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‘Lone Soldiers’ prep for a new life in Israel
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‘Lone Soldiers’ prep for a new life in Israel

Three New Jerseyans put off college, careers to serve in the IDF

Ariel Zuckerman, second from left, with three friends in Morocco, said, “I am really excited to start this chapter of my life.”    
Ariel Zuckerman, second from left, with three friends in Morocco, said, “I am really excited to start this chapter of my life.”    

Fulfilling dreams they have nurtured for years, three young New Jerseyans have just begun new lives on Israeli kibbutzim in preparation for military service in the Israel Defense Forces.

“I have wanted to do this since I was little, when I was in second or third grade, after 9/11,” said Jesse Talmud, 22, a few days before leaving his East Brunswick home on Aug. 17. He is now settling in at Kibbutz Yehi’am in the western Upper Galilee, his first step in his orientation to the IDF.

He and his fellow New Jerseyans were among 60 “lone soldiers” — as Israel describes recruits who serve without their families in the country — who flew to Israel Aug. 17 on a flight arranged by Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that promotes aliya. 

Also on the flight were Ariel Zuckerman of Oakhurst, 18, who graduated in June from Hillel Yeshiva High School in Asbury Park, and Joshua Drill of West Caldwell, 19, a graduate of Golda Och Academy in West Orange.

Talmud is also a graduate of GOA and of Binghamton University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology in June. He has an older brother in Tel Aviv who has already made aliya and served in the IDF.

“I don’t need to do this,” he said. “I could be going on with my life — getting a job and start making money and having a family. But I am choosing to take years out of my life and to take risks, and I personally am holding myself in high regard.”

Talmud said he’d like to be a paratrooper and attend officer corps, a five-year commitment. “My parents don’t want me to do that, but they completely support my decision,” he said. 

Along with his enthusiasm for moving to Israel, Talmud does have a tinge of regret 

“Having to say goodbye to my family and my friends is making this become a lot more real. I am definitely going to miss New Jersey and my very comfortable life, but this is about living my dream and I’ve got to do this for me,” Talmud said.

Zuckerman made aliya earlier this summer. “My mother was born in Morocco and moved to Israel at the age of two, and all my cousins and uncles and aunts who lived there served in the army. They are my role models,” she told NJJN. Many of them live in Yavne, a town near Tel Aviv.

“Ever since I was seven years old, it has been my dream to move to Israel and serve my country,” she said.

During her first three months of orientation, she will live on Kibbutz Yizre’el in the Jezreel Valley, near the northern city of Afula. 

Although she has a Modern Orthodox background, Zuckerman said, she will be part of a non-religious unit. “Some people might be more religious but I feel the religious community might be too religious for me, and I don’t want to do something that might offend them,” she said. 

She will leave behind her parents and one brother in her hometown of Oakhurst. “I have been living in Jersey for my whole life, and it’s hard to just pack up and move to a whole new country and start a whole new chapter,” she said. 

But, she said, she is “really excited to start this chapter of my life. I hope I can move there and go to school there and get a job and raise a family there, and hopefully my parents will follow me in the future.”

Drill said having a sister living in Israel was a big reason behind his decision to become a lone soldier. Another was spending three months in Israel on Golda Och Academy’s senior trip in the spring of 2014.

Although he had planned to attend Lafayette College after graduating in June from GOA, and join the IDF later on, he decided to enlist now “mostly for social reasons. I wanted to be the same age as the other people in my unit.”

During three months of orientation at Kibbutz Malkiya near the Lebanese border, Drill and his cohort will study Hebrew intensively and take tests to determine their army assignments. His choice would be combat service, “but hopefully there won’t be any combat,” he said.

“We knew he would make aliya one day,” said his mother, Rabbi Paula Mack Drill, of the Orangetown Jewish Center in Orangeburg, NY. “This is a fulfillment of his destiny. We do not have any regrets. People say, ‘C’mon, you will be living so far away from him.’ But the truth is if my kid was moving to North Dakota I might really be concerned.”

Joshua Drill said he is sad to leave behind his friends and family in West Caldwell, “as well as my house and my synagogue,” Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell.

“But mostly I will miss the pizza,” he said. “Unfortunately, you can’t find pizza that good in Israel.” 

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