He has returned to the country since then, and he thought he would get it out of his system, “but I only became more interested,” he said.
Several weeks ago, Draper, 25, a York University graduate and a trained teacher, joined a group of about 130 young Jewish adults from North America, the United Kingdom and New Zealand who are joining the Israeli army through the Tzofim Garin Tzabar program.
The program – supported by Israel Scouts, the Ministry of Absorption, the Jewish Agency and the Israel Defence Forces’ Nachal Corps – involves the recruits living together on a kibbutz for three months and then serving individually in the army.
The kibbutz will become the group’s home in Israel even after they join the army, and they can return there for Shabbat and holidays. “We’ll be serving in the army as individuals, but we will continue to have group support,” Draper said.
The process leading up to the move to Israel included five seminars throughout the year in which participants learned about their duties in the army and their rights as citizens of Israel, and created support relationships with peers.
Draper’s flight, which was paid for by the Jewish Agency, marked the first time a group – about 30 are in the contingent, and half are from Canada – has left from Toronto, said Dina Gidron, outgoing regional director of Israel Aliyah Centre, which is affiliated with the Jewish Agency.
“Last year, seven or eight people [from Canada] joined the New York trip, but this is [a significant indicator] of the aliyah growth from Canada,” she said.
Draper’s grandparents were Holocaust survivors, he said, “and that was a motivator in my decision. I don’t want Jews to experience another Holocaust event. Israel provides a safe place for world Jewry. I feel that they look out for us.”
He made his plans well before the current situation in Israel, but he said that it “reaffirms that it is the right thing for me to do. It is a difficult time now, but [Israel] is always a difficult place to live.”
With a background in competitive sports – he played AAA hockey in Richmond Hill and was a referee for six years – Draper said he is well suited to be a combat soldier, because “I enjoy physical and mental challenges.”
Speaking several hours before his flight was set to leave, Draper said he anticipates that his biggest challenge will be learning conversational Hebrew and increasing his vocabulary.
“I’ve had my last pizza dinner at home, and I’m ready to go. I’ll miss my parents, my two sisters and my dog, but because I’ll be a lone soldier, I’ll be able to return to Canada for three weeks every year.”
His mother Scarlett, a teacher with the Toronto District School Board, said she and her husband Tom are proud of Aaron, “but full of apprehension. I believe, though, that they will look after our kids.”
Copyright The Canadian Jewish News.