Princesses of the desert

"I always knew I would be making aliya one day," says Zara Brooks. "It was a question of when, not if." On February 20, 2002, at the height of the second intifada, she and her husband decided the time had arrived. "The political turmoil and the terrorist attacks didn't phase us much," Zara says of their timing to make aliya to Ra'anana from England. "When you're committed to the idea of living here in Israel and making your life here, you take the good with the bad, and you know that it isn't always a bed of roses. It is what it is." And although life is harder in Israel and her husband has to work longer hours than before, Zara still manages to find time for new challenges and ways to help people in the Israeli community. A long-standing member of the Emunah charity that raises money for children in Israel, Zara was determined to continue the efforts she began in England. "People in the Anglo community have a tendency to make aliya and think that's enough," she says. "We need to start looking inwards to see how we can make a bigger difference in Israel, and being involved with charities is one way to accomplish that." For Zara, who is a psychologist with a master's degree in organizational psychology, one of the largest needs in Israel is manifested by the fact that 30 percent of Israeli children live below the poverty line. She is determined to personally help as many as she can. In less than two months, she and 19 other Jewish women are going to participate in an unforgettable odyssey that will take them through the deserts, cities and mountains of Israel. The event, entitled "Princesses of the Desert," was conceptualized by the British Emunah branch to promote the Land of Israel, raise money for the children and spread awareness about social work. In order to participate, each woman has to raise 15,000, the equivalent of approximately NIS 120,000, and be prepared to "rough it" with Maj. Ken Hames, the military leader of the expedition who will hand out challenges and guide the women. Zara, who has just started her fund-raising efforts, is not sure what to expect and says finding enough sponsors to participate financially will be the hardest part of it all. Of course, she has yet to meet the challenges that lie ahead in the desert. And although rumors of camel riding and jeep-racing abound, the secrets of exactly what the women will face is being guarded with determination by Hames and the top officials at Emunah. "A lot of Israelis are unaware of the poverty here, and we need to get that message out and show people how beautiful Israel really is," says Zara. One of the goals of the upcoming event is to prove that Jewish women, often accused of being "princesses," can leave their make-up, shoes and showers behind for a 10-day trek through the wild. Each of the women will be paired with a child, and Zara, who has two small boys of her own, says this will really make their efforts tangible. "We are going to try to give these children the opportunity for a better life, and to participate in something like this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing that I could not resist," she says with enthusiasm. For as long as she can remember, Zara says she felt she would only be able to truly fulfill herself as a Jew by living in Israel, which would entail leaving her comfortable home in the Diaspora. She wanted her children to be born and raised in Israel, and she wanted to build her life here, despite the hardships and trials. In the upcoming months she hopes to make a difference in the life of at least one Israeli child. "I wanted to do something that required hard work and dedication, and participating in this is going to be great fun and will help hundreds of children at the same time," says Zara. "I'm glad to have the opportunity to be a part of it."