The alarm goes off at 5:45am on the morning of my Aliyah. My husband hurries to turn it off before it wakes the baby and goes back to sleep. I’m tired from all the packing and driving we’ve done lately. Despite this, I wake up, realizing my left hand is in the wrong kind of fist, my thumb on the inside. I haven’t opened my eyes yet. I hear an airplane flying overhead and think of our flight later that day. I listen to my 17 month old little boy breathing in his sleep, think of the upcoming day, and how our lives are about to change.
I creep out of bed and start collecting our things. My husband stirs and awakens. He quietly joins me and we pack the final items, shlepping them outside for collection by our hired van. There’s quite a few bags, three 50lb. duffels for each of us, plus carry-ons and personal items. Our aunt, an early bird, comes downstairs and surprises us with breakfast in a bag.
The van shows up and the driver rearranges seats in his car just to accommodate our baggage. Poor ElyZ gets smushed into his car seat; he’s not happy about it and shares his feelings the entire ride to Newark airport.
Once there (we have arrived early), we meet up with the Nefesh b’Nefesh (NBN) team. We meet some lone soldiers who are joining us in making Aliyah (read: 18 year-olds moving across the world to fulfill a dream of serving Israel in a military capacity) and make friends with older singles and couples like us. We complete paperwork and hand over last-minute photos. We wait and my son smiles at everyone, winning them over. I snap photos. So does NBN.
We check into El Al and hand over our carefully packed duffels, each no more than 50lbs. They never weigh them.
We return to tell NBN our seat assignments and head up to security. Again, my son makes friends with everyone behind us – no big surprise. I carry him through security, they wipe my hands, and we’re good to go to Gate B62.
We wait some more. I call friends one last time, prevent my son from taking Duty Free items with his sticky fingers, change him twice, and text my family farewell. I’m feeling okay but the first tears are starting to fall.
I snap my camera.
We make our way to the line, load onto the plane, shove everything overhead, disappoint our son by putting him back in the car seat, and I call my sister in Toronto. Somehow I barely hold it together, though I am told by a flight attendant to turn my off phone for takeoff.
I am a mess; I miss my mom who I lost two years ago who always wanted to live in Israel. I miss my family, my friends, our family who housed us the last three months. My husband holds me close and lets me cry. I am happy but unsure. I am excited but sad. It’s been a long road and while the last few years have been rough, this is the real start of our lives together as a family.
I’m better once we take off. The 9 hour, 45 minutes flight is a relatively easy one, and my son entertains us (and the rear part of the plane) for almost four hours. He wanders up and down the aisle, smiling at people, poking neighbors, saying hello, asking for crackers, and flirting with flight attendants. Then my little angel sleeps across our laps for the last six hours (we might have managed two).
Once we land, we wait until everyone else deplanes. Then it’s finally our turn. My good friend, Elana, an NBN employee, who has been tracking our application for months, happens to meet us on the plane. When I wave her over, she rushes to me, sings, and gives me a huge hug. We are both crying. She made Aliyah 11 years ago.
After being led off the plane, new Olim are bussed to the old Terminal 1. It brings back such memories of when my family and I first came to Israel, back in 1991. I snap more photos for posterity and we sit in the welcoming/processing room – the same room all Olim pass through.
Three hours later, I walk out with the group, a new Israeli with a Tehudat Oleh and little blue Tehudat Zehut. I am official. I excitedly snap a picture with my new Tooty Zooty.
I try to decide if I feel any differently.
We bus back to the main terminal, pick up our bags, and head out through the archway that leads to the expanse of crowd excitedly awaiting family arrivals. We enter the great room and, surprisingly, there’s a crowd of yellow baseball hats, just for us, loudly singing songs, cheering for Olim, and throwing candy at us. I start crying and then see my mother-in-law. I don’t take any pictures at this point; I have blinders on. I’m fully in the present.
I go over and hug her with my husband. I’m home.
The rest of my day is nothing compared to that moment. Sure, we trucked all our luggage over to our new apartment, packed for Shabbat and headed to our in-laws (we have no bed yet). Absolutely, I fell asleep in the car on the way, we got love and hugs, sat outside in the Israeli sun, and drank some Israeli coffee. Yes, I let my loved ones know I arrived and soaked in the love….But I still go back to that one moment, frozen in time, captured by an NBN photographer with the greatest job in the world.*
I’m now lying in bed. Months in the making, this has been an incredible roller coaster of a day, physically and emotionally. With one eye I peer over at my husband and son, both collapsed to my left, and think how the 32+ hour day has gone. I linger on my thoughts and feelings, real and surreal… I live here now… I’m an expat with dual citizenship… I’m now an official Woolf… I’m doing this for my little one who will soon speak Hebrew better than me. My little one-to be will be a real Sabra. My very identity has changed…
I am now an Israeli.
I breathe in my Israeli air, close my eyes, and fall asleep in my new country. I am not quite sure what that means yet, but I know I am home.
*A sincerest thank you to GlassHat Media for capturing the amazing moment and memory above. I will cherish it.