A Canadian girl whose great grandfather was one of the leading Zionist kibbutz pioneers has returned to her Israeli roots and now is serving as a combat soldier in the IDF. “I always felt that Israel was my place, that I needed to be here," IDF Pvt. Estelle Tabenkin told IDF spokeswoman Rotem Caro Weizman.
Yitzchak Tabenkin was one of the founders of a social Zionist party and the Mapam party, which David Ben-Gurion headed as Israel’s first Prime Minister. His grandson met a Jamaican Jew vacationing in Israel and eventually moved to Vancouver, Canada. They spoke Hebrew at home and frequently visited Israel, and their daughter Estelle decided to return to her roots and study at Tel Aviv University where her famous last name quickly attracted attention.
"It was a little weird that I had only just arrived here and people knew things about my family; it also happens in the army sometimes," she says. "I think that by the time I had been here for one month, I decided that I would definitely want to immigrate."
Immigrant friends from the Garin Tzabar pre-military service program for Diaspora Jews convinced her to enlist, and Estelle decided to leave her studies and part company with her home in Canada to join the group.
Her mother was not happy about her leaving Canada, but Estelle says she, as well as her father, supported her decision. Estelle decided that she wanted to become a combat soldier and joined the Home Front Command Search and Rescue Company.
"Sometimes it's hard physically, but it feels so great to me," she said. I do things that I would never have dreamed of doing, like marches or shooting. I saw completely new things. Where else in the world would I be able to do things like that?
"My dad always told me about his grandfather and also his uncle Yosef Tabenkin, who was one of the commanders of the Palmach pre-State military, and now I feel that I am doing what they did and fighting for the same principles," she explains.
"In 2008, I was a participant on the March of the Living and it really touched me, as did the book Exodus and the stories of the Jewish immigrants during the British mandate in Israel. I know that even if it's a bit difficult for me now, in the past people did much more difficult things than what I'm doing now, and at a much younger age," she says with tears in her eyes.
Pvt. Tabenkin says she feels as though she is “in a movie” after having holding a rifle in her hands during her swearing-in ceremony. “The fact that I am a combat soldier makes me feel even better. I am loving every second in Israel and in the IDF.”
Her off-base home is at Kibbutz Yizrael, a neighbor of Kibbutz Ein Harod that the Tabenkin family helped found. One of the family descendants on the kibbutz was active in the protests supporting the mostly religious Jewish residents of Gush Katif. He said at the time that the government expulsion program contradicted Zionist values.