Seven years after making Aliyah, all three children serve together in IDF

What she saw in the young adults from Israel impressed and inspired her. 'I want our kids to grow up and be that'

WITH CHILDREN Brittany, Benji and Koby (photo credit: BRITTANY AMSEL)
WITH CHILDREN Brittany, Benji and Koby
(photo credit: BRITTANY AMSEL)
Seven years after making aliyah, all three of Kimberly and Nachum Amsel’s children are serving in the IDF. The seeds were planted in 2005, when an Israeli neighbor brought five Israeli shlichim (emissaries) to run a children’s summer camp in West Orange, NJ.
Kimberly developed a strong bond with one of the young women who lived with the Amsels that summer.
“Our kids fell in love with her,” Kimberly recalled. “She was amazing. She was with us for 10 weeks. She left and went traveling and returned to us for Sukkot.”
Through her influence, the Amsel family’s entire trajectory changed.
Kimberly, who attended Hebrew school and came from a family that gave to Israeli causes, had her bond to Israel impacted in a life-changing way by this 21 year-old Israeli, fresh from the army.
What she saw in the young adults from Israel impressed and inspired her.
“I want our kids to grow up and be that,” she realized at the time. “These 20-somethings were so impressive. It was their outlook on life, their demeanor. If this is how Israelis raise their kids, I want my kids to grow up and be like that.”
Aliyah was also a theme in Nachum’s family. His father’s oldest brother “came to Israel in 1969 for a two week vacation and said, ‘Sell my business. I’m never coming back.’” He also has aunts, uncles and cousins living in Israel.
In 2006, the Amsels made their first family visit to Israel and Kimberly was hooked. She told Nachum, “I don’t ever want to leave.”
Since she had summers off from her work as a physical therapist in the public school system, Kimberly spent the next four years working for the camp her children attended. That camp kept the passion for Israel alive.
Nachum was held back by a sense of responsibility. “I didn’t feel it was proper to pick up and go while my parents were elderly,” he said. By 2011, both his parents had passed away.
The Amsels returned to Israel in December 2011. “Friday of that week, we made a bnei mitzvah party for Koby and Brittany for our Israeli relatives. There were 100 people there,” Kimberly recounted.
They also used that visit as a pilot trip. “On this trip, Nachum asked nuts and bolts. How much does milk cost? How much does rent cost?” They looked at a few communities and at the end of the trip, Nachum said, “I think we can do this.”
Six months later, they made aliyah to Ma’aleh Adumim. Benji was in 10th grade, Koby in 8th and Brittany in 7th.
Though there were certainly bumps along the way, Kimberly recalls that there were also successes. Almost as soon as they arrived, Koby “went on a tiyul shnati (field trip) for four days. I signed a form, but I couldn’t read it, so I don’t know what it said,” she laughed.
Kimberly enrolled in ulpan, (intensive Hebrew-language studies) sometimes taking one of her kids who needed a break from being in school six days a week. On Tuesdays, the family had Hebrew Hoagie Night when they ate hoagies and spoke only Hebrew.
About his children’s adjustment to life in Israel, Nachum said, “We threw them in the deep end. It was sink or swim and they all swam. We gave them lots of emotional support and lots of tutoring. We’ve always instilled in our children, ‘We want you to do the best you can do.’”
KIMBERLY ADDED, “It was always about a personal best. It’s never about the number. If you achieved your personal best, we were satisfied.” Nachum proudly commented, “Their personal best always manifested in good numbers.”
Kimberly noted, “[We] did the math before we made aliyah and knew that all the kids would be in service at the same time.” Their attitude was, “We’ll deal with it when it comes.”
Today, all three Amsel children are fluent in Hebrew. “They all broke their teeth talking with their friends and really trying. All of them had English-speaking friends. Now that they are in the army, they have friends that don’t speak English.”
The Amsel children acculturated faster than their parents. “We learned early on that kids in high school are encouraged to make decisions for themselves,” Kimberly explained. “Benji decided he wanted to go to mechina [army preparation] for two years. We never saw it. We didn’t know anything!”
Kimberly described what it was like when Benji was first drafted. “It’s surreal to drop kids at Givat Hatachmoshet [Ammunition Hill]. All the parents are there. They call his name. They give him a sweet. It reminded me of their siddur [prayer book] party. Everybody is teary-eyed. That made me feel better, that the Israeli parents were also like that.
“It was really hard in the beginning, because he was a combat soldier. He got injured and I was hearing stories from another mother who made demands on the army. I felt very humbled and frustrated, because I wanted to help my kid out by yelling at his commander, but I didn’t know how to do it.
“The whole experience was frustrating and I felt helpless. Feeling helpless is a common theme. To some degree, you get used to it. Your kids learn to advocate for themselves. Nachum and I do a lot of reminding our kids how proud we are of them and how they are often better at advocating for themselves.”
Benji served for 18 months before Koby drafted. “When Koby comes home, he and Benji have their own language. They have abbreviations for everything. By that point, we had enough friends that we knew that the kids would be smelly, sleep for 48 hours and wake just to eat.
“I have learned to subscribe to the Harry Potter theory to keep your children safe,” Kimberly explained. “The reason why Harry Potter was safe from Voldemort was because of his mother’s love.
“We bake lots of cookies, ooga shel imma. They carry their mother’s love in them. We send them back on Sundays and that’s what keeps them safe. That’s what keeps me safe. I bake a lot of cookies.”
Their youngest, Brittany, originally planned to do national service. She changed her mind and was drafted on July 31, 2019, joining her two brothers in active service. She felt more ambitious than the first position she was assigned to demanded, so she got accepted into a course that will allow her to contribute in a more meaningful way.
Today, Benji is an officer, working for the army’s rabbanut. Kimberly describes it as overseeing “Jewish life on campus – all things culturally Jewish and religious.” He extended his service and will finish in November 2020.
Koby is also scheduled to finish at the end of 2020. He serves in a combat unit, doing border patrol. It takes him six hours, but he comes home every other weekend.
More than anything, Kimberly describes herself as, “super, super proud. Down to my innermost core, I am proud. My son will send me a picture and I will have it made up as a plaque. My screen saver is my three kids in uniform.”
Nachum is also “unbelievably proud.” He feels his deceased parents “are also unbelievably proud at what our kids are doing.”
Kimberly is confident they have been successful raising kids who emulate the young Israelis who originally inspired her. “I think that we got it! From now on, it doesn’t even matter. They are already just amazing people,” she concluded.