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West Orange woman tackles Israel on her own
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West Orange woman tackles Israel on her own

In June, Leah Bassan was back in her hometown for the first time in a year, but she spent the entire month in West Orange looking forward every day to her July 11 departure — for Israel.

Traveling on a Nefesh B’Nefesh chartered flight, Bassan made aliya, and will serve in the Israel Defense Forces beginning in the fall.

Bassan graduated from Frisch High School in Paramus in 2011 and attended Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston for the lower grades. She spent a year after high school graduation at Emunah V’Omanut, a school in Jerusalem that combines the study of Torah and art.

The 18-year-old Bassan, the daughter of Debra and Aaron, will be a “lone soldier” — a member of the IDF whose parents are not in Israel — but she will hardly be alone. Her brother also made aliya a couple of years ago, and she has many other relatives, including cousins, aunts, and uncles, in the Jewish state.

“I think it made it a lot easier to make the decision knowing I have close family there, especially my brother.… It makes it more of a home,” she said in an interview with NJJN before her departure. “My family has been in Israel since the 1800s. We have long roots there, and a lot of our family is moving back slowly.”

During her army service, Bassan will be part of the Garin Tzabar program, which assigns lone soldiers to a kibbutz to become their “home away from home” during their service in the IDF. She will live at Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi in the Beit She’an Valley.

Camp Moshava, a Bnei Akiva-sponsored religious Zionist camp in Pennsylvania, was an influence in bringing Bassan to her decision to make aliya, she said. As a camper there from 2005 to 2008 and then a staff member in 2010 and 2011, Bassan interacted with many Israelis. “As staff it made a big difference,” she said. The Israelis “always had activities and events, everything that promotes Israel and the unity of it.”

Bassan first visited Israel in 2008 with her father, but it was her 2011 stay that convinced her that Israel felt like home.

“I decided to make aliya the day I landed, when I arrived last year knowing that it’s the place I want to serve my country, where I want to raise my future family. It’s very important for me to be there. It wasn’t that tough of a decision. It felt like home. I couldn’t leave,” she said.

She said that among the most meaningful experiences that year were celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) and commemorating Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Hashoa (Holocaust Remembrance Day).

“When everyone comes together as a country with such strong pride it really makes me feel like I’m a part of it,” she said. “Yom Hazikaron really, really touched me because I know that it still has an effect on me. I’m going to be a soldier soon. We went to this tekes [ceremony] where they showed us videos of a lot of lone soldiers who died in battle, and it really felt personal.”

Nefesh B’Nefesh is a nonprofit organization that aims to encourage aliya by providing professional, logistical, and financial support. One third of its annual immigration-servicing budget is provided by the Israeli government, according to its website.

The organization was founded 10 years ago and has aided 30,000 olim. Bassan was among 229 making aliya on her flight, including 59 singles, 13 of whom, like Bassan, plan to join the army.

Bassan said NBN assisted her in the process by answering questions and guiding her through the extensive paperwork required for a new immigrant.

And while that helped make the move go more smoothly, she admitted to being “a bit nervous.” But, added Bassan, “I think it’s one of those times when it’s OK to be nervous. It’s a big step.”

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