By Rachel Gross Weinstein
Jules Kramer went on his first trip to Israel when he was 15 years old, and after a month of touring and volunteering at an army base, he was hooked. He fell in love with the country and knew becoming a citizen was what he wanted to do.
After graduating from high school, Kramer participated in a gap year program in Israel and officially made aliyah when he was 19. The rest is history.
“I felt a strong connection to the people and the way of life in Israel,” the 24-year-old said. “After my gap year, I realized that living in Israel was something I could actually accomplish. I showed up there as a citizen and got my identification card. I spent the first year working, making friends and acclimating and was drafted into the army next year.”
Throughout Kramer’s two and a half years in the army as an explosive and weapons expert in the paratroopers, he was referred to as a lone soldier, someone who makes aliyah and doesn’t have any family in Israel.
Kramer recently visited Dallas and shared his story with students at Akiba Academy, Yavneh Academy, the Ann and Nate Levine Academy, Congregation Beth Torah and Academy of Torah in Dallas (ATID). Kramer came to Dallas through a grant ATID received from the Israel @ the Center program. The program is an initiative of the Center for Jewish Education at the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas (JFGD) that provides speakers and projects to foster communication with Israelis to increase engagement with Israel.
Gail Herson, ATID education director, said bringing in a former lone soldier like Kramer is a great way to promote Israel engagement. Kramer is the son of Brett and Susan Kramer, who moved to Dallas from Denver in February when Susan became the new JFGD president and CEO. Herson thought this would be a good community tie-in.
“He is a young American guy, just like my teenagers and other kids in Dallas,” Herson explained. “He left a good life because of a passion and desire to be committed to the Jewish homeland; I love that message. All of the kids he spoke to related to him and also got a better connection to Israel.”
One of those kids was Bryna Herskowitz, an ATID 12th grader who said Kramer’s story inspired her to visit Israel.
“It was interesting because he was young and close to our age when he made aliyah,” she said. “He is an American who has a love for Israel and that made me realize Israel isn’t so foreign. I’ve never been to Israel and now I really want to go.”
ATID 11th grader Benjamin Sheppard went to Israel when he was in eighth grade at Levine Academy, but hearing Kramer speak made him miss Israel. He said hearing about Kramer’s story impacted him greatly.
“Not only did [Jules] tell us about his experiences, he allowed us to ask questions,” he added. “It helped us internalize the information much better. Before this, I was already interested in doing a year abroad in Israel, and hearing his experience with that was interesting also.”
Kramer wasn’t much different from Herskowitz, Sheppard or the other students who listened to him in Dallas. Growing up in Denver, Kramer attended Jewish day school, so the importance of Israel was stressed both at school and by his parents. Susan Kramer said though she was sad when she learned Jules was going to Israel, it made her proud to know that he was living his dream.
She believes he is a great example for young kids and teenagers by proving that people can accomplish anything they put their minds to. “Jules has always been passionate about Israel, that neshama (Jewish soul) has always been there, but I have seen a different type of passion and drive in him since he was made aliyah,” she said. “When I heard he was coming to Dallas, I thought it was special because he has a unique story to share; Dallas gave us a present bringing him here. I hope the kids he spoke with can realize that it is possible to achieve greatness and live their dreams.”
Sometimes those dreams involve hardship, however. Kramer said training and being in the army was the most difficult thing he has ever done, but wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.
“Going through the army made me realize that it is about the bigger picture, not just myself,” he said. “It was an experience that I will take that with me my whole life. I have great friends that I made in the army who I will have forever. The army also allowed me to understand responsibility, leadership and how to act like a mature adult. I don’t believe I would have been able to get those skills anywhere else.”
Having been out of the army for a little more than a year, Kramer is now helping other lone soldiers. He is the director of strategic partnerships for the Center for Lone Soldiers in honor of Michael Levine, a grassroots organization that helps lone soldiers acclimate to life in Israel. The goal is to bring people together who are getting ready to go into the army, who are currently in the army and who have already served so they can meet one another and share knowledge.
Kramer is also studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and hopes to become a tour guide. He said what he enjoyed most about coming to Dallas was being able to bring Israel closer to kids so they could get a real sense of what it is like to live there.
“Kids learn a little bit about Israel in school, but to many of them, it seems like a far off place on the other side of the world,” he said. “For them to meet someone who grew up in the Jewish community like they did, it brings Israel closer and makes a personal connection, which I don’t believe they can get anywhere else.”
For more information about Kramer’s story or the lone soldier program, e-mail him at email@example.com, or visit www.lonesoldiercenter.com.