Dror Israel educator Emma Pasternack reflects on her past five years in Israel
Five years ago, I made aliyah. I cannot even believe I am typing out that sentence. When I think of my time in Israel, my aliyah journey, only one word comes to mind - love. I think back to the beginning of my journey, and I realize that it all began ten years ago when I participated in a gap year program in Israel with Habonim Dror. It was then that for the first time I fell in love with Zionism and Israel. Years later, I still fall in love everyday with this place; love that is true and challenging. A love that demands of me to be more, to grow, to learn new things, and most of all to love myself and my people.
In five years, I never once regretted my decision to make aliyah. Even with all the homesickness, all the struggles, all the long days in the heat, I never once thought of going back. There truly is something in the air here, something beyond words and reason. When the sun goes down on Carmiel, and I am in my living room with my friends with whom I live, I feel that I am exactly where I am meant to be.
In my day-to-day life, I am an educator at the Eshbal Youth Society boarding school – a place for at-risk youth who need distance from their homes seeking to make for themselves a better path in life. This work has been very important and central in my life for the last few years. My students have been my window into Israeli society, in every way. They come from every corner of society and bring me new perspectives and new connections. Last year, my students finished senior year and headed off to the pre-army prep program. This year, I joined the 11th grade staff and I had the chance to fall in love all over again with new group of teenagers who have come from all over Israel and are striving together for a better life. They live together, work together, learn together, struggle together, and succeed together. It is my great joy to stand by their side and witness their growth and their strength.
Just like my students, I live communally. Just over a year ago, five friends decided to start out on a new adventure together - establishing a new group and living together. Over the course of the last year, I got to fall in love for the millionth time with the idea of communal living. I found myself staying up late talking to my new partners, feeling like I had all those years ago on my gap year - that the simple act of getting to know a group of people was the most exciting thing in the world. Together, we established a home together, opened a shared bank account, and shaped our shared lives. In honor of our beautiful home, Carmiel, we call ourselves Kvutzat Kerem (vineyard). We live in the Educator’s Kibbutz in Carmiel. All of us are educators, working at various Dror Israel projects including HaNoar HaOved youth movement branches in the Misgav regional council, an elementary school in Carmiel, the Iftach army prep program on Ravid, and of course the Eshbal boarding school.
And thus I find myself beginning my sixth year in Israel, still excited for every new day and every new challenge. I think back on the moment that I knew that my connection to this place was more than a passing phase. It was in the summer of 2014, when I came to Israel as a counselor on Habonim Dror’s summer teen trip. I hadn’t been back to Israel since my gap year two years prior. I stepped off the plane at Ben Gurion Airport and was flooded with emotion. I felt, for the first time in two years, myself exhale. I felt excitement fill my heart for the summer that was ahead of me. I felt that I was right where I was meant to be; and to my great surprise, that feeling has never gone away.