A few years back, Aliya was just a dream.
I’ve been saying I would make Aliya for the longest time, but logistically and mentally I just wasn’t truly prepared for it. I always said I would be going right after I finished college, but lo and behold, my senior year approached and I was making plans to stay in New York, not leave it. Towards the end of my last year, I met my now-husband and we instantly connected. What about? Israel! We both had a love and passion for Israel, and through him, my love and determination to move to my homeland came back. Eventually, we started making concrete plans for when we would move. Fun fact, my husband is younger than me, so our plan was to make the move soon after he finished college. We got married and settled into our apartment in New York, with an eye towards the end date of our apartment lease as an approximate Aliya Date. We were doing it.
We started the process, which I must say, with the help of Nefesh B’Nefesh, is relatively straightforward for most people. But we weren’t most people. My mother is Israeli, which in turns makes me automatically Israeli, and gives me a different Aliyah process right off the bat. Trouble was, my mother never registered me with the Israeli consulate at birth, and trying to go back and retroactively register myself was a nightmare. There were countless trips to the consulate, both for me in New York and my mother in Los Angeles, all ending with a bang in the form of a draft letter from the army because they skipped over the part in my file that says I am married (which, as a woman, automatically exempts you from the draft). Later on, this would continue, with a letter from Bituach Leumi (Israeli Social Security) saying I owed them seven years of backpay all of a sudden, totaling in 18K shekel. Fun times. But we made it through it all and we got approved for Aliya. We researched options for international moving companies and made plans of how we would live without all our stuff on both ends of the move for around 3-4 weeks. Then came the flight decision, do you go group or charter? That ended up being one decision we didn’t have to make since we had a family wedding to attend two days after the charter flight, so we went with the next group flight. Six weeks before our Aliya date, our movers came and packed up our entire home in just 6 hours and loaded it onto the truck. [By the way, if anyone reading this here is planning their Aliya and needs recommendations, we cannot recommend Dolphin Express enough, very professional and amazing at what they do. Not a single thing broke!]
August 31st arrived. The day our whole lives changed. Our families had flown/drove in to see us off at Newark Airport, and it was a very emotional day. I have always lived close to my little sister. We’re best friends, and this was the first time we would be leaving each other indefinitely. There was no return date on this one, unlike when I studied abroad for 6 months in college. This was a forever choice—though I’m still holding out for her to join me here, (ahem ahem Cheni!). We knew we would be seeing our families often; we both come from families who make it a point to visit Israel often enough, but it was difficult nonetheless. I was also leaving behind my adorable nieces and nephews who are so young and constantly changing—who knows if the youngest one will even remember me the next time I see her? Anyway, we finally said goodbye at the last possible moment and, crying tears of sadness but also of joy, we passed through security to embark on the next chapter of our lives.
The plane ride itself was nothing special since it wasn’t a charter flight. There were around 70 of us on the plane who were making Aliyah, and we each did our own thing. My husband and I went to sleep before long, since we would be landing at 6 AM and wanted to be ready for the day ahead. Right before landing, the Nefesh B’Nefesh representatives who were accompanying us went around asking us to fill out some paperwork and gave us each our “I am an Oleh!” sticker. I proudly wore that the whole day. Then came landing. There was no visible pomp or pizzaz in the landing itself, but that was when it hit me: we did it, we have made it home to where we belong. It was really sinking in that we had just made this life-altering decision and I couldn’t have been happier about it. No regrets. For the next few days, my husband and I would drive around in our rental car and just turn to each other and be like “we live here?” and we really did. It was just so crazy to believe that this idea we had been talking about for so long had just become our reality.
From there, our absorption into the country went fairly smoothly, with only some minor bumps in the road, like trying to convert our driver licenses. Other than that, and me getting very sick a month in, life was great. We had moved to an amazing community, gotten really lucky with our apartment, were making new friends, my husband had gotten a job at WeWork and I was starting out my career as a private chef.
Now it’s been 9 months since our Aliya and it’s also Yom Ha’aztmaut (Israeli Independence Day). There are no mixed emotions for me. I am just truly and utterly happy. To be celebrating Israel’s Birthday as an Israeli citizen is an amazing feeling. Yesterday though, the country all stood together and mourned the losses of everyone who gave their lives to this country, to MY country. We mourn them, we cry for their shortened lives, we thank them for all that they have sacrificed so that we can live peacefully. And the very next day we celebrate everything that they sacrificed their lives for, so that we the Israeli people can live. Beautiful. So tonight and tomorrow I will be out celebrating with my friends, making a classic Yom Haaztamut BBQ (or mangal as we like to say), hiking the lands of Israel, and just enjoying the life I now live.
Not everyone is able to go out and BBQ or take the day to celebrate Israel, but here’s an easy way you can. Make yourself some shakshuka, it’s delicious and it can be your way of celebrating all that our country has accomplished!