• Twin brothers Ari and Eli Berman signed up for Garin Tzabar together

    Kobi Hershberg, The Jewish Agency for Israel ©

They fight for Israel. We make sure they have support.

Every year, hundreds of young Jewish adults from around the world make Aliyah and enlist in the IDF through the Garin Tzabar program. Although the new recruits come to Israel alone, the program provides them with an "instant family." In partnership with the Israel Scouts movement, Garin Tzabar emphasizes communal life, learning Hebrew, and building a support structure for these young heroes.

For Jewish young adults from around the world who want to make Aliyah, the IDF is many things: a source of pride, a challenge, a path to becoming Israeli, a duty. But for many of these future olim, there is one thing the IDF is not: familiar. That’s why, for some young immigrants facing all the challenges of army life, having a strong network of family and friends in Israel can make all the difference. 

That understanding of the critical role of a young person’s support system is at the core of Garin Tzabar, a program with a unique approach to helping young adults succeed in their Aliyah and military service. Every year, hundreds of young Jews living outside Israel start meeting in groups called garinim, forming communities and preparing to move to Israel. After several months of intensive seminars, a garin will make Aliyah together, move to a host kibbutz, and spend time learning Hebrew and preparing for the army, before finally enlisting. Throughout their military service, the members of the garin will spend their vacations and free time at their host kibbutz. By the end of Garin Tzabar, these soldiers have learned Hebrew, become better acquainted with Israeli society, and built a network that can help them thrive in their new home.

The immigrants who participate in Garin Tzabar come from a wide variety of backgrounds and countries. Some were born in Israel or have parents who were, while others have spent relatively little time there. Some were born Jewish, while others converted. But by the end of their time as a garin, they have a great deal in common.

“There is a very wide spectrum of soldiers and participants who arrive here from all over the world, each with a specific reason for coming here. It’s hard to define those who come to the [Garin] Tzabar program monolithically,” says Netta Burstein, the program’s educational director.

“The program has something for everyone,” she adds. “Someone who came here doubting who they are will discover things about their Judaism, and someone who discovered their Judaism a year before coming to Israel will enjoy [educational] content and life-changing experiences here. On the other hand, there are Israelis who know Israeli society and have a new experience here, encountering the State [of Israel] with people from all over the world.”

From the Big Apple to the Kibbutz

Ashley Gerber, 23, is a current participant in Garin Tzabar. Raised by an American Jewish father and a Brazilian Jewish mother, she grew up in Manhattan. A few years ago, she spent time working for a high-tech company in Israel and fell in love with the country – “the people and the culture, the naturalness, the directness,” she says.

“I didn’t know anyone in Israel. I was alone in the country,” she explains. But the experiences she had in Israel quickly made her feel a sense of comfort in Israeli society.

“While I was on a bus, an older woman helped me get to my destination. She invited me to her home for a Shabbat meal, and then I learned about her life and her experiences before her Aliyah to Israel,” she recalls, citing one example. “The atmosphere in Israel is warm and friendly, and it reminds me of Brazil.”

Inspired by her connection to Israel and by stories like this one, she says, “I asked myself, ‘Why not come to Israel and serve the country?’”

But, Ashley explains, her aspiration of enlisting in the IDF goes back further than that experience.

“All my [childhood] costumes were of a soldier and not of a princess,” she says. “When I was 18, I said I would either enlist in the army or go to college in the U.S. I went with college, because I’m a softball player. The entire time I was in college, I wanted to enlist in the army. And then I decided that once I graduated I would go to the army.” >After discovering Garin Tzabar, she joined a garin in the U.S., where she made friends who were also looking forward to making Aliyah. Together, they immigrated to Israel last June.

Since their Aliyah, Ashley’s garin has been hosted by Kibbutz Maoz Haim in northern Israel. After months of waiting eagerly, she recently enlisted in the IDF.

It Runs in the Family

Twin brothers Ari and Eli Berman signed up for Garin Tzabar together. Although they were born and raised in Silicon Valley, their Aliyah story is one their family is familiar with – especially their British-born father and their Israeli mother.

“My father made Aliyah to Israel, enlisted in the IDF, worked for a few years here [in Israel], and then got an offer to work in Silicon Valley, California,” Ari explains. “And he went with our mother and our older sister to Silicon Valley. We were born there, grew up there, and every year during summer vacation we would go to Moshav Bnei Ayish, where my mother’s family lives.”

Still, Ari felt that he was short on first-hand knowledge of Israel.

“I didn’t feel that I was connected to Israel,” he says. “I felt very connected to the Jewish religion but not to Israel. The Israeli part was lacking. After I graduated from high school, I wanted to come here in order to get to know the State of Israel and to enlist. I wanted to be part of this story.”

After finishing his freshman year of college in the U.S., Ari decided the time was right to act on that desire. He signed up for Garin Tzabar and made Aliyah.  

“I was attracted to [Garin] Tzabar because I thought I could get to know Israel, which I so badly wanted to know, to be here – because it’s now or never,” he explains. “If I had continued my studies [in the U.S.], I probably would have gotten a job and stayed in the U.S.”

Describing his decision to make Aliyah, his brother Eli emphasizes the idea of defending Israel during its hour of need.

“During Operation Protective Edge [in the summer of 2014], we were in Israel, at Moshav Bnei Ayish, and every time we heard a red-alert siren we understood that we were at war,” he recalls. “When I got on the plane back to the U.S., I understood that I must help my country. I felt awful, because I left my country for the quiet and calm Silicon Valley, the bubble that it is, and our country was at war.”

In addition to defending Israel, Eli values the opportunity to become more connected to its people, even as he reflects positively on life and people in Silicon Valley. “I’m happy that I grew up in a culture like that,” he states. “But it’s important to me to get to know Israeli culture, to feel what is happening here.”

Like Ari, Eli completed one year of college in the U.S. before making Aliyah.

“At then after a year of college I decided to join [Garin] Tzabar,” he says. “And I’m here, and I’m not disappointed with my experience for [even] an instant.”

Eli concludes with a few words about his parents and siblings: “I’m proud of my parents, who stay strong and supportive – and also my older sister and my younger brother, who are always there for us. I don’t know what I would do without my family supporting me every day. I’m waiting for them to come visit us. And maybe in the future they’ll come back here, to the State of Israel.”


This article was originally reported by Nathan Roi and written in English by Daniel Temkin for The Jewish Agency for Israel.


17 Jan 2018 / 1 Shevat 5778 0
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