After many years of visiting and volunteering in Israel for organizations like SarEl/Volunteers for Israel, Nancy and Rob Hyman, from Teaneck, New Jersey, fulfilled their dream of making Aliyah to Efrat in October 2013.
Our Aliyah date of arrival was יום שלישי/ד’ חשון תשע”ד 5774 (Tuesday, October 8, 2013).
It truly was “the first day of the rest of our lives”!
To be sure, the journey to reach this pinnacle moment in our life had many twists and turns.
Zionism and love of Israel became an increasingly important aspect in our Jewish journey after we graduated university and began our respective careers. After our first trip to Israel in the summer of 1978, we were totally “hooked on a feeling”.
The profound ‘feeling’ of Jewish connectivity to our people and history that emanated from our first trip to Israel left an indelible imprint on our constantly evolving Jewish identity. The trip opened a whole new vista and verve to deepen our knowledge of Jewish history and religious observance.
The centrality of Israel as the eternal homeland of the Jewish people soon became the ‘GPS’ for our Aliyah. And while there were a few detours along the journey, the Aliyah ‘GPS’ had been set and Israel as our destination became firmly embedded in our hearts.
Although it took us a long time to get ourselves ready to make the move, the Aliyah GPS unfailingly guided us back on course to reach Israel. It was as if there was some indefinable or unbreakable connection with the biblical command given to Avram by G-d in the Torah portion, Lech Lecha:
‘Go away from your land, and your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. Avram left, as G-d had told him…”
Among the guideposts helping us stay on track were early foundational decisions to provide our children with a formal Jewish/Zionist education. This was further reinforced by summer family trips to Israel and teen/post-high school programs in Israel for our children. These formative Israel experiences enabled each of our children to define and determine their own meaningful connections to Israel as they entered adulthood. Cumulatively, these family Israel engagements also reaffirmed and reinforced our own yearning to eventually make Aliyah.
The exuberance associated with making Aliyah is invariably balanced by the ‘nuts and bolts’ involved in making the actual move, and settling into the reality of a new community, culture and way of life.
We did not make Aliyah in order to “sit on the sidelines” of life in Israel. In our particular situation, we purposefully chose to make Aliyah before retirement. We were fortunate to be able to complete our Aliyah on a short turn-around timeline due to the extraordinary and exemplary assistance provided by the Nefesh B’ Nefesh team.
As “non-pensioner” Olim, finding employment in Israel was going to be imperative. Throughout our Aliyah preparations, we were candidly advised about the unique challenges we were likely to encounter as older Olim in finding employment. Notwithstanding these hurdles, we remained undaunted and optimistic.
In reflecting back over the past 3 years, I believe five (5) factors incalculably enhanced our Aliyah experience.
First, we were able to make a relatively ‘soft-landing’ because we already had a support system in place in Israel. We moved to Efrat where family and long-time close friends resided. We were also equally fortunate to lease an apartment from an exceptionally supportive and kind Olim family. They personify the uncommon virtues of ‘paying it forward’ by selflessly going above and beyond the norm to be helpful.
Second, Efrat has an exceptional Olim Coordinator. The Olim Coordinator’s extraordinary efforts to create a welcoming community, supported by a wide range of social, educational and cultural programs, helped us network and integrate into the community on a stronger footing and faster track.
Third, the highly professional and proficient guidance we received from our Aliyah counselor at the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption was immeasurably helpful in navigating the various governmental processes as new citizens. Our counselor not only guided us through the Aliyah steps but she embraced us with much warmth and emotional support.
Fourth, we enrolled in Ulpan Morasha where we experienced spectacular teachers who also became wonderful mentors. Interspersed within the daily pedagogy of learning new vocabulary were heartfelt words of encouragement and emotional support. For us, Ulpan became a remarkably nurturing milieu where it was commonplace for fellow classmates to assist each another both inside and outside of the classroom. As a result, several longstanding friendships were established.
Fifth, in conjunction with our Ulpan studies, we proactively pursued meaningful opportunities to become active and productive citizens in the country and our community. Volunteering in the interim period until we both could find employment kept us actively engaged, helped us network and provided an important source of emotional support.
We both volunteered with Sar-el (Service for Israel) during the summer of 2014 (overlapping with Operation Tzuk Eitan). In my case, I continued to volunteer with Sar-el during the summer of 2015. Subsequently, an opportunity arose for me to volunteer with Keren Efrat (The Efrat Development Foundation) in my community. This provided me with an introduction to the Israeli not-for-profit system which fit perfectly with my professional background. It proved to be enormously helpful during my search for employment and helped facilitate my transition into a professional staff position with an Israeli not-for-profit.
Finally, wherever we have turned for help, we have been warmly received. We have not only been welcomed as Olim Chadashim but made to feel as if we have an inherent ‘kinship’ with the greater Israeli extended family. Our experience of interacting with Israelis on a day-to-day basis was not at all the stereotypical story of what we had heard before we made Aliyah. Almost without exception, complete strangers, store employees, fellow bus passengers, government employees, kupat cholim, bank managers, even Bezeq!! went out of their way to help, when we asked.
Perhaps our Aliyah journey can best be summed up by the following perspective by Rabbi Benjamin Blech: “The seemingly haphazard, random, and arbitrary events that comprise the story of our lives begin to form a coherent and purposeful narrative when we view them from a divine perspective”.
This certainly holds true for our Aliyah journey.
Funny vignettes of being initiated as new Olim. ‘Got to laugh looking back!
- We had a transformer that didn’t work and my wife took it back to the electronic store in downtown Jerusalem on a major shopping strip. When the owner of the store realized that it only needed a fuse and he did not have a replacement, he left my wife in charge of the store while he went to a hardware store 15 minutes away to get one. So, here is my wife, all alone in the electronic store, cash register and all….. waiting to deal with any customers that might come in and she can’t even speak Hebrew. Only in Israel.
- We were forewarned that banking in Israel is a nightmare. We went Bank hopping soon after our arrival. The first bank we entered had instructions to take a number ….our number was 794!!!! Really? So, we promptly decided to try another bank. The next bank had only one English speaking employee. They dealt only with business accounts. So, that bank did not work out. Then, we ventured to yet another bank. Here, we were stopped and questioned by the security guard. Upon learning that we were newly arrived Olim, he warmly welcomed us ‘home’ to Israel and personally escorted us into the bank. When we took a seat to see somebody, a very nice lady came over to greet us. In the midst of one of the busiest times of the day, she apologized for having us wait and offered us coffee and cookies. When our turn came, we were called into an office only to discover that the nice lady was the bank manager. She personally handled all of the initial bank account set up and gave us her private cell phone number to call anytime. And when I did need to call for some urgent attention, she responded immediately as she promised. Only in Israel!
- When we took our driving test, and my turn came to drive through the route directed by the examiner, I suddenly came upon an unexpected barrier in the middle of a densely populated urban area. I turned a corner and found my lane blocked by a herd of sheep and goats being guided by a shepherd. Now, I am asking myself, do I stop, follow the shepherd at a snail’s pace down the road or go around in the opposite lane. The examiner gave me no clue and it was not part of my driving instruction lesson. So, I opted to cross over into the opposing lane. I passed the herd and my test. Only in Israel!
- We generally shop at our neighborhood Makolet. In the 3 years before having a car, the owner of the Makolet would routinely ask the person checking out behind my wife to take her home because she felt my wife had too many groceries to carry home. No matter how many times my wife politely refused assistance, she never gave up trying. On several occasions she insisted on driving my wife home herself. Only in Israel!
- Our first week in Israel, after a long day of bank hopping, we were excited to be on a new bus line from Jerusalem to Efrat. Unfortunately the driver was unfamiliar with the route. He only made one stop in Efrat, nowhere near our neighborhood, and then immediately exited Efrat. Now we are on the bus going who knows where outside of Efrat. There were several high school girls on the bus who heard our panic. Each got on her cell phone to call ahead to the next community on the route to try and find someone with a car who could drive us back to Efrat. Only in Israel!