Arrivals: Michael Schapira: From California to Jerusalem

"I'm Israeli, but I'm never going to be 100 percent Israeli and I'm not 100% American anymore."

Michael Schapira 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Michael Schapira 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Birthplace: Sunnyvale, California Aliya date: September 1, 2004 Occupation: Student Family status: Single Michael Schapira, a charismatic young man with great hair, is a student in the science preparatory program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a relatively recent arrival. "Sending money and letting somebody else's kids risk their lives didn't sit well with me," says Schapira, explaining his reasoning for making aliya. The grandson of Holocaust survivors, he understood the importance of Israel from a very early age. He grew up as a Zionist and as he got older his connection with Israel deepened. Asked whether he thinks he made the right decision in making aliya, Schapira reflects on the past four years, "When you're doing guard duty by yourself at 3 a.m., you have a lot of time to think about where you could have been and where you are. I'm happy with my decision and I feel like I have become fully integrated into Israeli society," he says. BEFORE ARRIVAL Schapira attended South Peninsula Hebrew Day School in Sunnyvale for elementary school and Menlo School for high school. High school was when his love for Israel began to really flourish. "I was in high school during the time of the second intifada and I found myself becoming more and more interested in Israel," he says. "When issues about Israel came up in school, I was on the pro-Israel side." UPON ARRIVAL After Schapira's year in Israel with Young Judaea he decided to make aliya. When he returned home for the summer he broke the news to his parents, who were somewhat less than happy with his decision. Once in Israel, he joined a program called Garin Tzabar, which helps lone soldiers to acclimate. After his time spent on a kibbutz with the program, he enlisted. In the IDF, Schapira joined Battalion 50 of the Nahal Brigade, which is made up of one-third native English speakers. "They understood what I was going through, which was important," he says. After his compulsory two and a half years of service, he went to officer's school and served for an extra year. During the Second Lebanon War, his unit served on the front lines. He was visiting family in the US at the time, but returned to join his unit soon after learning that the war had started. Fortunately no one in his unit was hurt. "We were lucky," he says. "All my friends came back the way they went in." FAMILY HISTORY "I grew up thinking that your father's parents had European accents and your mother's parents had New York accents," says Schapira of his grandparents. His maternal grandfather served in the US Army during World War II and his paternal grandparents are Holocaust survivors. "My grandfather was in a labor camp and when he heard that my grandmother, who was in another camp, was going to be moved, he used wire cutters to break her out. When they came to America, she weighed 72 pounds," says Schapira, clearly proud of grandfather's bravery. Morey Schapira, Michael's father, co-founded the organization Action for Soviet Jewry in 1975 as a response to the struggle of Jews in the Soviet Union to emigrate and to live freely as Jews. He now works in the hi-tech industry. His mother, Barbara,is involved in different volunteer projects in the Jewish community, including an exhibit called, "X-ray Project," which shows the effects of terror by displaying the X rays of terror victims. In addition to her volunteer work, Barbara is busy planning the wedding of one of Michael's older sisters, Debbie. His other sister is named Rachel. The Barnovsky family of Moshav Sde Ya'acov in the Jezreel Valley adopted Michael soon after he made aliya. He now has six younger siblings; Tom, Noam, Yael, Yuval, Yair and Hallel. Tom has a baby, Amishav. "It's nice after being the youngest child to now have younger siblings," muses Schapira. LIVING ENVIRONMENT "I've kind of been nomadic," admits Schapira, who spends his time commuting between the student dorms in Jerusalem and his adopted family's home on the weekends. ROUTINE He is currently a full time student in Hebrew U's preparatory program in the science track and his spare time is spent studying for the psychometric exam. "My routine is class, gym and study," he says. He plans on going into medical school or another biology related field. HOBBIES "My favorite pastime is reading all the Israeli newspapers on Shabbat and then falling asleep on the couch," admits Schapira. "I like staying up on current events." He also enjoys keeping up with sports in America. Like many Israelis of his generation, he has the travel bug. "I didn't really have a choice," he says jokingly. "As soon as I got out of the army, I started growing up my hair, picked up my pack and went to South America." He visited Peru, Bolivia and Mexico and met Israelis on every corner. "People would talk to me in Hebrew right away," he says. "No wonder most natives in far off jungles think that Israel is one of the biggest countries in the world." CIRCLE He describes his circle of friends as "an eclectic mix of ethnicities" from all different periods of his life. He has his childhood friends, friends from the army and now school friends. "They don't like me being this far away," he says about his friends in the United States. He describes his army friends as "a pretty great group of guys. With the experience you go through in the army, things are going to click or you're going to hate each other." LANGUAGE From very early on, Schapira had a basic understanding of Hebrew. Growing up in a Jewish day school his Hebrew improved and by the time he got here it was "not bad," as he puts it. After making aliya he spent six months speaking Hebrew all day every day. "I would come home with headaches at night from concentrating so hard," he says. For Schapira, being fluent in Hebrew was of paramount importance. "When I came here I wasn't exactly fluent in Hebrew and now I can't speak English anymore," he jokes. At this point in the conversation, his army friend Asaf calls and they start speaking in Hebrew. "Asaf is from Texas, but when we talk we switch between languages without noticing," says Schapira. "When we talk about army stuff, it's easier to just say it in Hebrew." RELIGION Raised in a Conservative home, he now considers himself "traditional." His adopted family on the moshav is religious and he went to a religious day school. He has experienced all the different traditions and says that his favorite part of Shabbat is Friday night services. "I prefer synagogues that sing more," he says. IDENTIFICATION "I'm kind of a hybrid," he explains. "I'm Israeli, but I'm never going to be 100 percent Israeli and I'm not 100% American anymore." In the period before his interest in Israel piqued, Shapira says that he felt like an American who happened to be Jewish. During his participation in the Young Judaea year course he began to he see himself as a Jew who is also an American. PLANS/ DREAMS When asked about his plans and dreams, Schapira pauses thoughtfully, "In the next few years I'm going to be getting myself an education, anything past that is just kind of scary," he admits. Medical school is a distinct possibility. He's planning on staying here, but is willing to wait and see what the future holds. "Life happens and you've just got to go with it," he says. "If you asked me in senior year of high school where I would be in 2009, the last thing I would have told you is getting ready to start university." To propose an immigrant for an 'Arrivals' profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: