Jews with Views – Yom HaAtzmaut Edition 5782
What was your experience like when you made Aliyah in your twenties?
BY RABBI DAVID KATZ
Several years before making Aliyah I visited Israel in an effort to keep my Aliyah passion alive. I visited Yad Vashem, stepped out of the then-new Childrens’ Memorial quite moved, and looked across the hill at a new neighborhood being built. At that moment I closed my eyes, as if dreaming, and promised myself, “One day soon I will be living here in Israel and I will live in that very neighborhood!” As always, life moved forward and I forgot about that moment.
Fast forward a few years, and my wife and I made Aliyah right after our wedding (with Sheva Berachot on the plane as I promised my bride!), and we moved into our first apartment in the Har Nof neighborhood of Yerushalayim. After unpacking (our lift only came a month later; we slept on borrowed Jewish Agency mattresses. Unpacking was easy!) I opened the mirpeset (balcony) door to get some fresh Jerusalem sunset air. I looked out at the hill across from me and I saw… the Childrens’ Memorial of Yad Vashem!
My Aliyah was long before Nefesh B’Nefesh existed, but yes, I was, and still am, living the dream!
Rabbi David Katz made Aliyah from Teaneck, New Jersey, and is the Dean of Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim (MMY).
BY RABBANIT SARAH COOPER
I came to Israel to learn for the year when I was 17 and decided to stay. At first, I took it year by year. Yet the decisions I made paved the road for me to live here. I did sherut leumi, and then social work – not because I was particularly interested in the field, but because I knew it would help me understand Israeli society and help me hone my Hebrew skills. Little by little, I became attached to life in Israel and felt deeply at home.
When the day came for me to get my teudat zehut (Israeli citizenship identity card), I woke up at 6am and stood in line outside of the Ministry of the Interior. When my number was finally called, my heart started beating faster. My lifelong dream was about to come true! The woman behind the counter stamped my papers and called out loudly “next!” I looked at her in complete shock and said: “That’s it? Where are the people dancing and singing? Are you not even going to give me a flag? Do you have any idea what I am giving up to come and live here?”
To this day, when my children turn 16 and are eligible to receive their first teudat zehut, I insist on coming with them – and I do my best to totally embarrass them. I dance and clap as they have their picture taken and hand them an Israeli flag, so that they realize how fortunate they are to grow up in our people’s homeland, in a country we call our own.
Rabbanit Sarah Cooper is originally from New Jersey and is the principal of the Orot Etzion Girls elementary school in Efrat.
BY RABBI JON SINGER
I can’t help but feel a little dishonest in writing this piece. I made Aliyah from Toronto in August 2010, six days before my 20th birthday; by the time I was “in my twenties” I was of course a grizzled veteran Israeli!
It was an immense zechut that my first home as an Israeli was Yeshivat Har Etzion. Beyond being an incredible institution for Torah learning, “Gush” gave me a framework where I could learn Hebrew, prepare for the army, and later serve alongside my new Israeli friends through the Hesder program. Although it definitely was not unheard of then, going through Hesder as a lone soldier was not nearly as common as it has become today. I had to figure out ways to manage Israeli society on my own.
One way was to refuse to let Israelis practice their English on me. I would claim that I simply didn’t understand what they were saying unless they would switch back to their mother tongue. “Mah? Lo hevanti,” I would insist in my heavily-accented Hebrew to an undoubtedly convinced native.
Ultimately though, despite ups and downs, there has never been any doubt that moving to Israel was the right decision. “After all,” as I was quick to tell anyone who dared wonder why I would pick up and leave the comfort of life in Canada, “isn’t 2,000 years long enough to wait?”
Rabbi Jon Singer is the Rosh Beit Midrash and Educational Director for Mechinat Ruach Hanegev, a gap-year program located in the Negev that strives to cultivate a new generation of strong and inspired Religious Zionists.
BY CHANNAH SPIEGELMAN
Thirty years ago, on July 14, 1991, my husband Ushi and I, along with our two small children, boarded an El Al plane to make Aliyah. We had not been to Israel since our shana ba’aretz (gap year) and we arrived without having done a pilot trip and without jobs (we planned our move during the Gulf War). But having grown up in Bnei Akiva and Camp Moshava, we never questioned our decision; we had faith and a fire burning inside us that kept telling us to seize the moment and go.
We moved to Ra’anana, where I found work as a “Morah Olah” in an elementary school. We finished our paperwork, got our drivers’ licenses (but had no car), I became pregnant with twins, we didn’t understand what the bank meant when they told us about “overdraft” (though now we certainly do!) and that winter was the worst and coldest Ra’anana had seen in over 25 years.
But we were home.
We welcomed each holiday with a “Chag Sameach,” bought many white shirts (the dress code here is different!) and we began searching for a home and community to raise our family and where we could be impactful. 30 years later, we have 6 amazing children, live in Chashmona’im and on every Shabbat and chag our house is filled with the noise and bustle of our children and grandchildren.
As we watch our children raise their own families and build wonderful lives and reflect on our Aliyah journey, we know our dreams have come true.
Channah Spiegelman has been the Rosh Moshava at Camp Moshava I.O. for over 15 years.
BY RABBI YONATON BEHAR
I came to Israel when I was 24 years old, though I knew I would make Aliyah from the time I was 13. I grew up in the Betar Movement and was indoctrinated early on to love the land and people of Israel, hearing stories about the sacrifices of Jabotinsky, Trumpeldor, and the other Betar heroes, who were not religious Jews. Yet they put their lives on the line, drained swamps under the threat of malaria and stood up to the threat of the Arabs. It made a powerful impact on me.
I came to Israel shortly after the 1982 Lebanon War. Some of the rabbis from Merkaz HaRav organized a hitnadvut (volunteer) program in which they brought over a thousand young students from abroad to volunteer because all of the soldiers were in Lebanon and there was a manpower shortage. The fruit was rotting on the trees, and they needed people to help pick them. Ultimately, I ended up at Yeshivat Machon Meir for a while, and also helped start El-David, a new yishuv near Tekoa named in memory of Eli Pressman, who was killed in Lebanon, and David Rosenfeld, manager of the tourist site at Herodium who was murdered by his Arab employees [Ed. Note: Today the yishuv is called Nokdim]. They needed people to camp out there in sleeping bags!
When I came here in my twenties the country was empty; I remember driving from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and it was barren most of the way! Now, it’s all towns and cities – an absolute miracle!
Rabbi Yonaton Behar is originally from Queens, NY, and lives in Har Bracha, where he translates many of the writings of Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Eliezer Melamed.