Colonel Yehu Ofer and his son Ayal, Learning and exploring in a new country
“Ayal, we’re moving to Italy”, the son of Colonel Ofer remembers the thrilling moment
Lighting Hanukkah Candles with Israeli Ambassador to Italy, Mr. Gideon Meir The IAF has seeped into the lives of entire families. Mothers who accompany their children throughout three years of a course, sleepless nights for couples waiting at home, and kindergartens in IAF airbase residencies. The IAF took this family one step further
“I caused us to really decide to embark on the delegacy”, 12.5-year-old Ayal says proudly, the son of former Sde-Dov airbase commander. One day, when he returned from school, he received the exciting news from his brother Yuval: “Ayal, we’re moving to Italy”. “I jumped on him like a crazy person, screaming of excitement”, Ayal remembers. Last summer, the entire family left Mishmeret (a moshav in central Israel), where Ayal had grown up for most of his life, and moved to Rome. His father, Colonel Yehu Ofer, had gotten a new job: IAF attaché and Ministry of Defense representative in Italy.
Hasta La Vista, Israel!
As we all know, Rome was not built in one day. In the first few days, it wasn’t easy for the family to adapt to their new surroundings. “Dad would go to work, and we would stay alone”, Ayal remembers. “It took some time until we met other families”. By the end of the month, the Italian school year had begun, and Ayal abandoned his local Israeli school for an American middle school, together with 600 other students. “In the first couple of months I had a hard time, I didn’t know the language. I was shy and didn’t really have any friends. Until I opened my mouth and people started to listen to me”. Since then, he has learned to chat away in English as well as in Italian. “I’m studying with people from China, Korea and Japan, and have many American and Italian friends”, he says. “I also have an Italian friend of Syrian origin, and another friend, Muhammad, who arrived from Malaysia”.
His father also returned to the classroom. “In the beginning, homework took a very long time. I remember Dad and me sitting for two hours just for my History homework”, he says, not entirely unhappily. “I think he’d never done homework before that”. That would be understandable: Since Ayal was born, his father Yehu served as commander of a squadron and commander of an airbase, and accumulated quite a few operational flight hours in the sky. He returned home late at night and Ayal was able to see him mainly on weekends (“And even then there were many phone calls”). Now in Italy, Colonel Yehu is able to return home at around5:00 PM (“If he’s not flying to Israel, Greece or Croatia”, Ayal adds). “We still get excited every day”.
Beneath Tuscan Skies
While the Israeli winter demands of everyone all of a uniform of jeans and a t-shit (or a military uniform with high-tops), the Italian cold prescribes its own fashion line, which includes a variety of jackets, scarves and coats. And when in Rome, do as Romans do. “Suddenly, we all had to invest in clothes. Fashion is part of the deal here”, explains Ayal. “There’s four-season’s worth of fashion here, not like in Israel where it’s summer and then once in a while a little cold”. Three times a week, Ayal removes his coat in favor of the uniform of the “Stella Zura” basketball club, a hobby he has had since Kindergarten, and hasn’t given up on even when transferred to a different continent.
Between Italian studies and basketball games, he has even been able to meet the Italian ambassador. “Last Hanukkah there was a cocktail party at the embassy”, remembers Ayal. “I lit the menorah and blessed the first Hanukkah candle”. He misses the Israeli holidays in particular. “On Rosh Hashana I brought an apple and honey to school, and on Passover I brought parts of the Hagadah in Hebrew and English. Of course, I also brought matzo cake-I think the kids will remember the flavors of the special food, and why we eat it”.
All Ways Lead to Mishmeret
One thing was particularly difficult for Ayal to give up on. “I’d never lived in a city before. In Mishmeret I would call Mom and tell her that I’m going over to a friend’s house; get on my bicycle and go. But Rome is not bicycle-friendly. It’s mountainous, there are no trails, and the sidewalks aren’t suitable”. He finds some solace in Italian food (“There’s quality ice cream!”) and in “White Week”-on the past few nights, there was a lot of snow fall and the children embarked on a weeklong holiday from school. But all the Italian pleasures in the world won’t tempt him to stay. “Every time we talk about Israel, we’re reminded of Mishmeret. It’s our moshav, and it’s our home”.