Living the pioneer life in Israel
By Cindy Mindell
Hadar Markus knew that she wanted to make aliyah when she was 11. It was 2001 and the West Hartford resident and her family – parents Anat and Etan, siblings Dror and Talya – was in Israel for half a year while her father, a UConn professor, conducted research at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot.
Over the next six years, Markus would work to improve the Hebrew-language skills she acquired at a local Israeli school, returning to Israel for a semester during sophomore year of high school. She moved to Israel in the summer of 2008, after graduating from Hall High School in West Hartford. She joined Garin Tzabar, a program that groups lone soldiers together on kibbutzim throughout the country and helps them navigate the bureaucracy of the military enlistment process.
“Garin Tzabar is a great program that provides lone soldiers with a sense of community back at the kibbutz, giving them something to come home to,” says Markus, who joined the Moran commando unit within the artillery branch of the IDF. She served from 2008 to 2010 as an enemy intelligence instructor, teaching fellow soldiers about other armies, including military structure, weapons and war strategies.
After completing her military service in 2010, Markus moved to Jerusalem. “Although I loved the city, I couldn’t help but feel that I was in an American bubble of sorts within Israel,” she says. “I craved immersion, and quickly realized how difficult that would be unless I forced myself into a less mainstream setting. I found myself being drawn to the south – the chalutznik [pioneer] atmosphere, the great student life, and the fact that I knew of very few Americans living there.”
Markus is currently a second-year student at Ben Gurion University (BGU), pursuing a double major in psychology and communications, with plans to graduate in 2015. BGU is considered the Israeli university with the best student life, she says, with a movie theater, concerts, and a wealth of cultural activities all on campus, and an active student union.
“Unlike Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, where students are one of several factors in the city’s demographics, Beer Sheva thrives largely from its student life,” she says, with most of the local attractions, restaurants, and bars centered around the university. “I would certainly recommend BGU to Americans who want to study in Israel,” she says. “The student life is vibrant, the people are friendly, and you have no choice but to integrate with the Israelis surrounding you — which is probably why you wanted to study in Israel in the first place.”
During her freshman year, Markus lived in Ofakim as a participant in Ayalim, a foundation that helps improve Israel’s peripheral communities by building student housing villages in these underserved towns. The students build the actual housing units that they live in, and throughout the year provide educational activities for local children. Markus tutored a second grader in English and math, and helped run an after-school cooking class.
This year, Markus moved to Beer Sheva to be closer to the university and focus on developing the local branch of the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin.
“While I was in the army, I received tremendous support from the Lone Soldier Center,” she says. “After my discharge, it was obvious to me that I would join the organization that gave me so much, and give back to future lone soldiers in return.” After her military service, Markus volunteered for a year at the Jerusalem branch of the organization. The Beer Sheva office opened in December with 12 volunteers providing furniture, guidance, and Shabbat meals to lone soldiers from Israel and abroad. “Our volunteers are truly selfless and give countless hours,” Markus says. “They understand, more than anybody else, the hardships that lone soldiers face, because we were in their shoes not long ago.”
Since Markus’s move to Israel, her siblings, Dror and Talya, have joined her. After completing four years of service in the IDF, Dror is studying political science at BGU; Talya is currently serving in the IDF.
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