Sara Chertoff
Sara Chertoff

Gratitude for the gift that is aliyah

Ever since I was a teenager, I knew I wanted to be in Israel. I guess it’s no surprise that not only am I here, but I also help others embark on their aliyah journey as well.

My road to become Aliyah Services Manager at Nefesh B’Nefesh, who together with our partners are facilitating North American aliyah, , was not a linear one and acclimating to Israeli life was not always smooth. However, I’m proud of the work I’ve done to make a home for myself here and how on a daily basis I encourage others to do the same.

I still vividly remember my freshman year at the University of Texas in Austin, where Israel seemed so far away and unattainable. My parents wanted me to attend college in the US and obtain an American degree before making the life-altering decision of choosing aliyah.

Like most teenagers, my plans didn’t align with my parent’s. Listening to Israeli music, becoming part of Hillel, being on the board of Texans for Israel just didn’t cut it. I needed to be here with my people.

So, I dropped out, and with the help of Nefesh B’Nefesh, began my new life in Israel.

Like many olim, I struggled to get up to speed with my Hebrew which is why I held myself back a year and did Mechina before enrolling in Bar Ilan University. As someone who didn’t serve in the military, but dated and then married a career officer, I believed it was my duty to make sure I had a full grasp of the language and didn’t want to take any shortcuts so I could begin a life where I could contribute in a meaningful way.

With good Hebrew and a university degree under my belt, I worked in the tour guiding industry for a number of years before joining the Nefesh B’Nefesh family.

As someone who now oversees a team of aliyah advisors, on this Yom HaAliyah, I suggest all potential olim take the following advice to heart.

  1. Learn Hebrew — You will need it. While most Israelis speak some degree of English, having a command of the native language will give you a leg up in almost every aspect of Israeli society
  2. Be kind to yourself — Navigating Israeli bureaucracy is not always easy. Things may take longer or may be confusing and that’s okay. Just know that there are many others who have been in your situation, have come out on the other side and can now laugh at the frustrations they experienced in their early days
  3. Remember why you want to make aliyah — Write it down. Memorize it. Internalize it. And whenever life here becomes frustrating, look back at that one, pure, organic reason that brought you here and makes everything all worth it

Yes, not everything is easy here but I’m grateful for every sacrifice I made in order to be an Israeli. I’m grateful to see my three children easily switch from English to Hebrew and speak a language that was dead 150 years ago. I’m grateful I could pin the new rank on my husband’s lapel when he became a major in the army knowing our family is contributing to the security of our home. And, yes, I’m even grateful for the opportunity to celebrate Israel’s highs on Yom HaAtzmaut and commemorate the lows on Yom HaZikaron by attending memorial services for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

But on this Yom HaAliyah, I’m especially grateful for being one of those Nefesh B’Nefesh staff members I remember from my own aliyah flight, who wore those bright yellow lanyards with a walkie talkie in hand walking around in a frenzy making sure every person’s aliyah was a smooth one.

About the Author
Sara Chertoff is a veteran aliyah adviser for Nefesh B'Nefesh.
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