Vancouverite Maya Gur-Arieh was among the 57 soon-to-be-enlisted Israel Defence Forces lone soldiers who landed at Ben Gurion Airport on Aug. 15. (photo by Gil Zohar)
A happy crowd of approximately 2,000 people – family and friends, along with eight members of the Knesset and assorted officials – arrived at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel at 6 a.m. on Aug. 15 to welcome the second plane of Nefesh b’Nefesh olim (immigrants) and returning citizens to touch down this summer. On board were 239 newcomers, including olim hailing from British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and 24 American states.
The reception at Terminal 4, a hangar adjoining the tarmac, festooned with banners, featured hora dancing, shofar blowing, tears of joy and shouts of “welcome home” and “mazal tov.” The newcomers varied from babies to retirees, including 30 families, 90 children and three sets of twins. But it was the 57 soon-to-be-enlisted Israel Defence Forces lone soldiers, wearing T-shirts emblazoned in Hebrew with “Ascending to an army uniform,” who garnered most of the accolades.
Among these future IDF soldiers was Maya Gur-Arieh, 18, who was born in Ashkelon but moved with her family to Vancouver when she was six months old. Keen to enlist for the past 24 months, she told the Jewish Independent, “I’m really happy I’m here. I’m really looking forward to my service. I really recommend Garin Tzabar.”
The program, affiliated with the Hebrew Scouts Movement in Israel and largely funded by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, facilitates service in the IDF and provides a support system for Israelis and Jews from the Diaspora serving in the army who do not have at least one parent living in Israel.
Lone soldiers receive a higher basic salary from the IDF, as well as financial assistance from the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the Ministry of Housing. Lone soldiers in combat units receive a monthly salary of NIS 3,100 ($1,200 Cdn), according to the Garin Tzabar website, and they are given help with housing and the right to extra time off, including 30 days per year to visit family overseas.
Gur-Arieh said she attended four Garin Tzabar programs in San Francisco, at her own expense, in anticipation of joining Zahal, the Hebrew acronym for the IDF.
In heading to Israel, she is following a Gur-Arieh family tradition, she said – her two older sisters both served as lone soldiers, one as an artillery instructor and the other as a combat engineering instructor. Both became officers, she said with pride. One of her sisters is making a career in the IDF.
Gur-Arieh doesn’t know where she will be serving since she hasn’t done the battery of physical and psychological tests that all draftees must complete before being assigned to a unit. Like her sisters, she, too, would like to be an instructor in a combat unit.
Until she is drafted, Gur-Arieh – whose surname means lion cub – will be living at Kibbutz Kissufim on the Gaza periphery. Asked about the tensions in the south and the rockets, mortars and incendiary balloons and kites from Gaza that have targeted her adopted home, she was nonplussed.
Founded in 2002, Nefesh b’Nefesh has assisted in bringing 57,000 Jews to Israel from Canada, the United States and Britain. The organization currently assists 3,200 soldiers in its lone soldier program.
The Aug. 15 Nefesh b’Nefesh charter flight was paid for by Heidi Rothberg of Denver, Colo.
Gil Zohar is a journalist based in Jerusalem.