Nina Schneider is a Wisconsin and Berkshires Ramahnik who wrote this about her decision to make aliyah in 2011:
“Ever since I was little I had a fascination with Israel, its people, culture, and land. My parents spent my childhood talking about the year they spent in Israel right after they got married. I hung on their every word when they described the dunes of Arad, the weekly barbeques with Israeli friends, and the never-ending invitations to Shabbat dinner with engaging and sometimes unusual people. I couldn’t wait for my first time to go. The summer after 2nd grade, the family (my parents, older sister, and me) took the partially tourist approach to Israel while my parents introduced my sister and me to the dear friends that they made while they lived there. These people became my extended family and still are. I kept going to Israel year after year for my sister’s bat mitzvah, Pesach, my bat mitzvah, an eighth grade trip, a trip to visit my sister in the army, a six-week trip going into 11th grade with Camp Ramah on Seminar, and finally now on the 9-month gap year program called Nativ. I could not stop coming back. I have always had a strong passion for Israel, Judaism, and the Jewish community. I went to JCC day school, Yavneh Day School (a Jewish day school), was extremely active in USY, and attended Camp Ramah in Wisconsin since I was 11. I wrote an opinion/editorial piece in 11th grade for the Cincinnati Enquirer about the way the media twists Israel’s image to the public. Israel has been one of the most important influences in my life.
After my sister’s year on Nativ, she decided to make Aliyah. I saw her go through wonderful transformations, frustrating situations, and life changing processes. She was a “Morah Chayelet” in the army and I was in awe of the fact that the Israeli Army had positions like hers that helped civilians. I also saw the beauty of the Kibbutz she lived on while in Garin Tzabar, on Kibbutz Sde Eliahu. It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen and my sister’s host family is made up of some of the most loving and caring people I have ever met. I love the unique ways of life of the Kibbutz Dati and the way Israeli families work. My sister’s experience, also an avid Ramahnik, has greatly impacted me and opened my eyes to the not-so-obvious beauty and hardships of living in Israel.
My year on Nativ is what had pushed me the most to make this decision. First semester, I became more acclimated to being independent in an Israeli environment and traveled around to several places meeting new people and reconnecting with old family friends. I became more accustomed to the culture, the chutzpa, the politics, and the language. I did Ulpan in Jerusalem and met all different types of people who are living in Israel for various reasons and learned about their cultures. Second semester is what really opened my eyes to Israel unvarnished, Yerucham. Living in Jerusalem was like living in an Anglo bubble, but living in Yerucham was a whole new world. I loved it there. Though difficult at times, working with the kids in the high school taught me a lot about myself and Israeli society. Though a “balagan” on most days, the kids showed me the freedom and independence that Israeli kids have. I have met families that are truly cohesive units, friends that have been close since childhood, and a more relaxed environment.
I am a Zionist whose dream was to live in the Jewish State where I am free to be the person I want to be and to achieve my personal goals. Now, I am done with the army testing processes and am drafting to become an atomic, biological, and chemical warfare instructor for the Israeli army.
I remember that on Ramah Seminar I started having pangs of longing to live permanently in Israel. Those feelings continued on through senior year in which I decided to go on Nativ, and through Nativ I decided to make Aliyah. Ramah was a place where I could celebrate Israel with other people who were as in love as I was with this country and help others appreciate it, too. While I was on Nativ, I was a part of the Byachad program for Ramah madrichim where we met with mishlachat from all of the Ramah camps and had meaningful discussions. These talks impacted me greatly in my thinking about making Aliyah, while taking into account the hardships that are not uncommon in this country and also appreciating the beauty.
Talking with these Israelis who had been to Ramah and appreciated the fusion of Conservative Judaism and love of Israel greatly affected me. I also know many Ramahniks who have made Aliyah and have seen quite a few since I got off the plane in August.
Right now I am in a program called Garin Tzabar, which is a program for lone soldiers in Israel. I live on Kibbutz Lavi, a religious Kibbutz in the north near Tiberias, with 23 other American, Canadian, Australian, and British lone soldiers. We are all drafting in the next 2 months to every type of job you could think of. My roommate, Noa Orzy, is from Ramah Canada, and we have a lot of similiar life experiences because of that. For 3 months we have done Ulpan, bonded with our Kibbutz host families, worked in the cow shed and ganim, swam, hiked, and the Garin has truly become a family. In the meantime we have gone through extensive army testing, yes, entirely in Hebrew, and we have been pretty successful in achieving the jobs that we want. My sister, Rachel Schneider, is currently attending the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, and I have gotten to spend the high holidays with her as well as many other weekends. I am incredibly happy with my decision and am anxious to start the army and start on my way to becoming a true Israeli.”