Going home as a lone soldier
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Going home as a lone soldier

Young American-Israeli Tenafly woman talks about her choices

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A Nefesh B’Nefesh flight included 108 new lone soldiers. Photo by Jacob Richman

Doctors Orna and Arie Rosen did not intend to “get stuck” in the United States for 28 years.

They expected to return to their native Israel soon after coming to America to gain experience in their subspecialties. However, they ended up working here – he as a head and neck surgeon in Hackensack, she as a neonatologist at Montefiore Children’s Hospital in the Bronx – and raising their two children in Tenafly among a large Israeli expatriate community.

But it seems that now the second generation is leading the way back home.

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Roni Rosen of Tenafly flew to Israel to become a lone soldier in the IDF.

Earlier this week, Orna and her daughter, Roni, flew to Israel on separate flights. Roni was one of 108 future “lone soldiers” on a Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight making aliyah through Tzofim Garin Tzabar, a program intended to ease the way for Israeli citizens living abroad who choose to return to perform military service with their peers in Israel.

‘I’m coming 11 hours ahead of her because I want to be at the Garin Tzabar ceremony at Tel Aviv University on August 13,” Dr. Rosen said. “We’ll have only one day together to run some errands, because from the reception they’ll take them to where they are being housed.”

Roni Rosen will be living at the absorption center in Ra’anana, not far from many of the relatives she visited every summer growing up.

Now 22, Ms. Rosen was active in the Tenafly chapter of the Israel Scouts program, Tzofim, which sponsors Garin Tzabar. Last June, she graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in biology; she plans to apply to medical schools in Israel and in the United States.

“If I decide I want to stay in Israel, I’ll go to medical school there if I get in,” Ms. Rosen said. She is a trained emergency medical technician and twice she volunteered in Honduras with the Brandeis Medical Brigade.

She planned on joining the Israel Defense Forces through Garin Tzabar long before Operation Protective Edge began this summer. “It happened so close to the date that there was no turning back,” she said. “But I’ve been in Israel when times were not very stable and I think I know what it’s like. It’s not as big a threat as you see in the news, but also the war kind of strengthened my resolve to go. If anything, this is when Israel needs soldiers the most.”

She had wanted to take a year off between college and medical school anyway, she continued, and being in Israel seemed like the most natural choice. “We go almost every year to see family, and I always loved going to Israel. I’m the only one in my family who wasn’t born there.”

Ms. Rosen joined Tzofim in eighth grade and became a co-head counselor by the time she was a senior at Tenafly High School, where she also co-founded the Israeli Cultural Club and captained the hockey team.

“We are totally Israelis,” Dr. Rosen said. “We speak Hebrew at home so our children, Ido and Roni, are fluent. We are not religious but we keep the traditions and the culture, and Roni is very aware of her roots. She wants to go and live in Israel in order to make a decision about where to live her life, and we are totally supportive of this.”

About 20 young adults are in Ms. Rosen’s particular garin, or seed group. That includes two other Brandeis graduates – and another joined a religious garin. (One of the garin members lives in Teaneck but declined to be interviewed for this article.)

Tzofim Garin Tzabar requires attendance at four seminars where the future soldiers can get to know one another and learn a bit about the IDF. Ms. Rosen is among the older members of the group; many teens join right after high school.

“Initially I wanted to do it three years ago with one of my best friends, after my freshman year of college, but I decided it would be better to finish my degree first,” she said. “That gave me time to think about it more and decide if I really want it.”

According to her mother, Ms. Rosen’s desire to serve Israel only grew stronger as time passed. “She wants it even more now, and she’s not afraid of anything,” Dr. Rosen said. “She is the kind of girl who will do what she wants to do, and we adore her for that.”

The planeload of 338 new Israelis landed on Tuesday and was greeted by dignitaries including President Reuven Rivlin, Interior Minister Gideon Saar, and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.

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