The Reluctant Oleh; A Young Woman’s Unusual Israel Experience

Shanacover1Shana Jacobson was blindsided by the news that she would be moving to Israel and counted the days that would bring her back to the states – and then something unexpected happened.

Life could not have been more perfect for Shana Jacobson, a fourth generation Seattleite and 16 year old sophomore at Northwest Yeshiva High School. When not busy with schoolwork, her life was a teenage dream, in fact Shana’s home was fun central where it sometimes seemed as if her friends of which there are many were popping out of the woodwork. Especially on Shabbat one would find Shana’s folks, Leah &  Jon Jacobson immersed with Shana’s friends in an intense board game at the dining room table, while  more friends were snacking in the kitchen, and still others were shooting hoops and shooting the breeze out front.  I have experienced the wonderland that was the Jacobson family home in Seattle, it could easily compete with Disneyland as the happiest place on earth (no copyright infringement intended).

Happy days. Shana (second from right) and friends the (rainy) Summer before moving to Israel.

Happy days. Shana (second from right) and friends the (rainy) Summer before moving to Israel.

Shana recollects “Oh yea those days were awesome. It was my friends and my sibs Carol, Dahlia and Yonit’s friends as well. Between us we covered like five generations of Jewish teenagers in the area”

It was in the midst of this perfect space in this perfect place, at least as Shana remembers it, that her parents dropped the bombshell, the Jacobsons were making Aliya, they were moving to Israel.

Shana took the news calmly and in stride, well not exactly; “I threw the Harry potter book I was holding onto the floor and ran to my room” she remembers. ” I didn’t take it well”.

I had to leave my house, school, friends, and everything I’d grown up with.

Shana’s father’s employer, an extremely large and dominating software corporation based in Redmond, WA had given her dad the opportunity to relocate to Israel, a lifelong dream of Jon and Leah. There was not a whole lot of time for goodbyes between the packing and getting things in order for the move.

“I was only 16” said Shana  “and that meant in the middle of high school I had to leave my house, school, friends, and everything I’d grown up with for a foreign country.  Not exactly every teenagers dream.  I didn’t leave any room for ‘maybe I’ll like it”

The stress was exacerbated by the many unknowns.

“I had left Seattle a month earlier because I had gone to camp and when everyone was talking about going home at the end of camp I didn’t know what the home I would be going to would even look like so on top of being miserable about moving away from Seattle I didn’t know what to expect.”

From the time she heard the news of the move, through the long plane ride to Israel and even for weeks and months after settling into her new home in Ra’anana, Israel, Shana explains that she was stuck in the anger stage of the grieving process.

“Basically it was a lot of me being really sassy and less than charming to my family and complaining a lot to the friends that I was making . And of course the classic screaming crying begging to go home fits.”

Shana comes across as an outgoing, delightful young lady with a ready smile and zest for life – thus it is a bit hard to believe her description of herself in those days. Not surprisingly Shana quickly made new friends in Israel, but – she confides  “that’s not to say the misery ended when I made friends.  You can interview them next, they’ll tell you about how depressing it was to be friends with me even when we were having a good time.”

But life goes on, Shana’s family happily embraced being Israeli, Jon began taking monthly dips in the Mediterranean no matter the weather and their Ra’anana home became a pilgrimage shrine, hosting an endless stream of visitors from Seattle. Meanwhile Shana kept connected to her old life via Facebook and looked forward to graduating from Tzviya Herzeliya, an all Hebrew High School.

After graduation it was off to the traditional gap year program which for Shana was at Bar Ilan, a program that helped develop in the mostly American group an appreciation of the Jewish people’s connection to Israel.

“That whole year my Israeli friends were in the Army while I was just on an American school program. I was fine with it most of the time” said Shana “but sometimes I’d feel weird about it”. Shana thought about joining the Army and had even identified her dream job, a long shot assignment working in an intelligence unit for  Kishrei Chutz the office of Foreign Affairs. The duties would primarily encompass communicating with foreign countries on behalf of Israel.

Ultimately she decided to take a gap year and then return to the states.

Her gap year at Bar Ilan went quickly and Shana counted the days to reuniting with her many Seattle friends at Stern college in New York City.  But this was not to be the lazy summer she had hoped for. First came the kidnapping and brutal murder of the three Israeli boys, Eyal, Gilad and Naftali and then the Gaza war.

“The summer war was weird, I think it was scarier from the states than it was actually being there.  But we had to be ready at all times to drop everything to run to a shelter with a few seconds notice and the news was on 24/7.  Life went on as usual as much as possible, because what else was there to do. And that’s not me being brave. Israelis just don’t let things get to them.”

Shana explained that the entire country unified as one in support of the IDF. “Everyone has a family member or knows someone in the army so everyone is really part of it and is going through the same thing.”

Finally the war wound down, Shana booked her flight for New York and began packing her bags and saying her goodbyes (again).

This felt like someone upstairs was telling me something.

“So I planned to go to Stern College and that was that.” Remembers Shana. But life has a strange way of throwing us curveballs. “A few days before I was supposed to leave to New York  I was talking to a friend who was already in the army and she was telling me that the army position that I had expressed interest in was open and she could get it for me without an interview or anything.”

And that was that? I asked.  After two years of counting the days before your return to the states you decided on the spot to join the IDF?

Shana explained “After the year of sort of regretting not joining the army and having this position fall perfectly into my lap it kind of seemed stupid to pass it up”

“I don’t want to offend you or any of your readers by saying that I’m not the firmest believer of every single thing that happens to you comes from God” confessed Shana. “You know, if you open the door with your left hand instead of your right it’s because God wanted you to, I am not so big on that kind of thing.  But this felt like someone upstairs was telling me something, you know?”

Too much went into building and keeping this country for everyone who lives there not to contribute a little to keep it alive and thriving.

“So where is the missing piece?” I asked Shana. “I don’t feel I really understand what made you stay.”

Shana pondered the question “I feel bad because this is going to make a really crappy punch line for the whole interview, but I can’t give you a straight answer. It’s a combination of me feeling like I owe the country what everyone else is giving. And after the war this summer, and with all that [anti-Israel and anti-Semitic] stuff on US college campuses now, and taking an Israeli history class this year. Too much went into building and keeping this country for everyone who lives there not to contribute a little to keep it alive and thriving.”

“People keep asking me why but it’s just a lot of tiny things there isn’t one big one.”

Meanwhile Shana’s parents needed to absorb the change in plans “I think my parents are just excited I’m staying in Israel. And shocked. When I told them I was considering it I could tell they were trying not to jump up and down with excitement to scare me off. I’d call it ecstatic with an air of  I told you this move was a good idea

Shana (first on the left) and family in front of their Ra'anana home.

From L to R: Shana, Leah, Dahlia, Jon, Carol and Yonit in front, at their Ra’anana home.

I asked Shana where she sees herself five years from now.

“In five years I’ll be three years out of the IDF, hopefully finishing school, maybe in Israel preferably in the US but life takes you where it takes you. I still want to come back to Seattle when I’m done but all my family and friends are certain I’ll be staying in Israel.”

Shana is scheduled for her induction into the IDF in December, she is trying to expedite her entry date.