• Tony Reichler moved to Israel from Venezuela. Photo: Courtesy

  • Reichler immigrated to Israel from Venezuela and then served in the IDF. Image: Flag of Venezuela


From Venezuela to a more meaningful life in Israel: the miracle of Tony Reichler

Leading up to Hanukkah (December 2-10) this year, Tony Reichler reflects that his current life in Israel is a “miracle” compared to life in his native Venezuela.

Leading up to Hanukkah this year, Tony Reichler reflects that his current life in Israel is a “miracle” compared to life in his native Venezuela.

After completing his high school diploma in Israel, Tony served in a combat unit in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). He was particularly empowered by Wings: Services and Continuing Support for Lone Soldiers. This program run by the Jewish Agency for Israel provides a continuum of services for hundreds of young immigrant men and women each year who join the Israeli military without close family members in Israel with whom they can stay on the weekends or who can provide guidance.

Wings offers a comprehensive counseling and guidance curriculum that includes all the details and entitlements that lone immigrant soldiers need to know. Host families are identified through our partnership with the Rotary Club to provide the lone soldiers with a place to go on weekends. Living stipends are offered to lone soldiers serving in combat units in order to alleviate some of their monetary concerns immediately after their discharge (home appliances, rent, etc.). Special financial benefits are also awarded to soldiers with unique monetary needs Wings is the only program that prepares lone soldiers specifically for the “day after discharge,” when they are ready to begin life as Israeli civilians – but often do not know where or how to access support.

A five-day Wings seminar (with more than a thousand soldiers participating in 2017 alone) focuses on financial management, job options, and options for university studies and scholarships. The newly released IDF veterans also receive career diagnostic testing and counseling, and assistance in securing housing, planning their finances, and applying to colleges. Today, Tony studies diplomacy and strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya as part of a special academic program.

Born to an Israeli father who emigrated from the Jewish State to Venezuela, Tony flipped the script by leaving Venezuela for Israel at age 16 as part of Na’ale: The World’s Jewish High School, a Jewish Agency program which allows parents in Jewish communities abroad to register their 10th-grade children for three years of tuition-free Israeli high school. Na'ale covers room and board, a monthly stipend, fees for extra-curricular activities, home hospitality, and other support services. The vast majority of Na’ale participants successfully graduate from high school and make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel).

“My life in Venezuela was not bad, but it was not a life of meaning,” Tony says. “Here I learned in high school, served in the army, and fulfilled public service. This type of self-realization is something I did not experience in Venezuela. In the State of Israel, you can grow as a person. I very much love what I’ve been doing here since I made Aliyah.”

Tony’s father, a Zionist who would tell the family stories of his service in the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, met his wife after emigrating to Venezuela. Tony’s mother was a military officer in Venezuela, serving in the Medical Corps of the country’s National Guard.

“My parents raised my sister and I as good citizens of Venezuela and as lovers of Israel,” Tony recalls.

Upon moving to Israel, Tony enrolled in ulpan (intensive Hebrew language program) at Kibbutz Kfar Ruppin in northern Israel. He spent two and a half years at that kibbutz while completing his immigrant absorption process, before entering the IDF. In the army, he took a three-week course in combat preparation before being assigned to the elite Golani Brigade, where he served for three years, including in 2014 for Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.

After his release from the army, Tony received assistance from an economic and employment tutor from the Wings program. He was advised to enter a preparatory program to improve his chances at getting admitted to university, and indeed, he enrolled in such a program at Bar-Ilan University and was later accepted by the IDC. Now, he is a second-year student there.

“I knew I was taking a financial risk and an academically challenging path by enrolling in university. But I wanted to study governance and strategy, and I have a strong desire to succeed in Israeli society,” Tony says.

Efrat Mandel, a Jewish Agency employee, later approached Tony about becoming a spokesman for the organization in its relations with donors from Brazil. He accepted the role and has subsequently traveled across the U.S. for speaking engagements about the Wings. He has earned a reputation as a dynamic public speaker.

“I tell my personal story and of course, The Jewish Agency’s story of its work to strengthen the relationship between American Jews and Israel,” Tony says.

Tony came full circle this past year when he returned to Venezuela for a mission on behalf of The Jewish Agency.

“I came to explain to Venezuelan Jews that it is worthwhile to study in Israel, and to raise awareness about how they have an opportunity to do so through a scholarship from the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration,” he says.

Tony describes his diplomacy and strategy program at IDC as “very broad when it comes to international relations. This program tackles the challenges of the 21st century, and I hope it will help me fulfill my ambition to enter the public sector.” He is active in IDC’s student government, including in its external relations with the Israeli Knesset, where Tony has spoken as a representative of lone soldiers.

“Every time I come to the Knesset and give my voice to the struggles of other people,” he says, “I feel that I am doing something meaningful.”

Learn more about Wings: Services and Continuing Support for Lone Soldiers >


This story was originally reported by Nathan Roi for The Jewish Agency for Israel

26 Nov 2018 / 18 Kislev 5779 0
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