Ilene Bloch-Levy recently accompanied a group of North Americans on an aliyah pilot trip to Israel. She explores the reasons why, in spite of the situation, they continue to come.
There they were on the sidewalk of Jerusalem- 16 adults, 3 kids and one blue-eyed baby. All were grinning and anxiously awaiting for me, their facilitator, to share the hidden secrets and pearls of wisdom of a successful Aliyah. After all, having been here for 17 years, I must have some tips I could spell out for them, some clues for how to make it work.
They had traveled from Vancouver and Seattle, Toronto and Cleveland, Boston and New York. They were anxious to board the bus and begin their first day of investigating Aliyah possibilities. What really brought them here, I wondered. Unemployment topping 10%. A government still in formation. A vicious war now in its third year. And, another war soon to erupt in our region. Gas masks. Shelters. Rockets in Sederot. Tanks exploding. Young, handsome boys being buried. Boys, with families, like theirs.
Among the group were doctors, software engineers, lawyers, consultants, a librarian, a real estate broker, a cardiac technician, a professor of English and others. I was pleased that they were here. Pleased to be in their company.
We began our first day being briefed on the ingredients for a successful Aliyah - 'be patient, flexible and have a good sense of humor' we were told. A quick break and further briefings on health insurance coverage in Israel, purchasing real estate, employent opportunities and educational facilities. Later we learned about taxes and the Aliyah absorption basket.
Visiting more than a dozen communities, from as far south as Beersheva and as far north as Carmiel we met Americans, Canadians, South Africans, British and Swedes who were living active and fulfilling lives in an ancient land that is refreshingly new. Everywhere, we were eagerly welcomed into homes and served refreshments, encouraged to wander through bedrooms and living rooms and open closets and cabinets. At nearly every station someone reconnected with an old acquaintance. Our local hosts would often hop on our bus and try to persuade the group to move their community, which they clearly loved. We learned of possibilities for employment, schools, shopping, religious life, shiurim and extracurricular activities for kids within each community; the group took extensive notes and relentlessly and unabashedly asked questions.
The days were filled with conversation on a wide range of subjects and replete with questions -- about the logistics of settling in Israel, getting children adjusted, language concerns, and economic considerations. Discussion ranged from the seemingly picayune to the obviously major issues of livelihood.
They were told the brutal truth. The dearth in job possibilities seemed to rise as quickly as the Kinneret. Life was more difficult here. Salaries were incomparable with what they were earning overseas, but living costs were comparable. Overdraft would become the norm. They may never really learn the language, but they had to try. They learned that these risks were indeed real, not chimerical.
It is true that cell phones rang during their intense week here to confirm appointments for job interviews. Some received firm offers for jobs; others still had more follow up work to do. Some had already fallen in love with one community over another, and others wanted to discuss it with their spouses. And, I was still not certain, why they were here.
'From the very first time I met my husband 20 years ago,' recalled Pamela from Cleveland, 'I would listen to him lament that he did not want to live in exile. I bought the whole story. If we don¹t move now then we won¹t be able to go at all. The kids will be just too old.'
Refoel told us of his life within the Torah community of Denver. When his beloved Rabbi moved back east, he, his wife and four children found themselves casting about for something more meaningful. Israel seemed to hold that for them.
'The clock's ticking, the baby is growing,' remarked the young parents of the blue-eyed baby from Boston. Our New Jersey chemist with his thick Scottish accent agreed 'we also want our baby to grow up in Israel,' but he added, 'my wife and I also want to grow up in Israel.'
'What are we waiting for my wife said to me on a trip to Israel,' Marc shared with us. Now, with the oldest of five kids on the threshold of adolescence, Marc had decided that now he had to set Israel as the home base and not California, for his kids sake, he nodded.
Our Toronto couple already had all their grandchildren living here, so it only made sense for them to move here now, too. 'It's taken me all this time to convince Harvey to move here,' Miriam piped up.
So the common thread seemed to be the children, I thought. But, our single physician, currently Vancouver based and already on her sixth trip to Israel, most succinctly summed it up, 'this is just an amazing miracle and I want to be here.'
I can touch the miracle every day, I thought. Touch it, live it and feel it. It infuses me with a wholeness that cannot be experienced anywhere else. It infuses my children with a vibrancy and spiritual richness that cannot be felt in Denver or Cleveland, Boston or Vancouver, Toronto or Passaic.
So, to my new-found friends from this Pilot Trip to Israel -- I extend my humble hand and say 'Bruchim Habaim.' Welcome to the lifeline of the Jewish nation living in Israel. Welcome to this miracle of Jewish rejuvenation and existence. Welcome to your children and grandchildren.
It was not I with the pearls of wisdom for Aliyah, but they. They were here to remind me of how grateful I am to live in this Land under G-d's loving and gracious wings.