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From the time I made aliyah in August 2009 until quite recently, I lived on a kibbutz up in Northern Israel in the Golan Heights with 18 other new “olim” who also made aliyah as part of "Garin Tzabar."
“Garin Tzabar,” is a program run by the Friends of Israel Scouts, Inc – Tzofim, formed for Diaspora Jews and sons/daughters of Israelis who choose to move to Israel and serve in the IDF. The program, which brings together young people from every continent who want to make aliyah, provides seminars so the participants can socialize and get to know one another. After four or so months of teaching and guiding in their home country, the group makes aliyah and goes to its destined living spot. Each "garin" resides in a different kibbutz and each "garin" comes from a similar geographical region. Funny enough, because I signed up so late for the program, the only "garin" that had space was the international group from Europe. So even though I struggled with not feeling at home in the U.S., I soon became part of the European lot in Israel, wherein must lie some traces of irony.
Being one of the few Americans in the group felt odd, I was a foreigner to them and visa-versa. I was in Israel readjusting to the country from which I had my best memories, and at the same time I was learning the differences between the accents from North London, Manchester, Liverpool...they all seemed so different to me. And I loved it! In a matter of weeks, I felt whole. The emptiness that followed me in my early teens was gone, it was filled with a feeling I hadn''t felt in years, perhaps never, a feeling of belonging.
The group came from various countries across Europe: England, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark. The ages were quite similar, most were 18 or 19, three of us had already passed the bump of 20. For the first few months, we focused on coming together as a group, becoming a family and support group in a country where most hardly had any family.
At times living on the kibbutz was difficult and slightly boring, we were surrounded by nothing, well close to nothing: cows, hills and fields of dirt. We were surrounded by nature. Most of us had come from cities where nights out were an every day occurrence, where public transportation was the method of choice and where smog filled the air and our lungs. But in the Golan there was just silence.
For the first three months until we all joined the army in October, most “garin” members attended ulpan and learned Hebrew. While they studied, I worked in several jobs such as picking grapes, apples, gardening...
The experience of living on the Kibbutz is one I will cherish. For me, an aspiring writer, there is something chimerical about the idea of living out in the back country. For the dreamer and Emerson fan in me, living on the Kibbutz was definitely something on my to-do list, however, for the then 20- year-old, it was difficult, and in many ways I felt stuck being there.
Many of the “garin” members complained and felt bored when on the kibbutz but again, it was a different lifestyle for many so it took time to adjust. We learned how to occupy our time in different ways, there were no cafes or shopping malls in walking distance so we walked, talked, and discovered the beauty of Northern Israel. In many ways it felt like going back to a different age of time, where the TV had not yet been invented, where cars were a thought of the future, where people survived with the basics.
The kibbutz was my welcome mat to Israel. There I met my best friends, and lived with beauty and peace surrounding me.
Until the next time,