Search for Meaning with Ariela Cohen
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In this edition of his Search for Meaning podcast, Stephen Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback hosts Ariela Cohen, founder of aliyah resource Your Soft Landing, for a discussion about Israel, from military service to current events. Why should making aliyah be so difficult? That’s the question Cohen asked herself after moving to Israel by herself at 17. Her answer was to create Your Soft Landing, a resource for those looking to make the move to Israel, and for those who have already moved, but still need some help in an unfamiliar place. Your Soft Landing helps with everything from packing and storage to buying a car to finding a place to live. They even help navigate Israel’s bureaucracy, making appointments and accompanying movers to government offices and ministries to translate and advocate. Need to bring your pet over, or open a bank account? How about finding a drycleaner? These small, seemingly mundane tasks can seem daunting during the course of an intercontinental move. Coming from a Zionist American family, growing up during the emergence of the BDS movement, and seeing its manifestation on the campuses of colleges she was looking to attend, Cohen didn’t make the decision to move lightly. She was motivated by a need to actively protect Israel. So, instead of going to college, racking up debt, and looking for a job with Homeland Security, she moved to Israel, earning Hebrew in seven months, joining the IDF, and becoming a tank instructor. As her military journey progressed, her opinion of Haredi Jews changed quickly. Unlike all other Jewish, Druze, or Circassian Israeli citizens, Haredi are exempted from compulsory military service. “If you want to be a part of this country, you have to give back,” Cohen said. “It goes back to the kibbutz mindset: Everybody pitches in. Everybody is a part. If you don’t want to serve in the army, do two years of community service, where you’re doing national service or you’re volunteering in a soup kitchen or a kindergarten, or doing something for your country. If you’re a pacifist, push pencils. If you’re Haredi, go to a unit in the army where everything is male and everyone is men, but they’re still serving. There is a place for everyone.” Cohen’s American upbringing, dedication to Israel, and her now-intimate knowledge of the country grant her a unique perspective of the events currently unfolding in the Israeli government and on the streets. “I’ve heard this saying: ‘Israel is God’s house,’ — we’re kind of guests of God,” Cohen said. “So, I still have faith that, at the end of the day, it’s still God’s house, and He’s not going to let the country fall apart. That being said, we know that we have free will, so if we don’t use our free will, and we don’t get off our butts, then it doesn’t really matter. Things can still fall apart. The fact that I believe that we are still in God’s house, and I look out my window and I see 100,000 people protest, that gives me hope.”
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