Some might say that three's a crowd, but in the case of three young female immigrants to Israel, it's more that three’s company.
Gila Nussenbaum, Zehava Gail and Kendel Maxbauer all left their homes and families in the U.S. and came to Israel to start new lives. The young women made aliyah as part of the "Garin Tzabar" program, a special program that enables immigrants to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, under the auspices of the Israel Boy and Girl Scouts Federation (known in Hebrew as “Hatzofim”).
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On Wednesday, the trio will stand side-by-side during an IDF ceremony that will see them promoted to the rank of officer. "We could have signed up for national service like most of the religious girls, yet we choose otherwise, and we did so together. Just like family," one of the women said.
The three women live together on Kibbutz Beerot Yitzchak, one of 18 Israeli kibbutzim belonging to the religious kibbutz movement.
Maxbauer, 20, grew up in Detroit. "It was only toward the beginning of high school that I began to understand the degree of my commitment to Israel as a Jewish state," she said.
But Maxbauer does not look at life in Israel with rose-colored glasses. She said she was well aware of the difficulties of living in Israel, especially when she compared her life with her friends’ lives back in the U.S.
Nevertheless, she is happy to be here. "I have many disappointments with regard to living in Israel. Our country is not perfect," she said. "Yet still this was my biggest dream, especially as a grandchild of Holocaust survivors who now is going to be an IDF officer."
The ceremony on Wednesday, during which the three women will receive their officer pins, will be held at Bahad 1, the training school for officers near Mitzpe Ramon. Because all three immigrated with Garin Tzabar, the ceremony will also count as the final stage in their aliyah process. They will then go on to continue to serve in the IDF's Education and Youth Corps.
"After we get the pin there is a lot of hard work ahead," said Zehava Gail, who left her home in Boston for a new life in Israel. "I was well aware of the difficulties that would be involved in living alone and away from family. Still, until someone experiences it personally, they can't possibly understand just how hard it is."
Zehava Gail and Gila Nussenbaum both have something special to look forward to on Wednesday: the arrival of their parents, whom they have not seen for many months. Gail says she is more anxious about seeing her parents than she is about the ceremony.
All three women say that the biggest cure for homesickness throughout their immigration process has been the support and comfort they offer each other.
"You feel that you're not crazy for having left everything and made aliyah for no reason," Nussenbaum said. "We speak half-Hebrew, half-English, a language that not everyone understands. It's easiest when we go through this process together."
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