Emily Rose and Aviv Eisenstat in the Israel Defence Forces’ officer’s training school in 2008. (photo from Emily Rose)
When Emily Rose, 28, moved to Israel almost 10 years ago, her plan was to serve in the Israel Defence Forces and then return to Winnipeg. It didn’t happen quite as planned.
Rose was born in Odessa, Tex., and grew up in Winnipeg. Taking a similar road as many Jewish kids in the city, Rose studied at Gray Academy of Jewish Education (GAJE).
“The Winnipeg Jewish community is truly saturated with role models for social justice and it had a major impact on me growing up,” said Rose. “I grew up watching my aunt, Faye Rosenberg, who works for our Jewish community, help bring hundreds of Jews to Winnipeg from Argentina, where they suffered from antisemitism, and watching my best friend’s dad work tirelessly in court to help victims of residential schools receive compensation from the government.
“Winnipeg is an incredibly Zionist and supportive community,” she added. “The longer I am away, the more I appreciate what a wonderful community it really is.”
When Rose was 14, she went to Israel on a Jewish Federation of Winnipeg Partnership 2000 (or Gesher Chai) trip, which sent 10 high school students from GAJE to their sister school, Danziger, in Kiryat Shmona.
She fell in love with the city and the people. “My host family had three sisters and I was thrilled because, up until then, I only had big brothers. And, I remember writing to my mom, ‘Now I have three sisters!’ on the first night. I realized at that point that all my new friends in Israel would be going to the army soon and I remember thinking I had the responsibility to do that as well.”
This is what led Rose to move to Israel at the age of 18, starting with a mechina (a pre-military program) in her first year there.
She lived in Sde Boker in southern Israel and volunteered as an English teacher’s aide in an unrecognized Bedouin village. “Can you think of anything more polar opposite to a very cold Winnipeg, Man., than the middle of the Negev Desert?” she quipped.
“Your first year in Israel is always the most challenging, I think. There were a lot of tears. I was the only foreigner in the program, so I had to learn Hebrew very quickly. But, the program itself was also very intense, because we had classes every day and political tours and hikes every month.”
Something Rose was especially thrilled about in Israel was getting to sleep outside. As a child, she eagerly anticipated going to summer camp for canoe trips and sleeping under the stars.
“When you see the stars in the Negev, you really think it’s got to be the best seat in the house,” said Rose. “And, that first year, my roommate used to wonder why I’d always drag my sleeping bag out of our room to sleep outside.”
The next year, Rose joined the IDF as a lone soldier and served as a combat fitness officer. She recalled that some of her trainees used to call her “M&M,” as she was “hard on the outside, but sweet on the inside (and very small).”
She added, “My first job was training infantry soldiers on a combat training base where I worked with a unique battalion of Druze soldiers. The soldiers I worked with spoke Arabic. This really sparked my interest in the language, which is why I studied Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) in school.”
Today, Rose serves in reserve duty in Jerusalem’s Homefront Command. Her job is to communicate with the civilian population in Jerusalem during times of emergency.
A few years after her IDF service, Rose volunteered at the Michael Levin Centre for Lone Soldiers, which helps soldiers before, during and after their service. At the centre, the first thing she was asked to do was to tell those thinking about joining the IDF “don’t.”
Rose explained, “If we couldn’t convince them not to, then we’d help them as much as we possibly could. Nobody told me not to join the IDF, but also no one would have been able to convince me not to. And, the day I joined, I remember I wasn’t nervous – I just knew it was the right decision.
“I also didn’t plan on staying. I thought I’d serve for two years and then return to Canada. Here I am, almost 10 years later.”
After the army, Rose took Middle Eastern studies (along with MSA) at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She still lives in Jerusalem, where she recently started writing for the Times of Israel.
Just prior to that, she was an editor at Israel National News, where, she said, she mostly wrote the breaking news but also covered longer form stories. “A few weeks ago,” she said, “I broke a story with exclusive footage of a former Australian minister who got caught in a firefight clash between Kurdish forces and ISIS in Iraq.
“The plight of the Kurdish people is an issue that is very close to my heart. I jumped at the chance to write about it. I’m also so proud to say I come from Winnipeg, [as] our Jewish community sponsors Operation Ezra, bringing Yazidi refugees safely to Canada.”
When on leave from the army a few years back, Rose returned to GAJE to speak to the students. When she visited Winnipeg this past summer, some community women stopped to say hello to her and her mom. “One of them told me that her grandson was going to be a lone solider, an IDF paratrooper, this fall … and she said that I’d spoken to him when he was in high school,” said Rose. “That was very nice, like coming full circle.”
Currently, Rose is working on a short story collection, a novel and three plays.
Her first play was presented at the JCC Berney Theatre in Winnipeg in 2006, the year she graduated high school. Called Radyo, it is about a group of high school kids in Kiryat Shmona who run their local high school radio station during the Second Intifada.
“The second play is a children’s musical I wrote called Don’t Touch the Glutch, which was performed as a part of the Next Wave of Musicals Festival in Montreal and then at the Centaur Theatre children’s series in 2013. It’s about a boy who gets lost in the zoo on a school field trip and discovers that the zoo has a whole host of strange creatures that only come out at night. My brother wrote the music and lyrics and I wrote the book. The show has an anti-bullying theme, because it’s a topic we both feel very strongly about.”
When asked about her feelings about Israel, Rose quoted Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook: “The truly righteous do not complain about evil, but rather add justice; they do not complain about heresy, but rather add faith; they do not complain about ignorance, but rather add wisdom.”
She added, “Israel is in everything I write, in some form or another, and, though I may not always succeed, I try my best to contribute justice, faith and wisdom with my words.
“For now, I love reporting the news as it happens. Israelis, and those who care about Israel, want to stay informed and I feel privileged to be working with a team that is very committed to keeping our readers updated at all times.”
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.