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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Students leave Tucson to fight in Israel


Courtesy of Leah Cresswell

Israeli Soldiers at the top of Mount Herzl, the cemetery for the fallen soldiers of Israel. Two UA students have made the decision to move to Israel and fight in the military there.

Gahl Schuster was a sophomore at the UA when he packed his bags and moved 7,500 miles from home to fight for a country he also calls home.

“Every other hour I thought I needed to be in Israel,” said Gahl Schuster, who joined the Israeli Defense Force to fight alongside other American Jews who felt as equally connected to Israel as he did.

According to statistics from Nefesh B’Nefesh — an organization that provides people with the opportunity to make Aliyah, or immigrate to Israel — there have been 40,000 olim (new immigrants) from the U.S., U.K. and Canada since the group was founded in 2002.

UA sophomore Ryan Armendariz has a similar pull. She has no intention of quitting school but is determined to move to Israel and become a citizen once she earns her political science and Spanish degrees.

“I officially decided I wanted to make Aliyah when I was there in July,” said the Nogales, Ariz., native, referring to the process of getting Israeli citizenship. “I went on Birthright in January and thought it was a great place to visit but not to live. When I went back in May, I completely fell in love with Israel. I went back again in July and was like, ‘I’m doing it.’”

Armendariz plans to return for a three-month internship next summer.

Gahl Schuster was born in Las Cruces, N.M., but spent his first 11 years in Israel. When he was 11, his family moved back to the U.S., settling in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2003.

Gahl Schuster was in Israel over summer when a violent conflict arose between Israel and Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic organization with a military wing. His family was relieved to learn that he was not fighting at the time and was not involved in the ground operation.

Daniel Schuster, the youngest of the three brothers, said that he had a “Red Alert” application on his cellphone that would signal every time a rocket was fired into Israel over the summer. The family would call or text Daniel Schuster every time a siren was near.

“It was very surreal spending a summer under fire in Israel,” Daniel Schuster said from Israel in an email interview. “People around me were scared. Thousands of rockets were fired into Israel. But the love of life that I find unique to this people, the Israelis, could not be dissipated.”

Daniel Schuster lives in Tel Aviv, Israel, and said that people during the attacks went about their ordinary daily lives. The beaches were packed as usual; the city was buzzing. Daniel Schuster said the fighting did alter people’s travel decisions. No one dared drive down to the south for fear of rockets flying. During the conflict over the summer, businesses in the south collapsed and the agriculture was devastated because farmers feared tending the land.

Everyone throughout Israel had to ensure that they were within 10 to 15 seconds from shelter at all times.

“One cannot live a normal life in such conditions,” Daniel Schuster said.

Eden Schuster said last summer was especially difficult when people he thought were his friends bashed Israel and its part in the conflict while knowing his brother was fighting there.

Armendariz, a former cheerleader, said her decision to make Aliyah would require her to spend up to two years in the Israeli military.

“I would be joining an army that is constantly on alert and fighting,” she said. “It is a little intimidating, but it is not like it will drive me away.”

Armendariz, whose grandparents are the only members of her family who have been to Israel, was there during the ground operation over the summer. She remembers hearing sirens and explosions; she said she was always on the lookout for the closest shelter and had her glasses and shoes nearby when she went to bed in case of rocket fire during the night.

The only kink to Armendariz’s plans would be if she is accepted into a master’s program, she said.

Eden Schuster said no one in his family was on board with his decision.

“I have chosen to leave everything I know, everyone I know and the life I once had to move to Israel,” Eden Schuster said in an email interview. “Many call me crazy, here as well as in the U.S. They may be right, but my love for this country outgrows every other. My family was the toughest part about leaving.”

Eden Schuster, a junior at Arizona State University, and Daniel Schuster, a high school senior, both said they plan to follow their brother’s lead and move to Israel to join the military.

Armendariz said Israel is home for her.


Leah Cresswell is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News Service. This article originally came from the Arizona Sonora News Service website.

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