By Hillel Kuttler

Akiva and Tzivia MacLeod didn’t bring many belongings from Toronto upon moving their family to Israel in 2013. Most of what came along, seemingly, were Legos and books – lots and lots of Legos and books, spilling from the dining room shelves and trailing into the living room of their ground-floor apartment in Haifa’s Kiryat Shmuel neighborhood.

Their Aliyah, not possessions, was key. It was a move Tzivia had long desired. For Akiva, relocating to Israel was a “perfectly linear progression” after converting to Judaism, marrying Tzivia and starting a family in a Jewish community in Toronto. Aliyah would be the culmination of their five-year plan carrying through the high school graduations of their first two children: Yerachmiel, now 22, and Elisheva, 21.

The MacLeods’ two youngest children – Lego enthusiasts Naomi, 12, and Gavriel, 9 – are growing up as Israelis, while Elisheva studied in a seminary for two years and made Aliyah independently. Only Yerachmiel remains in Canada.

“There’s never a good time to make Aliyah. You’re always in the middle of something: a job, kids. I didn’t want to not live here,” Tzivia explains while crocheting a blue blanket at the kitchen table.

To the MacLeods, the benefits of living in Israel include Naomi and Gavriel walking to their neighborhood schools rather than commuting 45 minutes in each direction, as they had in Toronto; the negligible cost of Jewish day-school education; lack of stress that arranging holiday-related work absences entailed; and plentiful selections of kosher food at every supermarket.

In Toronto, enrolling their children in schools both academically and religiously strong was difficult, Tzivia says, while with the Israeli educational options, “I’m satisfied.”

On Naomi’s first day in her Israeli school, the teacher informed the class that she was a new immigrant. During recess, “kids came up to me” to chat, and an older girl invited her to attend her Bat Mitzvah, Naomi relates before heading outside to do her nails.

Then there’s the “peaceful Shabbat atmosphere” Akiva says he enjoys when their neighborhood is closed to vehicular traffic for 25 hours beginning each Friday evening.

“It constantly felt in Canada like we were swimming upstream,” Tzivia said. In Israel, “this is the stream,” she continues.

“Here, you just kind of go with the flow. It’s less exhausting, physically and emotionally.”

Akiva marvels at where he is. Their neighborhood of primarily Israelis from a diversity of observant backgrounds, along with some English speakers, is “what we were looking for,” he relates. The train station a short walk away and multiple bus lines make for an easy commute to his job in an Akko factory that manufactures welding materials. Tzivia, a freelance editor, works from home.

“For me, it’s exotic, still, [being] in Israel, seeing the sites I [was] not used to seeing as a white-bread Canadian – like Tzfat, which was not part of my growing up,” he says.

“My father thought I was crazy to come here. My mother is a religious Catholic and knows that [Israel] is the Holy Land and that it’s very important for religious life to be here.”

It’s getting to be dinner time, and Tzivia puts down her needle and wool. The blanket will be a gift for Elisheva, who’ll be getting married in Beit Shemesh in late December. She and her future husband, now an Israel Defense Forces soldier, met at a Shabbat meal. They quickly realized that they’d attended school together long ago.

Israel brings Torontans together.

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