many great friends, a host family, distant family, no matter what, I am alone here. Occasionally, I daydream about walking through the front door of our house in the US, but now that doorframe is here, in Israel. I walk in, dressed in my army uniform with my colossal duffle bag on my back, I walk in to the sound of my mother''s soothing voice and the smell of my father''s cooking, and I get teary eyed because that image is beautiful, and I know I will never be able to walk through their door. I have a new door now.