RAMAT HASHARON, Israel (JTA) I always knew that before my army duty I would like to do a year of community service, I just didn’t know where. At the end of the 11th grade, while visiting the United States with a delegation from the Israeli Scouts youth movement Tzofim, I became exposed to the subject of Diaspora Jewry. It was a subject that fascinated me.Returning to Israel, feeling I had not explored the subject deeply enough, I discovered Garin ATID and knew it would be my community service. But I had no idea how much the year was going to change my life.Meeting and living with Jews my age from Israel, the United States and England for nearly a year not only allowed me to expose them more to Israel, it changed my opinions, my perceptions and my life decisions. It also reinforced the ties between Israel and the Diaspora.The program’s purpose is not to introduce these young people to my country. Rather it’s to make clear that this is also their country.Throughout the year, my main goal was to make them stop feeling like tourists and begin to feel at home. I wanted them to see beyond the Kotel, Masada and the Kinneret, to take them to the restaurants I like, to teach them the up-to-date slang, to share my opinions about Israel and politics with them, to bring them home to meet my family and my friends.Nothing is more fulfilling than seeing your partners leave behind the Israel they thought they were going to see and begin to view your Israel – the Israel that you and the members of your Garin show them. The fulfillment comes from watching them know exactly where to shop and what to buy in the supermarket, or washing the floors “Israeli style” in your shared apartment, or listening to them sing the songs from your Tzofim troop at the top of their lungs.It comes, too, from hearing that they want to meet your family and friends again, not to be polite but because they enjoyed spending the weekend with your family.Gratifying feelings in the Garin are endless, like when your apartment mate who arrived in Israel not knowing anything in Hebrew gets the prize for the best Hebrew. You know you played a part; it’s a moment you will never forget. Garin ATID led me to rediscover myself, the people around me, my country and my Judaism. Thanks to the tours, the field trips and programming in the framework of the Young Judaea Year Course program and the Federation of Zionist Youth, I had the opportunity to visit many places in Israel for the first time.Life in the Garin allowed me to look at things I had taken for granted – my country, the Israeli people, the government, the army, the culture and the Hebrew language. Most notably I looked at my Judaism anew.Living in the same apartment with Jews from abroad, you learn to discover a Jewish way of life much different from yours. You meet people who are proud of and fight for their Judaism, who know much more than you about Judaism and maintain a Jewish life. Suddenly the holidays take on a little more meaning. Suddenly you take a little more interest in liturgy, or blessings, or customs and discover that observing kashrut is not that bad.For Jewish youth in the Diaspora, the greatest and most Zionistic thing they can do at the age of 18 is to make aliyah. For me, a young Israeli, the most Zionistic thing I could have done after high school was to sign up for Garin ATID. This is my personal Zionism.(Amir Even, 18, was one of 10 Israeli high school graduates performing community service in the Garin Atid, part of the Young Judaea Year Course program, through Tzofim, Young Judaea’s sister movement in Israel. The teens lived together for nine months.)
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