November 27, 2020
In my immediate family, I’m the first to collect a one-way ticket from New York to Israel. Although I’m the first, I hope I’m not the last and that my siblings and parents in Cedarhurst all follow suit.
I understand, though, that making Aliyah is a difficult decision and one that’s not made overnight. But for me, there was no deliberation over this life-altering move. I knew without a doubt that Israel was the best place for me.
That’s because being a Zionist was ingrained in me for as long as I can remember. I went to Zionist and pro-Israel schools. I travelled to Israel on both family vacations and organized programs.
And since elementary school, I attended the Israel Day Parade in Manhattan. Seeing that sea of blue and white, Jews of all denominations coming together to cheer their homeland made me realize it wasn’t enough to support Israel an ocean away – I wanted and needed to physically be there and make being a part of Israel a constant in my life.
So dedicated was I to fulfilling this dream that I’d watch Nefesh B’Nefesh videos of olim disembarking from the plane and setting foot in their new home in awe. I knew I wanted to be like them, it was only a matter of time.
But making Aliyah – especially during a pandemic – is not easy. It took a little over a year to get all my ducks in a row and I’m thankful for Nefesh B’Nefesh who streamlined that cumbersome process.
My dream finally came true three weeks ago. My first 14 days were spent in isolation and I think being in that artificial setting made me feel a sense of denial. “No, I didn’t really make Aliyah, did I?” I would ask myself.
But now with bidud (quarantine) behind me, reality has sunk in and I’m thrilled for what my new life in Israel has in store for me.
For now, I’ve begun my bachelor’s degree in computer science at The Jerusalem College of Technology International Program in English. I’ve always had a passion for math and computers and I’m eager to begin my academic career at an institution with such a renowned reputation that skillfully marries both religious and secular learning.
And although my grandparents are here and I have friends from seminary I can rely on, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss my family.
My parents and sister both share my love for Israel, so I hope to set an example for them that demonstrates that living a full, robust and dynamic life here is certainly possible. And I hope my success will incentivize them to follow my lead and join me.
For now, though, I’m enjoying the little moments that only Israel can offer. I revel in the quietness that descends upon Jerusalem on Friday afternoons before Shabbat, I’m grateful every time I can pray at the Kotel and treasure every morsel of freshly baked Challah I purchase from the Mahne Yehuda shuk.
And while leaving behind my family is a sacrifice, it pales in comparison to what previous generations had to do in order to preserve the land.
I remember learning about the Yom Kippur war while on a NCSY summer program where we visited Israel’s border with Syria. It was there I learned of the battle of Tel Saki where 11,000 Syrian infantry soldiers and 900 tanks attacked Israel’s 60 paratroopers and 45 tanks for three days. I will never forget how those Israel soldiers put their life on the line and against all odds managed to emerge triumphant.
Their sacrifice inspired me to see how far people are willing to go to protect this country. I stood there thinking how could I not live in such a place where people care for each other and put country first?
And even now, where so many are divided over the coronavirus, even still, Israel has managed to maintain a sense of unity. I see minyanim on balconies, health care workers being saluted and as my friends and family back home celebrate Thanksgiving, I know what I’m truly thankful for: That this unique and special place is finally my home.
True, my Aliyah experience was not what I imagined, but it was an amazing feeling in its own way. I am not a tourist anymore, rather a citizen of the beautiful homeland.
And for this I’m truly grateful.