The following is my inaugural blog post and the first in a series of blog posts about aliyah in honor of completing my family’s 7th year in Israel this week. I wrote this essay in 2008 prior to making aliyah for two purposes: To provide an explanation to our families on why were leaving them and to apply to make aliyah with Nefesh B’Nefesh.
I plan on giving it to my children when they are older to make sure they understand why we moved our family to Israel and hope and pray that they choose to stay.
Today I received word that there is a possibility I may be able to transfer my current job to Israel. This is a major milestone in achieving a dream I have had for the last eight years. Living in Israel would be fulfilling in so many ways including nationally, religiously, and personally.
I am a middle-class American Modern Orthodox Jew who was born “upstate” in Rochester, NY and was raised in Teaneck, NJ. I attended Moriah yeshiva day school and Torah Academy of Bergen Country high school. When I graduated high school and 95% of my class was planning to study in yeshivot in Israel for the year, I was concerned about the cost and practicalities of delaying my university education. Having spent my summers working for a major bank during the dot-com boom, I was already an experienced computer programmer and did not want to miss out on the era of startups and venture capital that was going on around me. I had never been to Israel and while I had a desire to visit, a year was a long time, expensive, and would delay my education.
Although I had my eyes set on MIT, for a number of reasons, one of which was expenses [I did not complete the application process], I decided to accept a NJ state scholarship and attend the local state school, Rutgers University (and it’s good I did because I met my wife there!). My first year at Rutgers (1999-2000) was the very first year Birthright Israel was established. I must have been wondering what things would have been like had I joined my high school friends in Israel, as I very much wanted to attend a program in Israel where I could both tour the major sites and further explore my Judaism without the pressures of an American yeshiva high school.
I was definitely downtrodden when told by the Hillel director that I was not chosen for Birthright … but, luckily, I learned of the Ohr Sameyach Jewish Learning Exchange (JLE) program. Like before, money was an issue, as I was paying for college as well as all my living expenses. While JLE was not free that year, my older brother secured me an anonymous $500 donation, which enabled me to join the trip.
My first time in Israel at age 18 was definitely an amazing experience. It was three weeks of touring many of the holy and historic sites as well as learning some fundamental aspects of Judaism from incredibly dynamic rabbis and lecturers. Having had a yeshiva education, I did not fit the demographics of their typical student; however, learning for the sake of learning from such skilled teachers was an experience I had never had in the American yeshiva school system. The best part was Ohr Sameyach ran out of housing, so three friends and I got to live in the Jewish quarter of the Old City! I could daven at the Kotel whenever I wanted, walk the Old City, and walk to Ben Yehuda. However, my friends and I quickly learned not to walk to Ohr Sameyach through the Arab part of Jerusalem in the middle of Ramadan! Overall, the trip was an amazing experience and I left Israel with a desire to return.
I quickly got back to studying at Rutgers and finished every semester on Dean’s List and most of them with a 4.0 average. Somehow, I also found the time to socialize and be involved with the Jewish life offered by both Rutgers Hillel and Chabad. Rutgers has an enormous Jewish population with a rich student life. While most of those students were staunchly pro-Israel, our most infamous Jewish student was the character who threw a pie in Minister Natan Sharansky’s face (I was sitting 3 rows back during the event and recall seeing the attack occurring in slow motion … thank God it was just a pie).
Rutgers also has a large Muslim student population as well as the typical radical leftist activists — it is an odd match up, but they join together in their hatred for Israel. Being in university during the Second Intifada, participating in pro-Israel rallies, and responding to anti-Israel and anti-Semitic editorials and letters in the student paper definitely formed and strengthened my commitment to the Jewish state.
Until university, I had taken Israel pretty much for granted. All the wars had happened before I reached maturity and life was comfortable for me in America. Being in Israel and connecting with the Jewish land, history, and people in ways not possible in the Diaspora definitely changed me. When I returned and witnessed the blind, irrational hatred for Israel I saw on campus and in the news, the Zionist inside me awoke. I realized that while Israel exists today for me, it is in constant struggle for its continued existence and I wanted to do whatever was in my power to support it. I knew from history that Jews have been persecuted in their host countries every few hundred years or so and, while life in America seemed as good for the Jews as it had ever been, there was (and is) no guarantee how long it will last.
I did not feel right seeing my brethren put themselves and their children in harms way for our national dream while I comfortably did my small part by occasionally going to rallies or writing checks. I wanted to actively support Israel to ensure it would be there for my kids as well as future generations. There is no greater way I can do so then by making aliyah, raising my family there, and contributing to the Israeli economy.
Religiously, there are aspects of Judaism that I am not even aware of because they are only relevant to Jews living in Israel. I feel like my religion and that of my family can blossom in Israel. We will have easier access to minyanim (at work!) and kosher food (at work!). I will no longer have to be the token Orthodox Jew in the workplace — explaining Kashrut and Shabbat over and over or feeling self-conscious about uttering the occasional bracha. I will actually be able to observe religious holidays and still have enough vacation days left for a normal vacation with my family. Nor will I be forced or coerced to take off during Christian holidays because it is practical for my company to do so. I will no longer have to feel like an outsider in a host country.
Statistically, Israel is the only country in the world where the Jewish population is growing instead of shrinking. To me that means there is a greater chance of my children growing up Jewish, not intermarrying, and, God willing, the same will be true for their children as well. I think my children will have a richer Jewish education and childhood. They will speak Hebrew natively and live the Bible by visiting the places they are learning about. I know what it’s like to be a Jew in America, but I want my family to experience what it’s like to live as Jews in Israel.
Personally, of my wife and children, I am the only one who is not already Israeli. If I don’t make aliyah now, my kids will probably grow up and go on their own eventually. Particularly because we (all of us) only speak Hebrew in our house and our 2½ year old is already bi-lingual. While I hate to leave my parents and siblings, I would hate it more if I stayed and my children made aliyah and left me. Being away from our families will be difficult but I believe our aliyah will strengthen the connection between our families and friends and the Jewish state. Already, before we’ve even landed, other family members are revealing their hitherto unspoken thoughts of living in Israel one day. By adding our name to the list of olim who have made it, we make this common national goal that much more real and achievable for our network of loved ones.
Unlike a few decades ago, I can even make the argument that it makes economic sense for us to live in Israel. While we have our hands full with two kids, God willing we would like to have more and the cost of private education in the US is prohibitive. If I can avoid it, I would rather not have to determine the size of my (future) family based on my paycheck. Additionally, being in the hi-tech industry, I can honestly say that I have more long term career options in Silicon-Valley-like Israel than in New Jersey.
When I graduated university and accepted a job, one of the factors I considered was that they had a site in Tel Aviv and that perhaps, one day, I might find a way to work in Israel. I got my first taste of that a little over a year ago (Succot 2006), when my team was working so closely with the team in Israel that I was asked to co-locate in Tel Aviv for three weeks. As most of my wife’s extended family lives in the Tel Aviv area, this worked out great for her and the kids as well.
During those three weeks I experienced driving to work in Tel Aviv, giving presentations to my Israeli peers, and working with them hands-on. It also gave me the opportunity to socialize and network with them. One of my friends and peers at the Tel Aviv office is none other than a former Nefesh B’Nefesh employee. He has definitely been encouraging my aliyah since we met. We also have many other friends who are successful Nefesh B’Nefesh olim in Bet Shemesh, Hashmonaim, Sde Eliyahu, and Modiin. My wife and I feel that our Israeli and Oleh network of family and friends, knowledge of Hebrew, Zionist ideals, and the fact that I work in the hi-tech industry make us ideal aliyah candidates.
However, we know that aliyah will present many challenges, one of which is financial. I am not a financial wizard and I have trouble coming up with exactly how much aliyah will cost and how much savings we need to cover any unexpected costs. However, I do know that I am not wealthy, and while Hashem has always provided for the needs of myself and my family, any financial assistance Nefesh B’Nefesh can provide to make our dream a reality will be put to good use and immensely appreciated. For such a young organization, you have already changed the way aliyah is both perceived and achieved. We are grateful that an organization of such amazing individuals exists and look forward to joining you on a flight in the near future. May your efforts strengthen the State of Israel and her people and may we see the day when all Jews live together, united in our eternal homeland.
In in my next blog post, I hope to give an update on how the last 7 years have been, whether my hopes and dreams have been achieved, and perhaps share some knowledge and experience I have gathered along the way. If you enjoyed the article, please let me know!