Arrivals: From Virginia to the IDF, Jordan Katz

"I get a relatively good paycheck. As a lone soldier I get NIS 1,400 a month."

Jordan Katz 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jordan Katz 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
'I've had a roller-coaster of experiences," says Jordan Katz, a lone soldier from Arlington, Virginia, who made aliya to enlist in the IDF. Even for Israelis, going into the army constitutes culture shock, but for lone soldiers, who come here without their families, it's several times as hard. Not only do they have to adapt to the stringencies of army life, but they're also faced with an unfamiliar culture, learning Hebrew and having to rent an apartment and fend for themselves when they're off duty. When Israelis take their weekly leave, they retreat to the comfort of family, friends, home-cooked meals and someone to do their laundry. Lone soldiers don't have any of those luxuries. It's not uncommon for things like birthdays to get lost in the transition. "My 24th birthday fell on Rosh Hashana," Katz says. "I thought it was nice that I was invited to my platoon leader's house. We had a really nice dinner, but afterward, he told me I had to go back to the base. It seemed pretty horrible, having to go back on my birthday, after that nice dinner. But when I got there, I was so surprised - he'd arranged a big birthday party for me. Everyone was there, and his mom had even baked a cake! It was great, just wonderful. I was so happy." FAMILY BACKGROUND "I'm an only child," Katz says. "No brothers or sisters. My father is a lawyer, my mother a teacher. Our family has been in the States for generations." EDUCATION Katz attended Washington University in St. Louis, where he earned a degree in psychology and Arabic. "I first started studying Arabic because I wanted to learn to read and write it. Then I realized I liked it, so I just kept on." BEFORE ARRIVAL Katz didn't start thinking about aliya until he was a university sophomore. "As a kid, I didn't go to any Jewish schools, but then I did birthright, which was amazing. My father and I had visited Israel several times, too, and had great experiences. In my senior year, I just made the decision. I knew I'd have plenty of time to get a job, go to law school or medical school, but that I only had a short amount of time to do something really constructive, like coming to live in Israel, serving in the army, doing something good for the country. There was only one opportunity to do that, and that was now, while I was young. So that was it. I came. "Lots of people tried to dissuade me. An Israeli I met in the US kept saying, 'No, no, don't do it!' My friends in college thought I was nuts: 'So what are you doing after graduation?' they'd say. And I'd answer, 'I'm going to Israel to join the army!' Right, it sounded a little crazy. But I graduated in May and in June I was on an airplane. "Saying good-bye to my parents was very hard - my mom and dad took me to the plane. My father said, "I don't know if I could have done this - set everything up, go to Israel and get into the army'. He keeps using a line from some movie I've never seen, 'Jordan, you're made of stronger stuff!' I know they're both very proud of me." AFTER ARRIVAL "I came on a Nefesh B'Nefesh flight, but there wasn't anyone there to meet me when I arrived at the airport. I took my taxi ride to Jerusalem, because I was going to a month-long ulpan at Hebrew University. I lived in the dorms, so that was fine." POSSESSIONS Katz travels light. "All I brought was a suitcase and a backpack. I had some clothing, my computer and my iPod - which I just lost, somehow. Maybe it fell out of my pocket. Losing my iPod is really tough." MILITARY "I went into the army in early December, pretty soon after aliya. I was 23 at the time, and so I was only required to enlist for six months. But I wanted to be a combat soldier, so I signed up for two years. "I was really lucky, because I had help from Garin Tzabar, an organization that helps men who want to make aliya and serve in the army. They set the whole thing up for me, found me a kibbutz to live on, helped with the paperwork involved in getting drafted. If I hadn't had their help, it would have taken me a year to get into the army. They were great." LIVING ENVIRONMENT Katz hopes to move soon into a Tel Aviv apartment with friends, but at the moment he's renting a small apartment on a kibbutz. He has a roommate, and their apartment includes a half-kitchen with small refrigerator, a toaster and electric kettle, a bathroom, a closet and two beds. "The dining room is open only on Friday nights, so I make most of my meals myself. I have an adoptive family on the kibbutz which helps, but it's still lonely. It's hard to live in Israel, period. But it's really hard to live here as a lone soldier." LANGUAGE "My Hebrew is terrible. In the beginning, I'd just stand in the back and do what everyone else did. I'd hear the commander talk, and if everyone started to run, I'd run too. By this time, I can understand orders. I've learned a fair amount of slang, too, not all of it very nice." FINANCES "I get a relatively good paycheck. As a lone soldier, I get paid more, and then I get another boost in pay because I'm a combat soldier. Basically, I get NIS 1,400 a month, plus subsidies for rent, groceries and laundry. It's okay, it's enough to get by - but I don't have a lot of luxuries." FAITH "I'm not religious at all, but I was active in my Reform temple's youth group, growing up." CIRCLE "I'm friends with all the guys in my unit - they're nice guys, there's one other American. Most of my friends are Israelis, but the problem is they want to improve their English, so they speak to me in English. I could answer in Hebrew, but hey, if it makes my life easier right now to just answer in English, that's what I'm going to do." IDENTIFICATION "I'm American. I like Israel, I like being here. I'm in the Israeli army, but through and through, I'm an American." PLANS With a little more than a year of his army commitment left, Katz hasn't made long-term plans. "When I'm done, I'll study here, get my master's, so that's three years. I haven't planned any farther ahead than that. I know my father would like me to go to law school, so that's a possibility, but I just don't know yet. Sometime soon I hope I meet a nice girl. That would be nice. "This has been an interesting experience. The work is very hard; it's very lonely. It's not easy to be a soldier, and it's really not easy to live here alone. So I work hard; I bust my butt; I don't get much sleep; I don't eat much; I do stuff that's semi-dangerous out there in the field. But then I come back to my little apartment, and it's Shabbat. Even though I'm not religious, I have a strong sense of satisfaction and accomplishment about what I've done. I know I'm doing something that's good for myself and good for Israel, too, just by being here, doing what I can. At the end of the day, that's what it comes down to: I feel good about what I'm doing." 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