By Hillel Kuttler
For some people, a spiritual moment precipitated their decisions to move to Israel.
For Jessica Ben-kiki, the moment was mundane: the rush of commuters in Haifa’s Lev Hamifratz train station three years ago.
“I realized I’d live here,” she said of standing there that day. “It was the life of the people hustling and bustling to their trains after work to go home. There was so much life.”
Life is now growing in Ben-kiki, 27, who is expecting her first child with husband Jonathan, 31, who grew up in Nahariya as the son of American-immigrant parents. A native of Cleveland, Jessica was enrolled in a master’s program at the University of Haifa in 2014, intending to make a career in Holocaust education.
“I was really, really happy,” she said. “My parents came to visit me. At a hotel at the Dead Sea on Shabbat, my mother said, ‘You seem really happy, and it seems like you’re going to stay here.’ ”
The Ben-kikis have established roots in the north. They live in a dream house they’ve recently renovated on a winding road in the Jezreel Valley town of Migdal HaEmek. Jessica works in real estate; she shifted professional course, too. Jonathan teaches at a school in Karmiel.
After their wedding in 2015, the couple rented an apartment in Haifa and considered where to settle. Paramount were affordability, a family-friendly community and convenience to work. They heard of the valley’s development. Jonathan liked the mixture of religious-secular residents in Migdal HaEmek, which reminded him of Nahariya. The Ben-kikis visited Migdal HaEmek and met several English speakers their own age at a synagogue they attended. Those immigrants are the core of a burgeoning Anglo population in a town of 25,000 people.
“Because it’s a small town, everybody knows everybody,” he says. “You have your privacy, but you have the community.”
Adds Jessica: “We bought into Migdal HaEmek not only for where it is now, but where we think it’s going. We’re proud to be part of that [English-speaking] foundation.”
“In Migdal HaEmek, you have the amcha – the salt of the Earth,” Jonathan says.
With a baby on the way, the Ben-kikis are thinking ahead to school enrollment and are confident that they’ll make a good choice. They don’t yet know what Migdal HaEmek will be like as a place to raise children, but say they are taking a leap of faith much as have other English-speaking immigrants they’ve met.
“When you’re there in the beginning, there’s an ability to create and influence what will be,” Jessica explains.
The real beginning is her continued adjustment to life in Israel. Jessica projects determination to roll with the punches and not be discouraged by situations that sometimes startle. Adapting to one’s surroundings is incumbent, she believes.
The previous night, she’d been to the supermarket and turned around to discover that another customer had lifted her package of cheese. She calls it a “rookie mistake” of not paying attention. Undaunted, she returned to the cheese counter to place another order.
“I know I’ll always be an American-Israeli: a foot in, a foot out,” she says. “I’m interested in having a really successful Aliyah. When you haven’t fully acclimated, you have to fully understand that the culture is different. It’s a conscious decision to not let things get to me.”
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Jonathan and Jessica Ben-kiki said they like the sense of community, including the English-speaking one, in Migdal HaEmek.
(Photo credit: Hillel Kuttler)