Dec 30, 2004
by Rick Hellman, Editor
When James Shulkind, age 23, of Overland Park took off for a new life in Israel this week, it was the culmination of a several-year, one might even say a lifelong process.
"We've always been strong Zionists, so we support him," said James's mother, Jane Shulkind, a member of Congregation Beth Shalom.
|James Shulkind had his bags packed Monday. |
"Ever since kindergarten, when they would talk about Israel, I found it intriguing," James Shulkind said Monday, one day before he was to join 200 others on a mass-aliyah charter flight from New York to Tel Aviv. The flight was sponsored by a relatively new group called Nefesh B'Nefesh (www.nefeshbnefesh.org) that, along with other entities, has helped to support Shulkind and the other new olim. Nefesh B'Nefesh means "Soul with Soul" in Hebrew.
Shulkind attended the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in kindergarten through grade 8. For the next three years, he attended Valley View, a boarding school in North Brookfield, Mass., designed to aid students who have attention-deficit disorder. Then he returned home, completing his high school studies at Accelerated Schools in Overland Park, Kan.
Meanwhile, the Shulkind family (James and his brother, Andrew, and their parents, Jane and Steve Shulkind) had taken a two-week trip to Israel soon after James's Bar Mitzvah "in lieu of a party," James Shulkind said. "It was unbelievable."
And Shulkind went again in 1996 on a non-denominational trip offered by the Valley View school. "It was half Jews, half Christians," Shulkind said of his approximately 10-person group. "We went to Galilee, to Bethlehem. It was fascinating."
Shulkind went again on March of the Living in spring 2000, which takes Jewish students through Poland and Nazi death camps for one week, followed by a second week in Israel, marking Yom HaShoah and Israel's own national memorial day, finally relieved by Israeli Independence Day and a bit of touring.
"That was completely mind changing," Shulkind said. "Completely life changing. ... That was the trip that made me say 'I am making aliyah.' "
Loving the lifestyle
Shulkind also managed to qualify for a birthright Israel trip in December 2002. He completed the birthright trip, then stayed on in Israel throughout 2003 on various work/study programs. He worked with the Israeli organization Livnot U'Lehibanot (To Build and to Be Built), which serves as a clearinghouse for volunteer activities. Livnot hooked Shulkind up with an ulpan, or intensive Hebrew language study course, at Kibbutz Maagen Michael on the Mediterranean Sea coast. That meant five months studying and working in an irrigation-systems factory. Shulkind said he loved the lifestyle, so he followed that with shorter stints at two more kibbutzim - Ein HaShofet in northern Israel and Kinneret, on the southern shore of the lake.
"I worked in the laundry, which was great fun ... the mango fields, the garden, the kitchen," Shulkind said.
After a visit to Eilat and Taba, Egypt, Shulkind returned home about one year ago. And he immediately began making serious plans for aliyah. He contacted the government's Israel Aliyah Center in Chicago, which provided him with reams of information on the various aspects of acquiring Israeli citizenship. Shulkind will become a dual citizen. He has taken advantage of the various financial incentives offered by the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency for Israel and Nefesh b'Nefesh. That includes a free plane ticket and a housing subsidy upon arrival, as well as the tax breaks that are offered to all new olim.
In return, and in consideration of his age and marital status, Shulkind will have to give at least six months on active duty to the Israeli Defense Forces. "I hope to have a desk job," Shulkind admitted. "If I was in great shape, they might target me for a combat unit. Maybe I'll be a guard. I'm ready for whatever. I owe it to them for their financial support."
Shulkind is ready for whatever, as regards his personal life, too - not least because he's not sure when he will be called to serve that army stint. Upon arrival, he was to head for a friend's apartment in Beersheva, and he has plans for at least one advanced-level ulpan. He says he has a laptop computer full of contact information, and the help of more than one group serving American olim, which makes his mother feel a bit more comfortable.
On Monday, Shulkind admitted to feelings of nervousness. "I'm ready as I can be," he said. "I hope it's going to work out like I have planned."
© Kansas City Jewish Chronicle 2004