Living the Dream

Coming back to Israel in the eyes of an idealistic young woman. Note that what she is proudly holding in the picture is her new Israeli Identity Card.

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Dori Hoffman,

Dori  Hoffman
Dori Hoffman

When our family was making Aliyah in 1996, my grandmother asked my father why we were uprooting our whole lives to move to Israel.  His response is something I think about a lot.

"We are lucky enough to be alive during a time period were Israel exists. How can we not be there?"
"We are lucky enough to be alive during a time period were Israel exists. How can we not be there?"

I suppose I took my dad's words rather seriously.  Though our family returned to the United States in 2004, I returned to Israel seven months ago on my own.

I don't usually tell that story because it tends to make people feel uncomfortable. And understandably so.

Speaking as someone who lived in America for most of her, I will admit that living as an American Jew is comfortable. The American Jewish community is a warm and wonderful place.  We have schools, synagogues, restaurants, community centers and youth organizations dedicated to the needs of Jews of every stripe.

Still, something about that life left me unfulfilled.

Perhaps it's due to the fact that my earliest memories are from our time living in Israel, and because, even after we returned to the U.S., I went back to Israel as often as I could – paying for my own tickets, working when I was there, and staying connected with friends when I wasn't. 

It may also have something to do with my formal and informal education.  I went to a Jewish day school, a very Zionistic Jewish sleep away camp, and stayed active with Jewish youth groups throughout high school. 

And then there's my home life.  I grew up in a very Israeli atmosphere, one that included chocolate spread sandwich once a week for lunch and classic Israeli children's music by Yonatan Gefen.

When we moved back to the U.S., I knew that I would return to Israel and do my part as soon as I turned 18.  Though I wandered a bit from that path for a little while, applying to colleges and looking at gap year programs, I ultimately stayed true to my promise.

I am now living on a kibbutz in the north of Israel with 22 other young adults, a mix of new immigrants and those who share my story, children who are returning home after years being raised elsewhere.

Everyone in our group is here for the same reason, and we share the same beliefs.  As Jews, we are not satisfied supporting Israel from afar.  In our eyes, it is only appropriate to support Israel by moving within its borders and giving of ourselves to protecting and serve our fellow Israeli citizens.

Though my return home has been a dream come true, it has not been easy.  Even though I am relatively fluent in Hebrew, the language still feels like a barrier at times. It's difficult not being able to speak with my parents every day or have my mom's cooking available at all times to cheer me up.  And I miss my siblings tremendously.  It's hard not being able to tease or play with them whenever I am in the mood.

To complicate matters, they pushed back my induction date by three months. It has been very lonely, and being without my group made the wait much harder.

To keep myself occupied, I began volunteering at OneFamily, Israel's leading national organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of victims of terror attacks and their families.  Since 2001, OneFamily has been caring for the victims of terrorism and their families with services ranging from counseling to support groups to summer camp for kids.  The organization helps thousands of traumatized, wounded and bereaved individuals each year.

While I was expecting to be bogged down with office work (and I was more than happy to volunteer in any way I could), the time I spent at OneFamily headquarters in Jerusalem turned out to be a life-altering experience.  Every day presented a new life lesson.  Every task was both eye-opening and self-affirming.  And every person I met inspired me more than the last.

My time at OneFamily changed my outlook on so many things.  Hearing so many stories about people overcoming unimaginable loss to live a fulfilling Jewish life in Israel helped me recalibrate my own priorities and remember why I returned to Israel in the first place.

Living in Israel is hard, and I am quite certain that it will only get harder.  But I am still so grateful that I have the privilege of calling it my home.

Every morning, I wake up and take a look around me – the sights from my window remind why I chose to leave my family behind and restart my life in Israel.  The mountains in the distance remind me that I am a small part of a mighty nation, the fields and orchards speak to the generations-old promise of a "land of milk and honey," and the cars winding through biblical hills prove that Israel isn’t just my home but our Homeland.

I feel deep comfort and satisfaction knowing that I am doing the most I possibly can to give back to the land and people I love so dearly.

Dori Hoffman is a proud Israeli citizen as well as a dedicated OneFamily volunteer.  She was raised in Chicago, IL and returned home to Israel in 2014.