Traveling back: Twins return to serve home country, Israel

Annie Matheis, News Editor


Senior Mai Bonomo plans to volunteer for one year in an underdeveloped community in Israel. Her trip starts at the end of July, through the program Shnat Sherute, which  translates to “A Year of Service.” Her volunteering will include in-school and after-school activities for kids and projects for the community.

“I knew that I wanted to take a gap year,” Mai said. “My whole [extended] family is in Israel, and once I found this program I just knew that it was right because I am doing something good.”

Mai’s mother Anat Bonomo said she believes it was a good decision for Mai to take a gap year.

“I think at this age you don’t really know what you want to be when you are going to be old,” she said. “I don’t think you need to decide; I think it’s good that you take the time to see what life is, to work a little, to travel a little. I think at 18 you are not mature yet.”

Mai was born in Israel and moved to America when she was 4 years old. She can fluently speak Hebrew, the national language.

Mai said she struggled at first with the decision of going to college or volunteering in Israel.

“I got way more excited for my program,” she said. “It hit me when I started applying for one college, and I was writing essays. I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ So I stopped.”

While in Israel, Mai will live in a commune, similar to an apartment. She will live with six or seven young volunteers.

“I feel like I am getting something so much better [than a dorm] because I am living in an apartment with these people,” she said. “I get way closer with them, so I am really excited for that.”

Mai said she is excited to be working in a very diverse area.

“You get all the kids from different

backgrounds,” she said.

“I could be in an Ethiopian neighborhood. I could be in an Arabic neighborhood.”

Mai is currently working one job and plans to work two jobs during the summer to save  money for the trip. While there, she will receive a monthly budget for food and living.

“It’s kind of like us getting paid, but we are only getting paid for our bare necessities,” she said. “We are not really getting extra.”

To prepare for her journey to Israel, Mai has been reading Hebrew children’s books. She also has been watching Israeli TV with her mom and trying to speak in Hebrew more often.

Mai said she is considering joining the Israeli army after her year spent with Shnat Sherute.

“In my eyes, it is helping people because it is a defense force,” she said. “College is in the future for me, but not the immediate future, which I like because I am kind of sick of school at this point.”

Bonomo said the risk of danger is not going to prevent her from going to Israel.

“There’s always a chance of danger because you never know what is going to happen — crazy things happen,” she said. “The danger is more concentrated in one part of Israel, which I could be in. It doesn’t really scare me, but I know if I was in that situation, it would be scary because I know people who live in that area, and it’s scary for them. But it’s not going to stop me from going.”

Bonomo said the danger aspect will not affect the way she lives there.

“People don’t really take any extra precautions,” she said. “The only difference is instead of tornado warnings, there are bomb warnings, which is kind of different. It’ll be natural for me because I have already been to Israel and know what it is like. There will be things to get used to but not anything related to turmoil because the media kind of exaggerates it a little bit. I think it’ll be fine.”

Anat said she encouraged Mai to take her gap year in Israel.

“We really wanted her to make her connection to Israel and Judaism stronger,” Anat said. “We are extremely proud of her.”


Senior Aviv Bonomo will join the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) through the program Garin Tzabar in August after graduating high school this May.

Aviv doesn’t know where he will be stationed or what he will do until he arrives in Israel and takes tests to determine what jobs suit him best.

Aviv said he always wanted to move back to his birthplace.

“I have more of a natural pride toward Israel,” he said. “I know it is a draft, so you have to go to the army anyway. I would rather do it with people my age, so I will have the same experiences as everyone and will fit in well when I go there.”

IDF is a program that takes Jewish teens from the U.S. who want to join the Israeli army.

He learned about the program through a close family friend who did it last year.

Aviv will be in the IDF for at least three years. After that he will attend college in Israel for free.

Aviv said there is a lot of mental and physical preparation to do before be goes to Israel.

“I don’t think I am ready yet,” he said. “I think I am ready mentally, just not physically. I know it is going to be a challenge, but I think I am ready for the challenge.”

Aviv’s mother Anat Bonomo said she believes Aviv is brave to join the army.

“It is very much in the spirit of our family,” she said. “We think by all means we have to protect Israel and make sure because of anti-Semitism around in the world going on every day, we should keep Israel because we have no other place to go.”

Anat said she knows her son may be in danger depending on where he is stationed.

“If you will be in the active army service, and you will go outside into enemy territory, or you are going to be at the border of Israel with our enemies — because Israel is surrounded by all countries that are not so interested in peace — then, there is a chance that if there is a battle, something may happen,” she said.

Aviv said the Israeli army is different than the typical college experience because of all the choices students have at a university.

“In college, there is studying, but you still get a lot of free time,” he said. “You can do basically what you want. You just have to make sure you go to your classes and do your work. In the army, you are there 24/7. You don’t really have many options.”

Aviv said he will miss the freedom he has as a high school student once he begins training in Israel.

“I know I am going to be bussed around a lot,” he said. “I have free weekends sometimes, but not always. Doing everything I want to do versus doing everything I am told to do will be a change. But, it is something that I can get used to.”

Aviv said he knows he will change after going through IDF.

“I think I will be more physically attributed,” he said. “I will be mentally more mature. I think I will be more Israeli; I will be there for a while and more culturally adapted to Israel.”

Anat said she was happy Aviv chose to join IDF on his own.

“It came from him — it was his idea and decision ­— to go and volunteer with the army, to give what he can to help Jewish people and Israel to be there and exist,” she said. “There are many countries that do not believe Israel has the right to exist, and they say so all the time.”

Aviv said it was a difficult decision to join the IDF, but he knew he wanted to do it because his family has a history of being in the defense forces.

“A lot of people asked me why I am doing it; they thought I was crazy,” he said. “They don’t really understand what I am doing. But I know I have my reasons, and sometimes they are hard to explain. It is something I want to do, so it makes it a lot easier knowing that I want to do this.”