Just Go For It!
Aliza Pilichowski: The American Olah who became Mayor of Mitzpe Yericho
Upon making Aliyah with her family from Florida in 2014, Aliza Pilichowski moved to Mitzpe Yericho, a growing yishuv of 450 families overlooking both Yericho and the Dead Sea in the Judean Desert. Four years later, Aliza became the mayor of Mitzpe Yericho. We spoke with her to learn about her amazing journey.
Tell us about your background, and what brought you to Israel.
I grew up in small towns throughout the United States, but my parents’ dream was always to move to Israel. Wherever we lived, my parents created a home of chessed. My parents had an “FHB” policy, which meant “family hold back”, a code my mom used when unexpected guests showed up at our home to signal to the children that we shouldn’t take food at the table right away, ensuring the guests would have enough to eat. We spent many Shabbatot and chagim at nursing homes where my parents led Shabbat for the residents. With these values and dreams in my ‘backpack’, my husband Uri and I built our home. We decided we would help Klal Yisrael wherever it may take us – but ideally we hoped to be in Israel. Before making Aliyah, we were blessed to live in Mevaseret Zion, Beverly Hills, and Boca Raton, where we had the privilege of working with Rabbis Steven Weil and Efrem Goldberg. When presented with the opportunity to return to Israel, we jumped! We are blessed to host thousands of guests in our home every year, with whom we share the beauty of Mitzpe Yericho and the Judean Desert.
What drew you to Mitzpe Yericho?
We were looking to live in close proximity to Yerushalayim and wanted to buy a single family home. Most importantly, we were looking for an opportunity to be a part of building a community. Nefesh B’Nefesh has a fantastic website that helps people find their homes. After researching and visiting the yishuv, we realized it would be an ideal community for us, and we have been very happy here. We welcome tens of new families each year from all over Israel and the Diaspora into our community.
How does an olah from Florida become the mayor of an Israeli town? What drove you to take on this position?
When the yishuv interviewed us, they asked us why we wanted to move to Mitzpe Yericho. I told them that I wanted to be a chalutzah, a pioneer. The interviewers chuckled and explained how the founders who first came to Mitzpe Yericho were forced to live without basic amenities like electricity and running water. As the yishuv fortunately no longer has such struggles, I modified my goal to become a “pioneer of today” and we began our journey in Mitzpe Yericho. I was invited to run for the city council together with a group of dynamic people and I was excited to be a part of the growth of the community and Eretz Yisrael. Together with the other dedicated leaders of the city council and many strategic partners, we built dozens of new projects, including 100 new homes, a pool and four parks, and we are raising funds for a new youth center.
How do you balance being the mayor with your career as a chaplain and your family responsibilities?
The values of my job, my community, and my family all overlap. I am dedicated to all of these roles as each is an expression of my values. That being said, it is always a challenge to balance my day-to-day responsibilities, and I hope and pray that I can hold it all together! Recently, I was invited to a conference on aging from the municipality and this presented another opportunity for me to synthesize my entire life as a mother, daughter, chaplain, and mayor. The many roles that I play inform each other and enlighten all of my work.
What advice can you offer to new olim who want to be a part of broader Israeli society?
Go for it! You will be offered opportunities every day. Join committees in your synagogue, city, and your children’s schools, and dive into the joys of communal work. Instead of feeling self-conscious about your accent, remember that a broad smile can compensate for your lack of vocabulary! We are all in the same boat – most Jews in Israel are either immigrants themselves or the children and grandchildren of immigrants. Bring your unique identity and wealth of knowledge and share it with Medinat Yisrael!