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The #etnographquarantinedan, Episode 5: Rebecca Sonnenschein, 18, North Germany (near Hamburg)

The conversation was held in English using the hotel room phone. 

I saw Rebecca on our first day in quarantine, a few balconies below us, enjoying the Israeli sun. She took out a blanket, a pillow, and a water bottle to sunbathe on the balcony. 

Rebecca was born in Italy to a Jewish mother and a Christian father, but for the past 13 years, she has lived with her mother in Germany. As a child, she attended Jewish summer camps and even served as a counsellor in one of the Jewish youth organisations. While they were not religious, she and her mother would occasionally go to synagogue. She has a family in Israel, scattered between Herzliya, Netanya, and Kiryat Motzkin, and has visited Israel several times. She has now decided to immigrate and join the army.

Rebbeca is joining Garin Tzabar, a programme that facilitates service in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and provides a support system for Israelis and Diaspora Jews who do not have parents in Israel. (The Hebrew word "garin" means, literally, core or seed, but it is also used to refer to a group of people who moved to Israel together. The Hebrew word "tzabar," is the word for the sabra fruit (or prickly pear) but is used to refer to native-born Israeli Jews). Garin Tzabar was founded in 1991 and is a non-profit organisation supported by the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the Jewish Agency, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Defense as well as private donors. Each group of new olim (immigrants) is adopted by an Israel community (such as a kibbutz) and live there for three months, during which time they study Hebrew and navigate the bureaucratic processes that are required before conscription. The participants remain a part of their respective communities throughout their army service.

"The idea to serve in the IDF popped up when I was a young teenager. I cannot explain it rationally. It's more of a feeling that I had. In Israel, I have a sense of home; more than I do in Italy or Germany." After joining the programme, Rebecca had one face-to-face seminar and the rest was online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In September, she will have her first IDF call up interview (tzav rishon), so she doesn't yet know where she will serve in the army.  On finishing the hotel quarantine, she will have a few days to spend with her family before moving to Kibbutz Lohamei HaGeta'ot, where she will study Hebrew.

I asked her how her family and friends reacted when she told them about her plan to join the IDF. "My mother is very supportive. Even though she's sad to be away from me, she believes it will make me happy, so she's positive about it. As for my friends, it depends on whether you mean Jewish or Christian friends. The Christian friends don't understand it; it's weird for them because in Germany there is no mandatory service like in Israel so they can't understand why would I want to do it. My Jewish friends are much more understanding because some of them have families in Israel, so they know the country. Overall, most of my friends do not understand why I chose to do something that is beyond myself, like contributing to a country for two years. For them, it seems to have no obvious benefits for me."

Rebecca doesn't have clear plans about her future after finishing the army: "I thought maybe I would stay in Israel and see how I feel after serving in the army and learning about the less glamorous parts of Israel."

What are her daily routines in isolation? "I sunbathe a lot, I'm reading, working out, I try to improve my Hebrew, and I do plenty of FaceTime with family and friends."

After Rebecca and I finished our talk, we each went outside onto our balconies for the photoshoot. Then she shouted, "At first when you called out to me on the balcony, I thought I was hallucinating or had sunstroke. I didn't understand what you were asking and why, but it was actually really fun talking to someone and spending the time together."

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