Someone asked me to tell them about my aliyah experience for a school project so I ended up writing out a lot of the whole story, the first time I ever did that. Here it is, for me to remember, and in case there are holes elsewhere that needed filling in.
I grew up in Staten Island, NY, in a fairly average family and we slowly became modern orthodox over time. I went to co-ed yeshiva schools and my high school was very Zionistic. The first time I went to Israel was for a Bat Mitzvah trip with my dad when I was 12; it was a proper two week tour. He gave me a choice between a big party or a trip to Israel and I chose the latter, probably because I was very influenced by the bibilical aspect of Israel that we learned in school. The trip left me confused because I was amazed with the biblical aspects of Israel but the modern country was kind of a letdown (I don’t know at 12 what I was expecting).
In high school I became passionately involved in AIPAC and lobbyed in Washington twice. I was also in the Israeli Awareness Commission and I think that is where it kind of started.
Then I got to Binghamton and wanted to be involved in Jewish action, and found out the Israel post was open in Hillel and there weren’t very many activities planned for Israel at all. I guess at that point I felt really strongly already (I don’t remember so much) and I took the post and along with some friends we revived the Israel Action Committee.
Over the four years of college, I made the committee a huge part of my ‘studies’ and I went to Israel 4 times, half of that was with organizations and half on my own.
Aliyah budded as a reality in 2002 when I was on Hillel’s Mission to Israel in the summer. It was only a ten day trip but something about it really hit me. It wasn’t like the facts or information was new to me, but something hit me and the idea started to grow. I went to England for a semester in 2003 and there it became clear that I could live outside the States, and in fact, it was preferable to do so… So I knew that I could do it, and I knew I wanted to do it, and while I was in England I “came out” to my parents, giving them a 2-year advanced notice. I’ll add that my parents have been very supportive all along, albeit not ecstatic, considering the situation. I started looking into the process in England. I decided that the summer after that semester I would spend in Jerusalem as an intern so that I could really ‘live’ there for a bit and make sure it made sense. I got an internship with the Jerusalem Post through the Jewish Agency’s Staggerim program and a room in a Jerusalem absorption center. That summer, I made a few really amazing friends and had an inspirational experience. It solidified the whole thing further.
I used the Jewish Agency for the aliyah ‘thinking process’ and Nefesh b’Nefesh to help me get there financially. I didn’t speak to any former olim; I probably just didn’t know any. I had one Israeli friend who I spoke to about it which was an interesting perspective because he was generally a bit skeptical that I’d come back and thought I was a bit crazy for wanting to do it. But he was definitely a very strong influence on me.
I didn’t have any close or even remotely close friends in Israel when I got there in January 2005. I used my 1 or 2 connections to branch out and network (very easy to do in the Anglo Jerusalem community). I also attended Ulpan Etzion which not only teaches you Hebrew but also helps you build a social life as well. The first 6 months were a tough adjustment, mostly in the social life arena. It’s not easy even though you’d think that would be the easiest part.
There’s so much to get used to as well. Disorganization; waiting, chutzpah, culture, etc. So many things are different – going to the doctor, going to the store, visiting government offices, walking into buildings, security checks constantly. A lot of it I was already used to from my summer visit. Also, I spoke Hebrew decently because of my high school education and my prior visits and some practice I would do at home before I left.
My second year in Israel has proved to be a complete turn around from the initial roughness. I have a job I love; I work in creative marketing for Answers.com. I’m studying my Masters at Bar Ilan University in Conflict Management & Negotiation (in grad level Hebrew!). I have a few close friends who are more like family because you lack blood-family here. I’m engaged and living in the Katamonim area of Jerusalem (it’s a Mizrachi family area, so it’s full of culture and it’s very different from the Anglo community, and more fun. It’s close to the Anglo community so we are not cut off).
I love living in a new place with different values and ways of life. I love the easy going atmosphere, laid back attitude. I love not worrying all the time about money and future. I like being in a place I can call ‘home’ with all kinds of different people who are somehow related to me, if they’re pale or brown or gold or black. I like being friends with people from all over the world. I love seeing piles of powdered doughnuts around the malls at ‘Christmastime’ and boxes of Matza stocked at ‘Eastertime’. I love living in a Jewish country.
I don’t love the government here. I don’t love trying to get through the bureacracy. I hate the medical system, I’m not a fan of paying high taxes. I don’t like the claustrophobia of living in such a tiny country. I don’t like the religious intolerance on either side. I don’t like having a certain ‘security’ seat on the bus because I play mind games in order to feel safe.
I came for a mix of social, cultural, religious and ideological reasons. I believe in a Jewish state in Israel. I believe “If not me, who? If not now, when?” I didn’t feel 100% at home in America, even though I love New York City and it’s probably my favorite city in the whole world. I wanted to be somewhere where I could feel comfortable being religious. I wanted certain values that I felt I could better teach my kids here.
But the problem is, many think that all that fantasy I just wrote is the be all-end all. The fact is, there is more religious freedom in America, if you look at it from a certain point of view. The fact is that here, intolerance and hatred abound. Secular Judaism is distrubing, and so it Charedi Judaism. and so it everything really. It’s frustrating to try and work to not hate people and all you want to do is hate people, even your own. American olim get on my nerves because it seems a lot of them are here for the wrong reasons; yet who am I to judge? Also, this country is not Messiah having come; people forget that I think. They make aliyah to Jerusalem and not Israel. It all needs a lot of work, and Jerusalem does not make me feel proud of modern Judaism. Poverty here is ridiculous. Social issues are plenty. There is a lot of work and it’s not enough to think you can just come here, get a job and be happy. You have to give it time, patience, creativity, and a sense of humor to make it long term.
Did anything surprise me? That I made it in only a year!
I think aliyah is a process with many layers that requires a lot of thought, but I don’t think it’s too complex or impossible.