Aliyah Stories: Why Israel Is For Me

imageFor me, the excitement began from the minute we chose to go to the airport. I kept thinking about the soon-to-be olim. “It’s one more month before they get here,” or “this is their last Shabbat in North America,” went through my mind. As the date of their arrival approached, the anticipation grew.

The night before their arrival, I kept checking the clock. “They’re boarding the plane now,” I thought. I prayed that they arrive safely.

By the morning, I felt as if someone had run an electrical current through my entire body. Whereas excitement had filled my prayers the previous day, on the day of their arrival, tears of joy flowed easily.

When my husband and I arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport, we found hundreds of people already there. Busloads of well-wishers, from Jerusalem and other cities, had signs, balloons and flags, ready to give the olim a very warm welcome. We were treated to a lovely breakfast in Terminal One. Then a radio broadcaster interviewed us and photographers took our photos. Music played, and the atmosphere was lively.

At 8:40 AM, an announcement was made that the plane had landed. A cheer erupted from the crowd. We walked outside and waited for the plane. Some minutes later, we heard another announcement: “Look to your right.”

There it was! El Al/Nefesh B’Nefesh Flight 777! Another cheer of sheer delight was heard. Israeli flags were waved. I hoped that those on board could sense our excitement.

We waited as ramps were wheeled up to the doors of the plane. As the doors opened, another round of cheering took place. Music blared and flags were waved.

To me, the highlight of the day was the reunions that took place between the new olim and their relatives and friends. Our macheteneste was on board. The hugging, the kissing, the tears—words are not adequate to describe the emotion. It was like being at 210 weddings taking place at the same time.

On the way home, I thought of how fortunate I am to be able to live in Israel. For a Jew there is no place like it. My neshamah knows that it will be nurtured here. It is immersed in holiness. In Israel I can be a real, authentic Jew. I can live and work among Jews. I can see the beauty of the Land every single day. I can taste its delicious food, smell its fragrant aromas and feel the serenity of being at home.

Chaya Berman made aliyah from Cleveland, Ohio, in July 2003. She lives with her husband in Tel Zion, a yishuv outside Jerusalem.

There were a lot of choices I made in my life—some good, some bad,
But moving to Israel by far was the best one I have ever made.
I gave up about three-fourths of my possessions before I moved,
And yet, I feel truly wealthier here.

After several trips to Israel, Sonya Davidson made aliyah from Columbus, Ohio, in December 2007. She lives in Beer Sheva.

You can imagine the commotion and confusion we experienced getting off the Nefesh B’Nefesh flight. It was only several days later that I realized it was missing. I knew I had had it at JFK Airport before the plane took off. Did I lose it on the flight? Did I drop it trying to find my luggage at Ben-Gurion Airport? All I knew is that I had lost my hyphen. What hyphen? The one I received when I was born in a Manhattan hospital in 1941, the one that made me a Jewish (hyphen) American.

Being a Jewish-American always meant trying to merge two distinct identities into one. I had to relate my support of Israel to my American interests, and I couldn’t answer the question of where my true loyalties lay. If I sang “Hatikvah,” I also had to sing “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Being a Jewish-American always meant shoehorning the Jewish year into the secular one; fitting Passover into tax season; fitting work, school and the World Series in between Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.

You can imagine how much lighter I feel now that I’m not carrying a hyphen around with me like a dog tag. Here in Israel the holidays always come at exactly the right time of year. Though I have only the highest regard for the land of my birth, I can now say, openly and unabashedly, that my deepest loyalties lie with the God of Israel, His Torah, His people and His Land.

Fred Casden, a former OU employee, joined his daughter Tina as an oleh when he made aliyah from Teaneck, New Jersey, with his wife, Barbara; other daughter, Natania, and cat in July 2007. The Casdens live in Maale Adumim.

Riding in a cab in Israel is like trying a new food while blindfolded, a wild card experience impossible to anticipate: sometimes nerve-racking, other times hilarious, always flavorful.

One erev Shabbat I scurried into a cab for a ride that should have cost 25 shekels. I have come to accept the additional fee that an American accent inevitably incurs, so I figured the driver would try to charge 30, even 35 shekels. Normally I would refuse to pay more than 30 shekels for a 25-shekel ride. But in the pre-Shabbat shuffle, I made up my mind to pay whatever he asked, as long as it was less than 40. Upon arriving at my destination I reached into my wallet and took out a 50-shekel note, hoping the cab driver would have change.

“Do you have ‘odef’?” I stammered and flashed the bill.

“Em, no. Don’t you have something smaller?” I gave him the only other bill I had, a 20, and waited to see what would happen.

“The ride is 25 shekels. Give 5 shekels to tzedakah and have a Shabbat Shalom.”

Aharon Arazi made aliyah from Boston this upon graduating from college in 2008. He lives in Jerusalem.

I was invited to join my friend Shaindee R. and her family for lunch one Shabbat. As we were waiting for the men to return from shul, Shaindee’s step-mother-in-law, Safta Patty, started telling me about one of her sons-in-law. Life in Israel is always full of surprises, but this story really “takes the cake,” so to speak.

Safta Patty’s son-in-law is employed by the Mercantile Bank in Jerusalem. Until recently, he worked in the Givat Shaul branch. But several months ago, he was transferred to the branch in Meah Shearim.

Though one might assume that there wouldn’t be too much of a difference in the banking procedures between the various branches, the Meah Shearim branch held a few surprises for Safta Patty’s son-in-law.

Friday morning an old woman suddenly entered the bank and started handing out a full plate of hot cholent to each and every bank employee. Yes, I said cholent. And, though Safta Patty’s son-in-law was quite amazed, everyone else working in the bank seemed to be quite used to it.

About twenty minutes later, a different old woman entered the bank. She started giving out a large piece of kugel to each and every bank employee.

Again, none of the workers seemed surprised by this, except for the new employee, Safta Patty’s son-in-law. And remember that all of the usual Friday morning banking activities were going on in the bank at the same time!

But, no, this wasn’t all. Unbelievable as it sounds, a little while later, a third elderly woman came into the bank. What was she giving out? Bowls of piping hot soup.
I was flabbergasted, to put it lightly. But according to Safta Patty’s son-in-law, this goes on every single Friday.

And, kindly remember, the bank closes by noon on Fridays!

Tzvia Ehrlich-Klein made aliyah in 1971 from Youngstown, Ohio. She is the author of On Bus Drivers, Dreidels and Orange Juice (Jerusalem, 1999). She lives in Jerusalem.

A few months ago I visited Yeshivat Maale Gilboa, on Mount Gilboa in the northern Shomron. The yeshivah, being on top of a mountain, is rather difficult to get to from Jerusalem: one must catch a bus from the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem; once the bus reaches Mount Gilboa, it will drop you off at the bottom of the mountain. Then you must “tremp” (hitchhike) to the top.

After my visit, I had to find a way to return to Jerusalem. To find a ride to the bus stop, I was told to stand outside the yeshivah gate for about thirty minutes before the bus was due to arrive at the bottom of the mountain; I decided to wait for forty-five minutes, just to be safe. And wouldn’t you know it—no cars came! Finally, after waiting ten minutes, I began to hike down the mountain. When I was halfway down, a car finally drove by. The driver dropped me off at the bottom of the mountain. Unfortunately, by then the last bus to Jerusalem had come and gone.

I decided to try to make my way to the next town over, Afula, hoping that from there I could find a way to Jerusalem. I got on the bus, but all I had on me was my prepaid 46-shekel round-trip ticket between Jerusalem and Maale Gilboa; I had no cash. The bus driver said that it was a waste to spend 23 shekels on a 4.40-shekel ride; luckily a fellow passenger paid for my ticket. The bus driver then informed me that there were no more busses from Afula to Jerusalem. I decided to stay on the bus anyway, because I figured it would better to stay in Afula and figure something out there than spend the night on the highway. So I sat on the bus, wondering what my next step would be.

When we got to Afula, the Sephardic man who had paid for my bus ticket barked at me to follow him. Even though I was a bit nervous, it’s not like I had a better plan! We arrived at his home, and he proceeded to lend me a siddur for Maariv, make me dinner, offer me the use of his shower and provide me with sleeping arrangements. In the morning, he took me to shul, where he lent me a pair of tefillin. He then had a friend drive me to the bus stop, where I caught the bus to Jerusalem.

Mikha’el (Michael) Makovi made aliyah from Silver Spring, Maryland, in August 2006 after his graduation from high school. He learned in Yeshivat Machon Meir in Jerusalem.

This article was featured in the Winter 2008 issue of Jewish Action.
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