Confessions of an American Olah

Teudat Zehut ceremony
Author’s photo

When you see the picture of me holding my Teudat Zehut with a full, hundred-watt smile, you probably are thinking that’s gotta be one of the happiest moments of her life. And it was. That crinkling thing I do with eyes is not something I know how to fake. The less of my eyes you can see, the happier I am.

Aliyah was the first big commitment I made without knowing the end result. Sure, I did college, work, and graduate school, and those all took commitment, but the difference was, I knew what the end product was supposed to look like: College resulted in a Bachelors of Arts. Graduate school resulted in a Masters of Science. Work resulted in smooth flowing events and project goals met. Aliyah was the first commitment I’ve made knowing with full awareness that there’s no knowing for sure what lies ahead. Of course, there are reasons that make the risk is worthwhile and give me deep optimism: my supportive friends and family, job opportunity, the go-with-the-flow culture that I thrive one….but of course, there are no guarantees.

Uncertainty is tough. It’s what held me back from making Aliyah the first time I attempted it. It’s especially tough when you’re coming from a country where Jewish life is meaningful, rich, and fulfilling.

Golda Meir said: Israel was created, so that every Jew knows he can come home, when he has to or when he wants to.

When I first looked at my fellow olim from other countries, I thought, of course they made aliyah. Why would they stay in anti-semitic France? Or in rupturing South Africa? Sure, Brazil is a beautiful place, but c’mon, there’s not much going on there for a Jew.

I know. Very American of me.

Ask a few American Jews if they would congratulate a French, South African, or Brazilian Jew for making aliyah, and you’ll likely get a  unified  “of course!” When a Jew has to protect his life and heritage, there is no question. Yet ask the same people if they supports another American Jew’s choice to make aliyah because he wants to, and you are bound to get a flurry of different responses, ranging from passionate blessings, to apathy, to disapproving cynicism.

Perhaps most American olim are able to get past the deep ambiguity on the issue, but for me, it’s hard to shake. American Jews aren’t wrong. Life is great in America. It’s overflowing with possibilities in every direction…nothing is off limits. I mean, why on earth would I leave a country in which:

  • a Hasidic Jewish woman is a sitting judge of civil court.
  • there are institutions of higher learning that enable medical and law students to take off the least days possible for Jewish holidays (see: Touro College and Yeshiva University).
  • our beat boxers and a-capella groups are celebrated on national TV and in TIME magazine.

I mean, really. Things are euphorically good in America!

And then, that little voice – it claims to be a voice of reason – pushes its opinion:

You knowit’s takes a lot of chutzpah to leave all of that behind. 

That’s when the avalanche of doubt begins:

  • What, New York wasn’t good enough for you?
  • Look how many people try and come back.
  • Look how many Israelis come to America and stay.
  • What makes you think you’ll make it? Why not just be happy with what you have?
  • What, you think life in Israel will be better?
  • Isn’t marriage more important? You’re accustomed to American guys…why not just wait and find one who will make aliyah later?

It’s amazing how guilty one can feel for being ‘privileged’ to make aliyah out of choice rather than necessity.

Despite the questions and doubts, despite the myriad of eligible men, the richness of Jewish life, the stability, the familiarity, the comfort…making aliyah is the best thing I ever did for myself. Time will tell if it’s the best thing I did for my future husband, children, and grandchildren, but in the here and now, I’m content knowing that I’m living my truth. I didn’t come home because I had to. I came home because, for all of the uncertainty that comes with it comes one huge certainty.

I’m home. And I want to be home.

About the Author
Eliana is a project manager and writer living in New York. An experienced Wandering Jew, she's lived in 10 cities (so far) including a state capital (Albany), a country's capital (Jerusalem), and the most diverse county in America (Queens).