Putting down roots in Israel

Ari Abramowitz, once a lone soldier, has lived in Israel for 14 years, serving in the reserves and running a company that promotes Israel abroad

Date: 20/09/2012, 2:58 PM     Author: Adam May

After living in Israel for 14 years, Ari Abramowitz has grown used to serving in the reserves. Every Israeli knows the drill: For a few weeks out of every year, you leave your family and job to serve the country. From the time they are born, children see their fathers leave home in uniform; it’s a part of life. But there is one difference in this case: Ari wasn’t born in Israel.

Ari grew up in Texas. At age 18, he moved to Israel for the first time, coming to study for a year in a yeshiva. During that year, he fell in love with the country and decided to serve. Ari joined the IDF (Zahal) through Mahal, a program that has been enlisting volunteers from abroad since Israel’s inception.

However, Ari’s path was anything but average. “When I came, my Hebrew wasn’t perfect, but instead of ending up in an absorption center for Americans, I wound up in an Ethiopian absorption center,” Ari recounted. Instead of assimilating through a typical ulpan, Ari caught a glimpse of how the IDF (Zahal) integrates and brings together the contrasting pieces that make up Israeli society. “I loved it; it was such a unique opportunity. It also helped me get an edge by forcing me to always speak Hebrew for the first few months.”

Serving in the Golani Brigade’s Gideon Battalion, Ari was deployed in Hebron and Southern Lebanon. But after serving for shortly over a year, Ari still wasn’t ready to leave. He officially made aliyah and enrolled in graduate school in Israel.

“It was more of an emotional decision. Israel is the only place I can see myself having a joyous, meaningful, and happy life. Here I can transcend life’s circumstances of where I work or how much money I make,” Ari explained. “I wanted to be on the center stage of Jewish history and be a player in the Jewish project.”

Ari has transformed his passion into a business, opening a company called The Land of Israel.  “The company’s purpose is to share the truth and beauty of Israel with the world, to set the record straight,” Ari explained. “The idea came out of frustration. My experience had been such a strong, positive one, and the things I was experiencing were antithetical to the image the world received in the media. The world hears about the terror and negativity, but [people] don’t hear about the beauty, the joy, the humanitarian endeavors, and the kindness of the Jewish people.”

As a part of this dedication, Ari continues to serve in the reserves and has yet to miss a day. “It’s like a sabbatical for your soul. You take a break from worrying about your life, your bank account, or your family, and take the time to reconnect to the country and serve the nation. You recalibrate your life a little. You give up comfort, sleep on rocks and dirt, and then come home, and all of a sudden you’re grateful for the small things: a pillow, a hot shower,” Ari said.

Even so, Ari’s experience in the reserves has been life-changing in its own right. “In my first reserve duty, we were in Gaza before the withdrawal, near a refugee camp,” Ari said, recounting that he and his unit’s other soldiers had handed out food to the poor. “It’s a great picture of Israel, that with one hand we can defend ourselves and with the other help those in need.”

As with his time in the Ethiopian absorption center, Ari finds that the reserves are a unifying experience, forging a common Israeli character. “When you are exposed to other people, you can see how differences in ideals don’t color the person or change your love or commitment to them,” Ari said. “We are defending each other’s family; we are family.”

To others contemplating volunteering to serve in the IDF (Zahal), Ari has some words of advice. ”If you want to come here, then you have made the best decision of your life. The best experiences I’ve had in my life were in the army. In the end, you are giving up a year or two of a profession that you are going to do for the rest of your life,” said Ari. “It is important not to lose site of the bigger picture. No matter what type of cynicism you encounter, your passion and zeal will win that contest and inspire others.“