One year ago today, my life changed — I can happily say — only for the better.
I wanted to make aliya ever since 10th grade in high school. I attended an Israeli high school at the time, but planned to go back to the States for college. I imagined I would complete my four years of college and then move right back to Israel for good. Well, things never work out exactly like you plan. I ended up staying for seven years, but for the best reason you can imagine. I met my now-husband, someone who also shared my passion for Israel, when I was in my senior year of college. He is younger than me and he had a few more years left of school, so we waited to fulfill our dream until he was done. As his last year approached, we started making our plan. He was finishing school half a year early, but since I was a teacher at the time I didn’t feel right leaving my students halfway through the year, so we set a date for August. He got a job in the meantime and we went ahead with our plans to move to Israel in August 2016. We arranged the logistics of our lift (the container on the huge boat that took our stuff across the Atlantic), found an apartment in Modi’in that we visited a year prior, and tried to complete everything on our NYC bucket list—and we almost did it all!
August 30th finally arrived and we made our way to Newark Airport. Both our families drove or flew in to see us off. It was an extremely emotional day. I lived outside of my parents home since I was 14, and they visit Israel often, but my sister and I were always partners in crime; we did everything together. This was the first time that we wouldn’t be living within a 10 minute walk of each on a permanent basis. This move was final. There were lots of tears as we said goodbye and left everyone as we entered the security line.
The plane ride itself was pretty uneventful. We slept through most of it since we didn’t get much sleep the entire week prior. When we landed on August 31 it finally hit me: we did it! We made the move that we have talked about for so long. Our dream was becoming a reality. All of our planning and stressing was actualizing in that moment. We disembarked the plane and started our lives as proud Israelis. Actually, it took around five more hours until we finally left the airport because they misplaced a bunch of passport photos. But that’s all part of the experience, right?
Pilot trip 2015 One Month Aliya 2016 One Year Aliya Anniversary 2017
Anyone considering aliya inevitably gets advised by friends, family, and casual acquaintances to prepare for a really hard start. We heard that life in Israel would be difficult until we got settled and found our community. We were advised to prepare ourselves for a year of unemployment and for brash Israeli culture and unbearable bureaucracy. I thank Hashem each and every day that we were so fortunate to not experience any of that. We arrived with our 6 suitcases to our beautiful new home and right away started getting our new lives in order. We found all the bureaucracy to run pretty smoothly in our wonderful city of Modi’in. Even when I got an erroneous bill from Bituach Leumi (the Israeli Social Security organization) for 18,000 shekels I found their customer service to be quite pleasant. I of course immediately freaked out, but they helped me with a smile and wishes for a good new year and immediately ripped it up. Our lift arrived exactly when the organizers said it would, and the only broken thing among tens of boxes of china and glassware was a plastic lid from my Kosher Keepers Tupperware set. We instantly fell in love with our community. everyone was so welcoming and friendly and we found our friends quicker than we ever did in New York. My husband found a job really quickly that he loves going to every morning. (That was actually a funny story: in New York I had a kindergarten student who was Israeli and only at the NY school temporarily. The family was moving back to Israel the same summer as us. While chatting with this student’s mom one day we found out that not only do our husbands work in the same industry, they actually worked at the same start-up albeit at different times. Her husband worked at WeWork and planned to continue working there in Israel, so she said to pass his resume along and that was that. That’s the beauty of Israel — so many people figure out their job, apartment and more just by meeting someone at the most random place and things just working out.) While he did that, I got to follow my passion in the kitchen while studying UX design and I can’t wait to see where that takes me. We did have one early challenge — and looking back on it, it’s hard not to laugh. We had a really hard time securing a date to take the driving test to convert our driving licenses over, since the test administrators were on strike — a typical day in the Israeli life — and that was preventing us from buying a car. Thank God though, that specific obstacle has changed for all future olim (immigrants), as the government just implemented a new policy that olim do not need to take the test anymore if they have a valid license from a different country.
Overall, we look at what we accomplished this past year and it feels like we are looking back at five years. I am so grateful that I was here for the last year of my Savta’s life. I am so happy that I have a community that I can depend on in good times and in bad. And I even enjoy grocery shopping and getting to drive around town in a car that I own. Above all else, I am so proud that we are living in Israel. I am honored that I get to call my self an Israeli citizen. We are settled in the land of our people and we are helping it grow. I get this feeling every morning when I wake up and look out my window at the most beautiful view, I feel like I belong. I am home.
One of the many wonderful things about my new home is the food. The produce is all seasonal, and while that was very hard for me in the beginning, it means that when something is in season, it’s the best of the best. I HATED tomatoes back in America, now you will never find my refrigerator without them and almost every meal has them in some form. The spices, the Asian products, the warm Shabbat Shalom as you leave the store on Thursday — it all adds to an amazing food experience. And I am not even talking about restaurants! Having kosher restaurants of every cuisine and ethnicity all within an hour of me is incredible. I have never had such good food in my life.
There was one super classic Israeli food that I did not enjoy, though — falafel. I really don’t know what it is about it. I love hummus and chickpeas, but nothing about falafel ever spoke to me, so I always went for the shawarma. When I was thinking of what to showcase on my blog for my one-year aliyaversary, I decided that this would be the perfect time to convert something I wasn’t so fond of into a delicious meal. And so the beet falafel came into being. I knew I wanted to change something about it without changing the underlying taste, so I thought of things that I could add to a classic falafel. It came out even better than I could have imagined. The beet adds a hint of sweetness without being overwhelming (and OMG, that beautiful color), the gochujang adds some spiciness and the sumac brings it all together with a little bit of acidity (but without being too much, just like it would from lemon juice). I served them with homemade pita (I used the Joy of Kosher Israeli Edition recipe) and with lots of homemade classic Israeli salatim (salads) for a really authentic and delicious experience.
So that’s it. That’s my Aliya story. I hope that every year we get to feel like we accomplished as much as we did in this first year and are happier than when the year started. If any of you are considering or planning on Aliya, feel free to reach out with any questions! I am more than happy to help you out in any way that I can, from questions about cooking in Israel to what Modi’in is like (spoiler alert: it’s great)! And if you’re looking to get into the hi-tech world, my husband would be happy to help as well. And to those of you who are on the fence: in my humble opinion, just do it — there’s nothing else like it!