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Philly Young Adults Bound for Israel to Serve in IDF
Hadrielle Galfand will fulfill a longtime dream when she embarks on Nefesh B’Nefesh’s “soldiers' flight” departing from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Aug. 11.
“Since I was seven or eight I’ve wanted to make aliyah and join the Israel Defense Forces,” said the 19-year-old from Wynnewood.
Galfand will join 150 North Americans, including four others from the Philadelphia area, who plan to relocate to Israel to serve in the IDF. Most of them will be considered “lone soldiers,” a term used for those without immediate family in the country.
“She’s been warning us for years,” Galfand's mom, Kelly, said of her daughter’s decision.
Galfand made her first trip to Israel at age 3, when her father was spending a year studying at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Jerusalem on his path toward becoming a Conservative rabbi. (He now works as the school rabbi at Perelman Jewish Day School.)
The initial experience, of which she said she “still remembers certain things,” led her to spend subsequent time in Israel including several summers attending Camp Ramah Noam, her sophomore year of high school at the Mosenson Youth Village in Hod Hasharon and, most recently, her first year after high school at the Kivunim gap year program.
“She’s making her path out of synagogue, camp, Israeli friends — all these things come together,” said her father, Chaim Galfand. “They’re all on the staircase of aliyah.”
After arriving in Israel, Galfand plans on spending her first few days at her aunt’s house in Kadima, a small town near Netanya. But her first stop will be at the immigrant absorption center in the town of Ra’anana, which will become her new home base as part of the Garin Tzabar lone soldier program.
Garin Tzabar, founded in 1991, offers IDF recruits from outside of Israel an intensive Hebrew ulpan, guidance during and after the enlistment process, and a bonding experience with a group of their peers, called a “garin,” that becomes a kind of family for many participants.
“I can't imagine my life without Garin Tzabar and more importantly, my garin,” said Arielle Adler, 26, from Langhorne, Pa., who made aliyah in 2011 to Kibbutz Regba before serving as a non-commissioned officer of education in the Israeli navy. “They are my family, my support system, my best friends and my everything.”
Galfand’s group will be one of five new garins in Ra’anana.
In the week before the flight, Galfand has been visiting with family and friends, and ran through a packing trial with her mother, who conveniently runs a professional organizing business called “Joy in Your Space,” named after her mother and business partner.
Kelly and Chaim Galfand both said they are extremely proud and supportive of their daughter's decision. Kelly Galfand said the family might even consider moving to Israel in the future if one of Hadrielle’s two younger siblings —Erez, 17, and Gefen, 12, the latter of whom will return from Camp Ramah in the Poconos the day before the Aug. 11 flight — end up making aliyah as well.
“It doesn’t feel completely real yet,” said Erez of his elder sister’s move. “I’m excited but nervous.”
He is looking into yeshiva programs in Israel for when he finishes high school next year and has already begun to consider making aliyah.
“A lot of it depends on her,” said Erez, who noted that one benefit of Hadrielle’s absence is less fighting over the bathroom that all three siblings share. If she stays in Israel “it would give me a lot of motivation.”
The most recent violence in Gaza, which led to the death of 64 IDF soldiers and nearly 2,000 Palestinians before slipping into a shaky cease-fire, hasn’t given Galfand any doubts about her decision.
“It’s made me want to be there even more,” she said. “I’m not nervous to go, I’m not scared.”
Ditto for 23-year-old Aliza Green from Northeast Philadelphia, who will also be on the "soldiers' flight" and bound for Ra’anana with Garin Tzabar.
While in Israel last month to staff a Satell Fellowship program, Green said she experienced a brief episode of cold feet due to the constant rockets and sirens. But ultimately, she said, that trip actually strengthened her resolve.
“I’m happier that I experienced something like that before making aliyah,” she said. “There was a minute when I was in such a panic. That quickly subsided, it was a two-second freak-out.”
Green does not have any family in Israel so she said she will rely on support from friends made during previous visits during her junior year abroad at Hebrew University and a three-week women’s yeshiva program last summer in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood.
It was during that summer that she decided to move to Israel after wrestling “back and forth” about the idea for a couple of years.
“I happened to see a sign” for Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Jerusalem office, she said. “It seemed like every time I went to Israel it would be harder and harder for me to leave, and it just got to the point where I was like, ‘I’m tired of this and I don’t want to leave anymore.' ”
Though the Nefesh B'Nefesh flight is dominated by soon-to-be-soldiers, there will also be a significant number of seniors and families. Since the nonprofit organization was founded in 2002, it has helped more than 30,000 Jews from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom make aliyah to Israel.
For now, Green said, she is focusing on narrowing down the items she will take with her — she is restricted to three suitcases and a couple of carry-ons — and visiting with family and friends before she leaves.
“A lot of people are texting me and calling me,” Green said. “Between trying to make coffee and lunch dates with everybody, and also packing, it’s been a little bit stressful.”