Here’s what I’m doing to keep Israel safe

American lone soldiers celebrate Thanksgiving in 2010.
Photo by Ori Shifrin, IDF Spokesperson’s Film Unit

By Jacob Basser

Graduating college is an exciting time for any young adult. There are so many options available and different routes to take as you begin to carve out how you want your life to be.

For me, that path has always been clear: aliyah.

Growing up in a Zionist household in Georgetown, the notion that Israel is the homeland for the Jewish people was firmly ingrained in me from a young age.

Both my brother and I attended Jewish Primary Day (now the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School) and once we graduated and continued our education in a non-religious school, we felt something was missing in our lives. Despite how fortunate we were, we still longed to be a part of a Jewish community in our day-to-day routine. As a result, and over time, we became more conscious of attending shul and observing kashrut.

In retrospect, I think this journey toward taking religion more seriously is what steered me toward my path of aliyah.

Now that I’m finally in Israel, I remember those days at Jewish day school fondly. Specifically, the lessons where we learned about the IDF and the importance of respecting and valuing the sacrifice of its soldiers. Now, as a participant in the Garin Tzabar program, after making aliyah with Nefesh B’Nefesh, I’m looking forward to being one of those soldiers, not only because of what I was taught at a young age, but also because I want to become a citizen that gives back, not only by physically being here, but also in action. Most Israelis my age (and younger) experience the IDF as a rite of passage. If I truly want to integrate into society, then I want to have that shared experience.

During a visit to Israel a few years ago, while my American friends and I were preparing to take the SATs, my Israeli friends were beginning their basic training. The idea that young people give so much back to their country at such a young age is something that should not be taken for granted.

In a way, making aliyah is also fulfilling my family legacy. My great-grandparents were chalutzim (pioneers) who eventually moved to the United States. Israel, then, was always a topic of discussion in my home, where we’d speak about her significance, value and why we must keep her safe at all costs.

I know there will be challenges along the way. My Hebrew, while acceptable, is nowhere near fluent and I’ve accepted I’ll be a little rough around the edges when communicating with my fellow soldiers once I begin my service.

However, ultimately, I believe every person that comes to Israel with the goal of enriching the Jewish state benefits the nation as a whole.

As someone who visited Israel often and loved every minute of it, those trips only reinforced the fact that I don’t want to be a visitor in my homeland and living here is where I need to be at this moment of my life.

When you hear of other aliyah stories, many wax poetic about the beautiful beaches and amazing food that drew them to coming here. While those aspects of living here are certainly a perk, my main selling point in making aliyah was the most obvious one: the opportunity to live in the heart of Jewish life.

My aliyah flight only underscored this fact. On my Nefesh B’Nefesh flight were people of a variety of backgrounds and levels of religious observance. But the one thing we all had in common? We were all Jews eager to come home.

As for the future, like many young people, I’m still trying to navigate what kind of adult I want to be. While I studied for the GREs and plan on enrolling in graduate school, my plans for the future are not set in stone. I do know, however, that I want to serve Israel and continue contributing to the country. After my service, while I may no longer be donning a gun and boots while doing so, I’m looking to explore other professional avenues where I can come to her defense.

Jacob Basser made aliyah from Washington in July.

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