My Israel story – a memorable homecoming
With Israel marking 75 years since independence this year, The AJN is asking readers to share their stories and photos of visiting the Holy Land. This week, Deborah Maybloom, national community manager at The AJN, recalls how her shnat year took an unexpected turn.
My parents used to tell me stories of their childhood growing up in Israel. I always imagined it was hot, dusty and unrelentingly hard. I visualised my German grandparents making a ‘life’ from the fallout of all they knew in Europe, arriving in Palestine in the very late 1930s with nothing more than a suitcase and their lives. I recall their stories of subsistence living, absent fathers, scorpions and growing up ‘free range’ while their parents struggled.
So, my gap year in Israel in 1982 was a ‘homecoming’ that I felt both trepidatious and excited about. Years of weekly Habo meetings and learning about Israel had given me a strong sense of connection to the land of my people and history. I leapt at the chance to be there, anticipating that physically being on the land would charge me and normalise the ‘otherness’ I felt as a child of immigrants.
And in reflection, I think my Machon year did exactly that.
From my Kitah Gimmel Ulpan classes – where learning basic Hebrew gave me access to a sacred language that felt so delicious on my tongue as I began to form words and sentences and then take my new language skills and enthusiasm out to the streets – to the fabulous tiyulim, where we travelled the length and breadth of Israel’s borders, which still included the Sinai – we saw everything, walking through our history, ancient and modern. Our young minds were challenged by history, Jewish studies, philosophy, ethics, politics and the challenges of simply being young adults.
As we approach Israel’s 75th year of independence, I fondly remember touring Latrun and various war memorials on Yom Hashoah, participating in solemn observance for the fallen on Yom Hazikaron, and followed almost immediately by celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut on the streets of Jerusalem. To me, it was a frenzy of joy. Strangers, who felt like family, all came together celebrating wildly for our Israel. I will never forget how deeply connected and euphoric I felt that night. Maybe it was my youth and idealism, or perhaps it was some epigenetic connection by birthright, I can’t say.
A couple of months later, a group of us decided to spend the weekend in Netanya. I don’t know whose bright idea it was to camp on the beach, but we all seemed to think it was perfectly reasonable. After a delightful afternoon of swimming and sun-baking, we pulled out our sleeping bags for the evening. However, there was no rest to be had. All night, jet helicopters sped up the coast as Israeli forces were mobilised for the attack on Beirut. It shocked us out of our minds. We hurried back to the Machon in Jerusalem, only to find that our male teachers had disappeared, drafted back into the military.
Machon ended abruptly and we found ourselves doing hard labour in a young kibbutz in desperate need of able bodies to continue the work abandoned by the miluimniks (reservists).
My friends and I felt like the halutzim of Israel’s foundation days. It was the hottest week I can ever remember; the only respite came when we accidentally-on-purpose broke the irrigation lines in the fields so that we could cool ourselves off. We worked together in the stony fields, we sang rousing songs, we slept on the floor of a crowded dormitory, schvitzing but deeply satisfied in our exhaustion. We felt needed, valued and part of our ongoing story.
Looking back, it is funny how closely my gap year in Israel resembled the stories my parents told, and yet, ironically, I found those hot and dusty memories to be such highlights of my time there.
SHARE YOUR ISRAEL STORY
How to participate:
- Collate 10 to 15 high-resolution images from a trip to Israel.
- Email [email protected] with the email header MY ISRAEL STORY, and include your FULL NAME, MOBILE NUMBER, and HIGH-RES IMAGES from your selected trip.
- One of our journalists will be in contact to find out more
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