United with Israel is proud to introduce a new feature called “The Faces of Israel”. Each week we will present you with stories about Israelis coming from different walks of life. We think you will enjoy learning about the lives of special people who are privileged to live in the Land of Israel.
Ben Halpern, age 23, a native of Baltimore, MD and a friend of this author, has just decided to make Aliyah to Israel and is presently living in Jerusalem. He claims that he has always wanted to live in Israel for he felt that Israel was his home and that he greatly enjoys reading books about Israel. One of his all time favorites was The Revolt by Menechem Begin for it reveals the “necessary can do attitude in the face of the rest of the world.” He claimed that the Irgun fought the British on principle and that “they didn’t negotiate or compromise any of their requirements.” This strong Zionist spirit as manifested in the Irgun is one of the reasons why Halpern decided to make Israel his home.
Indeed, Halpern has always had a very passionate commitment to Zionism. When he was a student at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, he single-handedly stopped the formation of a chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine by reporting to the Student Government that he was thrown out of a SJP planning meeting that sought to bring Norman Finkelstein, a Jewish anti-Israel ideologue who frequently claims that Israel exploits the Holocaust for her own political purposes, to his campus. In an article that he published in the Baltimore Jewish Times, Halpern drew attention to the Students for Justice in Palestine’s long history on various campuses of supporting terror, advocating hate speech, and engaging in other questionable activities. For this reason, the Anti-Defemation League considers the Students for Justice in Palestine as one of the ten worst anti-Israel organizations within the United States.
When Halpern was a student at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, the University of Maryland at College Park’s Students for Justice in Palestine invited in a speaker for their Palestinian Solidarity Week who actually declared “the only good Zionist is a dead Zionist,” in addition to hosting an “apartheid wall” in the middle of campus. Indeed, I met Ben Halpern while protesting against anti-Israel activism at the University of Maryland College Park campus. Upon witnessing incidents such as this on campuses across the United States, as well as hearing from this author about other anti-Israel events hosted by pro-Palestine activists at the University of Maryland at College Park campus, Halpern became determined not want to see events like this occurring on his campus and thus not only became committed to fighting against the SJP, but also felt that the anti-Israel sentiments expressed on American campuses motivated him to want to live in a Jewish environment. As Halpern asserted, “At least here, the anti-Israel element of the population is marginalized.”
Yet, Halpern’s ideological commitment to the State of Israel is merely one of his many reasons for deciding to move indefinitely to Israel because Halpern also asserted that the universal health care system that is available in Israel is nice. He claimed that in the United States, insurance companies frequently extort money from young unmarried men like him. In addition, Halpern declared that despite having a background in computer programming, upon graduating from the university in 2011, he didn’t like most of the job opportunities that were available to him in the United States as well, especially since most of them were jobs with government contractors.
Indeed, the unemployment rate in the United States stands at 16 percent for people under 25, yet may in actuality be much higher for these statistics don’t include the millions of young Americans who sign up to continue their studies or to engage in training programs because they couldn’t find a job. If one includes these young people in the equation, the United States actually has a worse youth unemployment rate than Europe. In contrast, young Israelis between the ages of 20 to 24 have an unemployment rate of only 11.9 percent, as compared to a 14.9 percent average in all OECD nations. Thus, Halpern correctly concluded that in Israel it will be significantly easier for him to find a high tech job, upon successfully completing his time serving in the Israel Defense Forces. He declared, “While the rest of the world seems to be falling apart, Israel is still strong.”
However, aside from Halpern’s strong Zionist convictions and attraction to the socio-economic benefits of living in Israel, he also asserted that he very much likes being in Israel and has fond memories here, such as praying at the Kotel and bumping into people that he knew back in Baltimore, as well as visiting another American Jewish family in Efrat and going on a tour of the Ir David Archeological Park with this author during last Passover. Ben and I have had much fun together, doing joint Shabbats and traveling around Jerusalem, yet seeing the remnants of what was King David’s original city was the high-light so-far, as well as the King Herod exhibit at the Israel Museum and the tower of David Museum have been the highlights so far. Yet, traveling around Israel is not the only thing that has attracted Halpern to Israel. Over the past year, Halpern has been studying at a yeshiva in Jerusalem and reached the conclusion that he simply has to live as close to Jerusalem as possible; the feeling of being physically in the historic eternal capital of the Jewish people was amazing for him to the point where he cannot imagine being any where else.
By Rachel Avraham