It has been a long road, both literally and figuratively, to our Aliyah — to home.
When we boarded our Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight three weeks ago, my family had driven over 5000 miles from our beloved home in the beautiful coastal enclave of La Jolla, California during a four week journey across the country with four of our five kids (our oldest opted to be a camp counselor in Canada instead).
During our trip we inhaled America. We heard the cacophony of the Las Vegas strip, marveled at the magnitude of the Grand Canyon, crossed rivers by foot and by float, and ogled at baby bison, elk and even a black bear. We hugged elderly relatives and laughed with old friends and ate way too much food from gas stations simply because it was kosher. Somehow during all of our Aliyah planning my husband managed to plan this great trip too. But like the sudden hailstorm that caught us of guard and thwarted our hike to a waterfall at the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, we could not have imagined that after a year of planning, we’d be making Aliyah during a war.
Our figurative journey has been longer and more serpentine than our literal one. For both my husband and myself, there has been a lifetime of experiences that led us to this move. Seeds were planted in day schools and during Shabbat afternoon Bnei Akiva activities in Los Angeles (me) and Montreal (husband). The dream was nurtured on trips to Israel, first in our youth and then together. While we both loved Israel when we married and in theory would have loved to move there, we did not talk about it seriously for a number of years as there were always reasons not to. In the end, the greatest impediment of all was probably inertia; we had a meaningful, comfortable and overall easy life in California, and it was simpler to remain arm-chair Zionists. But then we listened to our hearts and to opportunity when a possible job presented itself to my husband. We finally shooed away all of our excuses, doubts and fears and decided to take the leap of faith.
We made Aliyah with four of our children, three girls aged 12 (just testing the waters of teenagehood), 10 (a deep thinker who was sad to leave her best friend but excited to make new ones) and almost 9 (who couldn’t understand why we had to leave her “perfect house and perfect friends and perfect life” and was worried she won’t have cupcakes for her approaching birthday in Israel); and an inquisitive and sweet 5 year old boy. Our 17 year old oldest, will be coming to spend a year in yeshiva and will figure out his own Aliyah plans once he arrives. I need to help all of them navigate their metamorphoses into their new Israeli selves, while still experiencing my personal transitions.
Many moons ago, I gave up a law career to raise a family and build my Jewish community. In addition to the business of raising five kids, I helped found a high school, served on the board of our day school, and for a while never met a volunteer project I didn’t like. I did things like start a play group, host classes, create scavenger Sukkah hops, lead Shabbatons, and run welcome events for newcomers to our community; this, when I wasn’t chaperoning class trips and making lunches. Most of my focus was on strengthening Jewish education – I was the mom who knew everything that was going on at school and in our community. Now, I can’t even really understand the school supply list as my Hebrew needs an Extreme Makeover – Ulpan Edition. I am starting all over again.
But I’m thrilled for this new beginning. While taking the leap of Aliyah was scary and overwhelming, it has also been incredible. I still cannot believe that we are living our dream of raising our family in the Jewish homeland. We decided long ago that – after 120 years – we wanted to be buried in Israel, but realized it is better to really live there first. Israel is where my soul feels comfortable and whole. My kids soon start Israeli public school (don’t get me started on the joys of no more day school tuition!) where the calendar is truly in sync with who we are, and where there is an experiential Tanach education room for dress up and hands-on projects. My power walks overlook the Judean Hills, our kids run by themselves to buy popsicles at the nearby makolet, we can shop for produce in the maze of Machane Yehuda and stop to touch the stones at the Kotel whenever the mood strikes us.
We won’t have to feel undercurrents of anti-Semitism like we did when we worked to build an eruv back in La Jolla, which Jews are now feeling all over the world, even in places we thought we were tolerant and safe.
Three weeks into our new lives, we already feel that Aliyah is the best thing we’ve ever done for our family.
There is no place like home.
Jessica Levine Kupferberg lived her whole life in sunny Southern California but doesn’t tan or surf. A former litigation attorney, she gave up law to focus on raising five kids and help build her Jewish community. Her work has appeared in or on JWeekly, The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, aish.com, forward.com, kveller.com and the Times of Israel blogs.