Eliana Sohn, hailing from Elizabeth, NJ (but also grew up in Boston, MA and Albany, NY), made it home to Israel on the July 2016 charter flight. She’s currently brushing up her Hebrew at Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem, and blogging when she can atThe Times of Israel.
Ever since I attended a performing arts summer program in Jerusalem 10 years ago, I’ve had my heart set on Aliyah. Having moved a few times as a kid, I used the label ‘home’
sparingly. Even when I had my own car in college, I never programmed a home address to my GPS. Israel was the only place that deserved that title, and every other place was a stop along the way; a rest stop through which to learn, grow stronger, and prepare myself for the tremendous task of setting down roots at home.
Finally, toward the end of college, the perfect opportunity to make Aliyah emerged. I’d been offered a Madricha (counselor) position at a gap year program and was emailing with a hi-tech company down the road regarding a part-time internship. The plan that was emerging was greater than I ever could have imagined. I couldn’t believe it. Even so, I was nervous about the move. Every day, I tried to tell myself that I could do it, I could make it in Israel! I even visited the airport near my house in an effort to remind myself that I had a whole new, wonderful adventure ahead of me. No matter what I did though, I couldn’t shake my nerves. The fear of the unknown seemed too vast and daunting to handle on my own, so, a month before I was supposed to leave, I decided to stay in the States.
At the time, I was sure I’d blown the best opportunity of my life. Ever since I’d attended a gap year program, my greatest dream was to teach in a post-high school setting, and now, when I finally had the chance to spend a year working in that environment, I gave it up. Amid my internal crisis, my mother, with great love and wisdom, sat me down in front of a lecture by Rabbi David Aaron called “How to Get Your Prayers Answered.” It seemed moot at the time, since, after all, I was the one who turned down the blessing that came my way, but toward the end, Rabbi Aron mentioned a familiar story, one about a girl who’d lost her way, but even so, found her way home by devotedly putting one foot in front of the other. There were witches, flying monkeys, and other challenges en route to Kansas, but she also made friends, innovated, and increased her grit. She never gave up.
It hit me. My journey wasn’t over. It was just beginning.
The first thing I did was draft a mission statement. I knew that if I didn’t know why this goal mattered to me, I probably wouldn’t get there. From then on, my goal was to be a proactive agent in the growth and success of Am Yisrael. Whatever I did, wherever I was, was going to reflect that goal. Two months later, I started working at Yeshiva University in a department that helped schools find and train Jewish day school leaders. Through my work, I interacted with Jewish educators from across the world, who, like myself, had a vision of the bright possibilities for a Jewish present and future. A few months into my job, I enrolled in YU’s master’s program for Jewish Education and Administration. Even though I became more and more involved in the US Jewish community, Israel was always on the forefront of my mind. Thanks to the remote nature of my job and my incredibly supportive supervisors, I was able to lump all my vacation days together and take 3-week trips to Israel every year during the High Holidays. During my visits, I’d try to get a feel for what day-to-day life by networking with people in my field of work, trying my way around public transportation, and visiting Ulpan Etzion.
When I made Aliyah last July, I went feeling a lot stronger than I did three years before. Like Dorothy and her friends, I’d gained the intelligence, heart, courage, and grit needed to overcome the fears that lurked along the road to Aliyah. Three years ago, I thought I’d lost a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…now I know that what seemed like a failure at the time was really just a detour. It wasn’t until then that I realized how much I did want to build my future in Israel, and once I had that desire, I was able to prepare myself for the journey ahead.