Shoham Ozeri, daughter of Nancy Ben-Asher Ozeri and Tidhar Ozeri, was born in Israel and spent her first eight years there. Attending Tucson Hebrew Academy helped her identify as Israeli even after her move to the United States with her family before third grade, she says. Continuing her Jewish education at a critical age enabled her to live her dream of making aliyah (moving to Israel) as a lone soldier and traveling the world.
“I’ve always identified as an Israeli,” Ozeri explains. “I decided sophomore year of Tucson High School that I wanted to delay college and move to Israel. All Israelis serve in the IDF [Israel Defense Forces], so making the decision for me was easy. If I am an Israeli, then I will enter the army like an Israeli.”
The 2008 THA alumna moved diligently toward her goal; after graduating from Tucson High Magnet School at 16, Ozeri worked for a year and then joined the Tzofim Garin Tzabar Lone Soldier program, a group program for individuals who wish to move to Israel and serve in the IDF. After five seminars in Los Angeles, Ozeri relocated to Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak in the Western Negev, close to the Gaza border. With single-minded determination, she boarded her flight for Israel two days after her 18th birthday.
On the kibbutz, Ozeri was assigned a host family with a daughter the same age as her sister, “one of many magical parallels,” she says, describing them as “truly very, very kind and generous people.” After three months of absorption into the Israeli community and advanced Hebrew studies, Ozeri entered the IDF and trained for a position in search and rescue in the Home Front Command.
During her army tenure, she had assignments in the West Bank, the Jordan Valley and the Negev. After advanced training, Ozeri completed coursework to become a combat medic and served as head medic for her battalion for the remainder of her two-and-a-half-year service commitment.
Upon exiting the Army, Ozeri worked at a pub and then a medical marijuana farm before joining with friends in the Israeli backpacking tradition. Her first international expedition was a whirlwind tour of southeast Asia with destinations in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines. She returned to Tucson this summer to visit family and earn some extra income, with a ticket to India booked for late August. After seeing the world, Ozeri plans to return to Israel. She’d like to study to become a paramedic at a university in Beersheba or Safed.
For Ozeri, attending THA “was where I learned who I really was,” she explains. “It was where I first immersed myself in American culture. I’m proud of myself for staying grounded in my life during that transition.
“I’m very grateful that I went [to THA]. Tucson is a diverse city, and to be fortified in such a positive environment was so empowering for me at a young age.”
Sarah Chen, associate director of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s Northwest Division and freelance writer, lives in Tucson.