After multiple trips to Israel, Tucson teen making aliyah as lone soldier

Madyssen Zarin, left, with her twin sister, Rachael, and mother, Patricia (Korene Charnofsky Cohen)

Update: Nefesh B’Nefesh provided this photo of “soon to be IDF soldiers” arriving in Israel Aug. 17. We’re pretty sure we spotted Madyssen Zarin on the far right. 

Soon-to-be IDF soldiers off the plane


Madyssen Zarin is not someone who sits and watches the world go by. She is leaping into the future by making aliyah, immigrating to Israel, later this month. At age 18, this is quite a leap.

“I am excited and scared but mostly excited,” says Zarin.  “For my first trip to Israel with Tucson Hebrew Academy, I had been learning about Israel for eight years. After going on the March of the Living in 2014 and then traveling to Israel, I came to appreciate Israel as the land of hope. I had the idea to move to Israel before going on a six-week study trip to Israel in 2015, but that trip confirmed my idea that I would like to live there.”

Most Jewish people think of Israel as their homeland, says Zarin, who also is drawn to the idea that it is a country where the government cares about Jews. She likes the people she has met in Israel and is looking forward to getting better acquainted with the culture and celebrating holidays there. “I want to help make Israel a safe place so I am willing to live there and help,” she says.

Israel’s Garin Tzabar (Lone Soldier) program will coordinate Zarin’s move. The program was founded in 1991 and is run by Tzofim Tzabar Olam, a non-profit organization that has the support of the Israeli Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption.  The program is for men (ages 18 to 23) and women (ages 18 to 22) who don’t have family in Israel but want to make Israel their home and “serve a meaningful service in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) as Lone Soldiers,” according to the program’s website.

The closest U.S. chapter is in Los Angeles, and Zarin went there four times for informational programs and the chance to meet and bond with other teens. Twenty-three other people from this chapter will be making aliyah at the same time as Zarin.

For the first three months, Zarin and the others will stay at Niryitzhak, a kibbutz near Gaza in southwest Israel. During those three months, she says, there’ll be paperwork to fill out, bonding activities and testing for the military to see what type of positions she’s most suitable for when she enlists in the army in November or December. The minimum enlistment is two years for women. Zarin will have dual citizenship while she lives in Israel.

Zarin won’t need a newcomer’s Hebrew immersion program. She learned Hebrew at Tucson Hebrew Academy and kept up it at Tucson Hebrew High. “Learning languages has always come easily to me. All of us on the program will be taking classes when we get there but my language was strong enough to skip the early/extra classes,” she says.

After serving two years in the army Zarin plans to go to college. She is not certain whether she will stay in Israel or return to the U.S., but she plans to major in international relations with a minor in business.

“I think [making aliyah] is a really good thing for Madyssen to do,” says Patricia, Zarin’s mother. “Madyssen is beautiful, brilliant, driven and has a feistiness; she can do anything she wants. She is trilingual in English, Hebrew and Spanish. While in school she worked, was in clubs and participated in the Model U.N. I see her as the next Golda Meir.” She adds that her husband, Ira, believes very strongly in what their daughter is doing, while Zarin says that her brothers, Michael and Benjamin, are “cool” with her going to Israel.

“This is something Madyssen wants to do and I want her to be happy,” says Rachael, Zarin’s fraternal twin sister, who has been to Israel twice. “I don’t really want her to go and I am going to worry about her, although I plan to go visit her. Before she leaves I am going to get a tattoo, which will have the following saying written in Hebrew; ‘G-d made us sisters, love made us friends’.”

Zarin listed a few things she might miss, besides family and friends, back home in Tucson. These include the restaurants eegees and Frost, her four dogs and Tucson culture — getting off from school for rodeo, local music and meeting someone she knows wherever she goes in Tucson.

“She is going to do great and be very happy there in Israel,” says Patricia. “Of course we will miss her. I don’t know how to use Skype, but I am definitely going to learn.”

Korene Charnofsky Cohen is a freelance writer and editor in Tucson.