Embracing the challenges of aliyah

December 7, 2021

Photo Credit: Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT)

Being a teenager is a formative time in a young person’s life — the early stage of determining what kind of adult you hope to grow into, what your values are, and what path you want to pursue in life. 

At 14, I can’t say I knew very much about who I wanted to be and what my life goals were. However, when my parents made it clear that they were ready to make Aliyah from Passaic, NJ, I knew it was a challenge I was going to embrace head-on. As an Orthodox Jew, I knew in my heart that Israel was where G=d wanted me to be, and He would never put me in a situation that I can’t handle. 

Indeed, arriving in Israel in 2015 with little Hebrew-language skills and no friends isn’t a recipe for success — but somehow, after much trial and error, I found ways to make it work. Upon arriving at school, I’d attempt to understand my classes — all taught in Hebrew — and feverishly take copious notes, only to review them later and realize they were incoherent and throw them away.

In the first year, I socialized exclusively with Americans all day and realized that was holding me back from truly picking up on the language. Slowly, I began only speaking Hebrew to every single person I encountered in school – American and Israeli alike. It was a difficult process, but eventually, I graduated high school with a certificate of matriculation in all of my Hebrew classes.

That road wasn’t easy to navigate, but I’m so glad I did. Looking back on my struggles during that time, as a special project during my gap year, I wanted to help other young olim (immigrants) who found themselves in similar situations. To that end, I launched the Teen Survival Guide to Aliyah as a resource for young new immigrants. It’s a resource in which olim can obtain anecdotal tips from other immigrants who successfully integrated into Israel, correspond with an Israeli pen-pal, find other olim for bible study and much more. 

When faced with so many challenges during what can already be a difficult time in a young person’s life, it’s easy to be weighed down by negativity. I hope my site shows olim that there’s a better way forward and that they can take charge of their Aliyah experience no matter how difficult it may be. 

Today, I’m studying computer science at the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) in their International Program in English. I’m grateful for the hard work I put in that enabled me to be here to not only study both Torah and this high-upside career path that interests me, but to do so in the home of the Jewish people. 

At JCT, Torah and technology feed into each other, so much so that even during coding classes, my instructor uses examples from the Torah to show why certain formulas work. It’s a real privilege to study in an institution that understands that I don’t have to choose between the religious and secular worlds, and that they can coexist in harmony.

But most of all, I’m grateful to be in Israel. As I travel on buses and take in the diverse landscapes of the country from the holy sites of Jerusalem to the rolling hills of Judea and Samaria, I can’t imagine myself settling anywhere else. 

By: Tzippora Felsenthal

Tzippora Felsenthal made Aliyah from Passaic, New Jersey. She is the creator of the website called the “Teen Survival Guide to Aliyah” and is currently studying computer science at the Jerusalem College of Technology.

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