I glanced over to my right at my friend Ari who was sleeping soundly. I took in a deep breath, a bundle of nerves and excitement. I would not sleep the whole 10 hours of the flight from New York to Tel Aviv. Ari and I were on what was then the largest Aliyah flight from the United States – nearly 370 Olim in total, but unlike many of the Olim on the flight, Ari and I were different.
We were lone immigrants.
What awaited us at the airport still gives me chills to this day. Upon our landing in Tel Aviv, I looked out of the window at the dozen or so photographers and journalists who had gathered to cover our stories. We exited the airplane and took a shuttle to the older part of the airport with the large “Welcome to Israel” sign where nearly a thousand people had come to welcome all 366 of us to Israel as citizens. There were hundreds of signs, singing, cheering, and what can simply be described as pure joy. It was at that very moment that I truly realized how special Israel is; I wondered to myself – In what other country are there a thousand people at the airport waiting to welcome new immigrants?
I had moved to Israel alone, without a single family member in the country, but I was far from alone.
My journey to Israel began some two years earlier when I began studying for my M.A. at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. When I first arrived in Israel, I didn’t know a single Israeli, but I knew that this was where my heart was. During my two years as a student at Hebrew U, I met many wonderful fellow students such as Ari who soon would become my close friends and act as a pseudo-family. Despite having such close friends, I still felt the absence of an actual family.
It was half a year into my time at Hebrew U that I decided to participate in the Jewish Agency’s “Babayit Beyachad” program in which I would be paired with an Israeli family that had volunteered to assist and help me during my time in Israel. The coordinator of the program paired me up with what became my “adoptive family” – the Sheffer’s. I now had a place to go to for Shabbat meals and for holiday’s. I had a warm, loving family to help me with all of my Hebrew homework that I struggled with each and every weekend. The Sheffer’s received nothing in return for their enormous mitzvah, and I am not sure even to this day that they understand what a profound impact they had on my life and journey to becoming an Israeli citizen.
With my close university friends and the Sheffer’s, I established the foundation that would allow me to make a successful Aliyah. Now 4.5 years after my making Aliyah, I have another “adoptive family” in my boyfriend Moshe’s family. They are loud, funny, and have accepted me as though I am already a part of their family.
In no other country in the world are immigrants valued the way they are in Israel. This was clear to be when I landed at Ben Gurion Airport and even before I made Aliyah during my studies at Hebrew U. Israelis may fight and argue, but at the end of the day, they care about one another. In the six-and-a-half years I have lived in Israel, I have met such wonderful people who welcomed me into their families. All of my family may live on the other side of the world, but so many Israelis and fellow immigrants have helped me to establish other “families”.
In my eyes, to be Israeli is to be a part of one large family. I still miss my family in the States a great deal, but I am looking forward to continuing to build my life and future here in Israel. I have such wonderful families here – my university friends, the Sheffer’s, my boyfriend’s family – that I no longer feel alone. Because Israelis recognize what new immigrants bring to the country, many are more than willing to welcome new and lone immigrants into their homes and lives.
The United States may be my place of birth, but Israel is my home. Here, I am not alone.