As soon as Simchat Torah 2023 ended in Cleveland and Ben Katz turned on his computer, he read a series of email message and texts. One addressed an immediate concern of his—his aliyah scheduled for the following week. The longtime Cleveland resident, who had been planning the move for more than a year, discovered his flight was still on—despite the war in Gaza.
Katz thought, time to finish packing.
A few other email messages would change his packing plans.
Notes from a nephew and a soon-to-be-son-in-law who serve in the Israeli army listed items soldiers needed; many of them had left home on short notice the day after the war broke out.
If he and his wife were still planning to come, could they help?
Immediately, Katz said yes. He and his wife Michele ended up filling two large duffel bags stuffed with supplies the soldiers needed.
With headlines describing the increasingly dire situation in Israel, Hamas rockets raining down on southern Israel from Gaza, and Hezbollah missiles from southern Lebanon falling on northern Israel, did Katz have second thoughts about going forward with his aliyah plans?
Yes, he says— “second, third, fourth and fifth thoughts. Many times.”
But he and Michele went anyway.
While there have been postponements of current aliyah plans among North Americans, according to Nefesh B’Nefesh, as of this writing in mid-October, there have been no cancellations. Many potential olim are waiting to see how things develop further in order to gauge when to come. Nefesh B’Nefesh is “grateful that El Al is flying and enabling anyone who has booked on their flights to continue with their aliyah plans.”
“It is incredibly moving to welcome olim who, despite the extremely tragic times, are continuing to fulfill their dreams of moving to Israel, sending an unmistakable message: Am Yisrael Chai,” says Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh.
Katz says he had never considered making aliyah until he found himself in Israel during the Covid pandemic for a two-week trip—for a daughter’s wedding in Netanya—that stretched into three-and-a-half months. “I realized I could live there,” Katz says. He and his wife made new friends in Netanya and fell in love with the country, especially with coastal Netanya, where they will live in a rental until the apartment they bought there will be ready.
Katz, who sold his business a few years ago and has worked as an insurance consultant since, says he will continue doing that for a while in Israel, before finding some meaningful volunteer work. Michele, who worked as an English teacher in Cleveland, will keep teaching in Netanya as a volunteer at an orphanage.
The couple joined twenty-three other olim who made aliyah on Wednesday, October 19, during the second week of the war. El Al flights from New York, Los Angeles, and Miami landed at Ben Gurion Airport bringing the olim to their new home.
“You don’t just go when it’s safe and pretty,” Katz asserts.
“We have been in and out of Israel many times, and it was never the right time or the right circumstances to make aliyah. Now is the right time.”
Steve Lipman is a frequent contributor to Jewish Action.