By Scott Littky
first published 9-11-15
My wife and I are regularly asked how we feel about our daughter Sarah living in Israel. It often seems as it the tone of the question being asked is kind of like – how do you feel about your daughter running away and joining the circus. My response when asked is that you cannot teach and raise your children as Zionists and when they come to you and say: I’m moving to Israel, not be thrilled for them.
So begins the story of my daughter, Sarah Rose Littky, who first visited Israel when she was 16 years old on a USY Pilgrimage trip. She loved her experience that summer, but knew that she had only touched on learning and developing her own love and views of Israel. She was raised in a typical American Zionist family: both her parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents have been to Israel and have always taught a love and understanding for Israel.
While a freshman in college things began to change for Sarah regarding her views of Israel and with what she wanted from Israel. During the second half of her freshman year she had the unique opportunity to work as an intern at the Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C. She was placed in Ambassador Michael Oren’s office, and the experience was life changing. She began to feel a calling to be in Israel. The next experience sent her to Israel on a JNF Alternative Spring Break trip. On that trip she learned, volunteered and began to see Israel as her home. When she returned, she knew that she needed to be in Israel. Recently, I interviewed Sarah about her life in Israel and as a soldier in the IDF.
Why did you move to Israel?
Israel was always important to me. I remember when I was younger and you would go to Israel as a Jewish educator and each time you went I wanted to go with you. In high school, I first visited Israel for a month and I saw Israel only from the view of an American teenager but I began to develop my own personal love of the country. Then, when I was interning for Ambassador Michael Oren, I began speaking with the staff at the Embassy and began to realize that I needed to be in Israel. This really though became a reality after my JNF Alternative Spring Break Trip where I began to really learn that Israel was not perfect and was a work in progress. I knew then that my calling was to be in Israel and to continue to help build our Jewish State.
What do you love most about being in the IDF?
While I was going to school in Israel I realized that I was not becoming Israeli the way I wanted it to be. Even though I had made Aliyah I felt like an American going to school overseas and was not becoming Israeli. I decided then that I needed to do my military service now and not put it off. The IDF has helped me become a part of the culture of Israel. I now speak Hebrew and feel that I’m truly becoming Israeli. The army has taught me that I am a part of something bigger that my own needs, I am helping to defend “my country and home.” As a Lone Soldier in the IDF I have learned self-control, I feel as though I’m really growing into being an adult and that my life has purpose and meaning. I’m also amazed at how Israel looks at the Lone Soldier program. Knowing that you have chosen to become a citizen and an Israeli Soldier on your own is very respected and held very high in Israel. I have amazing support and have an amazing adopted family.
What are the holidays like for you, now that you are in Israel?
It’s kind of funny, holiday preparation is like Christmas in American, there are lots of sales, and stores have lots of items on sale. Even though much of the country does not celebrate in a religious way there are lots of parties and times for families to be together. Yom Kippur is really interesting with the whole country shut down. I love Shabbat dinner here in Israel, it is family time with every member of my Lone Soldier Family gathering together. Even when I have to stay of base for Shabbat there is time to rest and everyone on base acts as a family. It is a day to stop, relax and recharge.
How do you celebrate differently than how you did when you lived in the United States?
Growing up in the United States I found myself in a minority and my Jewish identity came from being Jewish in a religious way. In Israel, I celebrate the holidays being a part of the majority. So where I do not necessarily now identify with the holidays in a religious way the way I did before, they are now a part of the fabric of my life. I have found the holidays to be much for cultural and built into the life of the country. When I was growing up and I missed school for the holidays, I would miss tests and homework. That does not happen in Israel and there is no explaining what the holidays are.
Do you miss anything about the holidays in the United States?
Of course I miss my parents but in a really amazing way I love my life in Israel. I have an amazing Lone Soldier Family who treat me as their fifth child and I have Shabbat dinner or lunch there every weekend. I also have my friends from my prep program for the army so I’m never alone for any holiday or Shabbat.
What is your favorite holiday to celebrate in Israel?
Purim by far. It is a big party that the whole country comes together to celebrate! I must say that I also find Yom HaZikkaron and Yom HaShoah to be very moving. A siren goes off throughout the country and everyone stops for a moment of silence. Even cars on the highway stop and people get out and stand. Yom Ha’Azmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, is unlike anything I have ever seen.
What new customs for the holidays have you learned about in the last two years?
My family is from Eastern Europe and I grew up with those traditions. Foods like chicken soup and gefilta fish! In Israel I have fallen in love with Sephardic culture. I love the food and the way they celebrate. Also, there is nothing like a wedding in Israel. There is so much love and happiness all rolled up into a huge celebration. Last November one of my Lone Soldier family brothers got married and I had so much fun dancing that I was sore for days.
What do you want people in Omaha to know about your life in Israel?
I am really living my dream! I love everything about Israel. Israel gets so much bad press that is not deserved. I feel very safe living here and do not find it dangerous, if anything Washington D.C. was a lot more dangerous. I love that attitude of Israel. We do not worry about the small things in life. When I lived in D.C. everyone’s priority was work, in Israel I love that family, friends and life and first.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about?
I would like the Omaha community to know about two programs that are very important in my life and have provided me with support. The first is Garin Tzabar, (https://www.facebook.com/garintzabar) – the program that helped get me ready for the IDF and still provides support. The next in the Michael Levine Lone Soldier Center, (https://www.facebook.com/soldiercenter?ref=br_rs ) which also has provided me with support.