• Talya Herring

Conquering The Negev

I hang up the phone with my friend going to school in New York. It's hard keeping in touch and it's even harder touching on our divergent realities. She complains about the emptiness in her relationships with her sorority sisters. I complain about Arab terrorism and Israeli racism. She asks me once more why I am staying in Israel and I sigh telling her that life is just better here.

Two years ago when I was packing up my life to make Aliyah, two years ago when I was day dreaming of speaking fluent Hebrew and skipping around the Negev, two years ago when I couldn't sleep because I was so freaked out by the adventure ahead.... I would close my eyes and remember that protagonists in stories always have to go through the story to find out the ending. I waved goodbye to my family and when I sat down on the NBN charter flight, the tears poured down. Why am I doing this again? My character in this novel isn't as brave as I planned for her to act. Why didn't I do an Ulpan first? Why did I think that doing Sherut Leumi was a good idea? Why does everyone look so normal and calm doing this?

In my first year of Sherut Leumi, I served at Aleh Negev, a village specially designed to help adults with special needs achieve the best life possible. Walking independently to the ceramics room or riding the horses, playing in the pool, having medical staff and hugging the loving volunteers... This is their world that we are lucky enough to improve. It is their smiles and happiness that make my world. Soon enough the season of planning for next year arrived and I realized that I must do another year of Sherut. Why would the fact that I'm not in uniform change the duration of my service?

Once more my fingers dial the phone numbers of my friends asking if they have any ideas of other options. I conquered the Negev and now I needed to blaze a trail in a different region of my land. So I called up museums and touring companies, only to hang up hearing that my Hebrew wasn't good enough. Finally I get a hold of Shelach (sadeh, leohm, chevrah), a branch of the Department of Education that connects high school students to the land, nation, and people of this country. Perfectly enough, the man in charge was already familiar with the amazingness of Aleh Negev and wanted me to join their team.

The three week intensive course was the most exhausting experience I have yet to encounter... And that was besides the exhaustion from Tzuk Aton. Leaving Aleh Negev was heart wrenching, but I craved a new dance to the song of my service. Leading classes of loud Israeli teens up the steep clips of Michtash Ramon, down the valleys of the Galil Eliyon, through the thorny fields of Golan and the humid Midbar Yehudah... I gained inspiration from them as they asked me all about my aliyah story. They couldn't believe that I moved away from perfect California to this "messed-up, smelly war zone full of annoying arsim." My responses were just organizing their complaints into the right cabinet of perspective with a few folders of optimism. A few nods and jokes later, they would sing some old Israeli songs and a natural leader of the group would volunteer to read a pasuk of the Tanach story we were marching on.

When I recount my experiences to my friends and family back in America, it's sometimes hard to get the reaction that I thirst for. Sometimes they just don't get it, sometime I forget the correct English word to convey the beauty of the anecdote, and sometimes I realize that Israel has changed me to be a much more cognizant human being. Life is better here because I'm spending my time to make it better. Doing Sherut Leumi is more like a Sherut L'Talya, building me into a stronger member of this land, this nation, and this society. Staying here next year makes you an active protagonist in the coolest plot line yet to occur in our story. We fight. We contribute. We donate. We brainstorm. We fail. We try again. Life is better here because it's in our sovereignty and thus it's our responsibility to make it better. Staying here next year will make you a more cognizant, more generous, more spiritual and thus more happy human being. Staying here next year will be the ultimate thank you card to Hashem for this past amazing year. Staying here next year will give you more than you can even imagine.

Staying here next year is here uplifting the next year and transforming it into one of the greatest years of your life.

Read more inspiring words from Talya:

#SherutLeumi #Israel #HYN #HereNextYear #Negev #Service #zionism #aliyah