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There is no denying that his parents felt strongly about Israel – he and his brother were given only Hebrew names, his father lived on a Kibbutz for two years picking oranges for soldiers, just because he believed strongly in supporting the State. Uri Kelman was raised in a Zionist home. The Zionist dream was passed down to Uri from early childhood and continues to influence his adult life. Fast forward a few years to when Uri met his wife, Galit, an American-born Israeli, raised in Ashkelon. Since they got married, moving to Israel as a family was always in the back of their minds.
Every Jew that lives here is adding value to our Homeland
Last Rosh Hashana, Uri was sitting in his Los Angeles synagogue when he began to have a terrible feeling in his body. The feeling persisted so he went to the hospital and was diagnosed and treated for a rare type of migraine. During the weeks following, Galit’s sisters and their husbands flew out from Israel to help the Kelmans. One of their cousins, who lived nearby in the Los Angeles valley, invited them for dinner and during the meal Aliyah seemed to be a hot topic. Their cousins brought a question to the forefront of Uri and Galit’s minds: “Why don’t you move to Israel?” Given that most of Galit’s family lives in Israel, the Kelmans began to think more about why they are still in America and what is holding them back from making the move. A week later, there was a local Nefesh B’Nefesh event, so Uri went with his parents and some friends. Something instantly clicked and that night, he started the application to make Aliyah. The Nefesh B’Nefesh event provided Uri with the guidance and tools he needed to start the Aliyah process. All he needed was a push in the right direction and the family was ready to make their dream come true.
The Kelmans are now a few short weeks away from their Aliyah date of July 2016. Uri and Galit are moving with their four kids to Ashkelon on the Nefesh B’Nefesh July charter flight and they could not be more excited. When asked, “what keeps you going during this process of preparing for Aliyah?” Uri is left speechless. He is overwhelmed with emotion knowing that he and his family are going to be living in the land that belongs to them and the Jewish people. “Israel is the only Jewish state in the world; it is ours and I believe that it belongs to every single Jew”, said Uri. He feels so lucky to have the opportunity early in his life to move to Israel with his family, raise his children there, and contribute to Israeli society.
So the short answer is family. Family is what brings the Kelmans to Israel, and Ashkelon, specifically. He’s not just talking about the people they’re related to. Yes, Galit’s parents and siblings live in Ashkelon so that’s a major draw – to have family helping with apartment searching and provide immediate support upon landing in Israel is a huge sense of comfort for Uri and his family. Uri and Galit have many friends from high school, now living in Israel with kids of their own, which provides a great network of families to reconnect with when they arrive.
But when Uri answers family, he is referring to the connection he has with all his brothers and sisters. He feels that in Israel he will surrounded by the Jewish people, something very special for the Kelmans. They felt in America that if they wanted to be religiously observant Jews, they had to live in a Jewish community, and that came at a price, literally. Kosher food, private school tuition, and cost of living made it a difficult place for an observant family to live. “In Israel, you can pretty much live anywhere and have that Jewish community wherever you go. Kosher food is never a problem. What stands out as most special to me is that I can be around my own people all the time,” said Uri.
Ashkelon is the perfect place for the Kelmans to start out. “It is beautiful, has a lot of charm to it, quieter than the Merkaz, and less crowded while being close enough for me to work in Tel Aviv”, said Uri. In smaller cities like Ashkelon, Uri feels that he can better express himself religiously without any judgment. Uri said, “I can be however religious I want in whatever way I want – and it’s accepted.” He does not feel that he’s being judged for being “too modern” or “too religious” or any other label that can be placed on someone.
“Every Jew that lives here is adding value to our Homeland”, said Uri. He has been working in web design and hopes to continue his career with hi-tech companies in Tel Aviv. Uri knows he can bring his unique skills and take them to the next level here. “I’ve learned a lot from working with various teams of people and I can bring a new way of communication and a different way of working together”, said Uri. “I can use my American mentality and background to teach others how to effectively communicate.”
If we’re going to have challenges in life, I want it to be in Israel where I feel excited to live my life.
Uri shares that was has kept him positive on his Aliyah journey is to have realistic expectations and stresses how important it is to be mentally prepared for potential frustrations along the way. “Challenges will arise whether we’re in Los Angeles or Ashkelon”, said Uri. “We won’t have certain luxuries, there is a language barrier, bureaucracy can be a bit complicated… but I’m able to say all of this now before I even get to Israel because it is a fact about life in Israel and I am going in with that mentality.”
“There’s no perfect place, but no matter what, in Israel we are all family. I may be arguing with a guy in a supermarket or the taxi driver, but at the end of it all, we are brothers. If we’re going to have challenges in life, I want it to be in Israel where I feel excited to live my life.” The Kelmans’ children are just as excited about moving to Israel. Uri asked his six-year-old son what he’s looking forward to most and he said that he’s excited to join the Israeli army to defend Israel!