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Laughing and Crying Through Aliyah

She's blogging the aliyah process, from alef to tav, including the emotional blockade before departure

After spending the last year in Israel as a Dorot Fellow, I knew I wanted to make Aliyah. I returned to the states for a month to tie up some loose ends, and this coming Monday I’m jumping on a Nefesh B’Nefesh Charter flight to my new home in the Middle East.

“American Summer!” I thought. I had envisioned long walks with my father and our yellow lab, Huxley, in the park by our house in New Hampshire, languorous shopping trips with mom, board games with my brother, and endless girls’ nights.

But, that’s not how it happened. I raced around getting all the documents together for my Aliyah visa, buying barrels of maple syrup for people back in Israel, triple booking friends for coffee dates, and tossing cocktail dresses and bathing suits and Birkenstocks and Torah commentaries and boxes of mac’n’cheese and cold medicine and knick-knacks into overstuffed suitcases because even after years in Israel, I still haven’t quite accepted there’s nothing I could possibly need that I can’t find there.

Meeting with friends is elating and difficult. It’s like we were never apart. Conversation flows freely between tight hugs and laughter, and then I can see in their eyes that it hurts them that it won’t ever be like it was before. Our friendship will last, but I won’t get vegan food with them every Thursday night anymore. I won’t be at their birthday parties. I can’t bring the rum and ice cream after a breakup, and I can’t be the loudest one cheering at their show. They’re so happy for me, that I’ve found a place I feel I belong, but ending every date with “We’ll visit! We’ll skype!” Doesn’t change that.

Things have been tense with my parents all trip. Sometimes we laugh and joke and pass the wine around, in complete denial. Sometimes we scream at each other about incidental things. (“THIS IS A REMAKE OF KUNG FU HUSTLE ON NETFLIX RIGHT NOW.” “NO, IT’S THE ORIGINAL, STOP IT.”) And I know we’re not fighting about martial arts movies. We’re fighting because I’m not their little girl anymore. Or rather, because I’ll always be their little girl, but I’m going someplace far away where they can’t hold me or protect me anymore. We didn’t want to admit that to each other. We didn’t want to face head on that this great and amazing thing I’m doing is a goodbye at the same time that it’s a hello.

Finally, I had the expected emotional breakdown. When I couldn’t decide which towels to pack, I ran weeping to the backyard, where my dad was tossing the ball into the lake for Huxley to fetch. “What’s wrong now?” he asked good-naturedly. “Worried about packing? You’re not going to fit everything. That’s okay. We can ship you everything in a trunk.”

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My backyard in New Hampshire.

“No,” I said, wiping sticky tears from my face. “I always forget things. I can buy them in Israel. Or come home and get them sometime.”

“Then what?” he asked. “Stressed about cleaning your room? You’ll never finish. I never expected you to. You can come and visit and chip away at your room every year for the rest of your life. Don’t worry about it.”

Finally, I said. “You know, I talked to my friend Ro last night.”

“Oh yeah?” he said, eyes on Huxley’s head bobbing above the lily pads.

“Yeah, my friend from Ein Prat. She made Aliyah a few years ago. Alone, like me. I asked her if making Aliyah was emotional for her, too. I mean, I’m 100% sure of my decision, but it’s still so sad. It’s making you and mom so sad and it makes me sad to see you sad. It’s hard, it’s been so hard.”

My dad sniffed and blinked, hands in the pockets of his overalls.

“And she said she cried all the week before she left, she couldn’t stop. And if I didn’t cry, she’d be worried about me, because she’d be concerned I was coming to Israel for the wrong reasons and I wouldn’t make it. She said people who run away from their lives don’t make it in Israel, but I have a life and a family that loves me, it’s just that my home is somewhere else, and it’s extremely confusing and emotional to leave that behind.”

My dad cleared his throat.

“She said it’s good that I cried, because my parents need to know I’m going to miss them, that it’s comforting for them to know that I’m not running from them and that it’s not something they did that made me pull away.”

He was quiet for several moments, and then he said, “Okay, first: You told me you would never ever go through another New England Winter. You know, we got ten feet of snow last year, and I really can’t blame you for leaving. Number two: people say to me stupid shit like, ‘Gee, Israel, isn’t it dangerous?’ And I say ‘Well, I don’t know… I mean, Ariane called me after the first bomb at the Boston Marathon went off, saying “dad, I’m alright!” and in the background I heard the second bomb going off.’ You can get collected any place.”

“Collected?”

“It’s a figure of speech. Number three, Israel is a very interesting place. I grew up with a host of stereotypes about Jews. And you can never really shake them until you go to Israel. And you meet all these different people, and they speak different languages, and come from different countries, and they’re brain surgeons and garbage men and farmers, and they’re all Jews. Tel Aviv is a wild city, and Jerusalem is super-mystical, and even if the world’s got a problem with Israel, there’s all these Israelis around you and you’re all in the same boat, whereas when you’re in the diaspora, you face the same enemies, but you’re alone. And it’s a very different environment.”

He watched Huxley race across the yard, digging in the mud, as he continued. “Now, regarding my family’s desire to go to Israel… My grandfather liked steel, he was a metal smith. He decided to make himself a boat, to go to Israel. It was HUGE, you know? I saw it with my own eyes, in the garage. And he showed me where the engines were going to go. I knew the garage was going to have to come down to get the boat out! It was supposed to be launched in the Connecticut River, and he was going to sail to Israel. And then his sons gave him a ticket to go to Miami, and he was really happy there, and he said ‘Well, it’s not Israel, but it is the Garden of Eden here.’ I don’t know what happened to the boat. It was his dream to go to Israel, but he got distracted. So you’re fulfilling that dream.”

And he looked right at me when he said, “I’m proud of you, because it’s what you want to do! Lots of people sit at home and think ‘gee I’d like to…’ and you do it. I don’t usually like the things you do, Ariane. I didn’t like, for example, when you went alone, a Jewish woman, to Jordan last summer. CLEVER MOVE. Do you know what could have happened?!? AN INTERNATIONAL CRISIS. Jesus Christ!”

“Focus on Israel, Dad.”

“I’m proud of you because you’re not chickening out. Does anyone have a real desire to do anything? You do. So do it. RALLY!”

Later that night, I gave my mom a big hug in the kitchen, and I said, “I’m sad, too. And I’m sorry.”

And it was like the emotional blockade was broken, and she said, “I don’t want you to be sorry. I feel like… like I’m sending you into the wilderness, you know? And I don’t like that, as a mom. It makes me sad, and anxious, and worried. But I don’t want you to feel sorry that you’re going. I’m glad you’re doing what you want to do. I’m glad that you feel very strongly about it. I’m glad there are people across the ocean who seem to care about you and look after you. You have some very good friends there, they’ve looked after you for years now. That makes me feel good, too. And then I’m very sad. I say to myself, you said goodbye to her last time, and she went away for so long… maybe this time will be shorter, because she’ll visit soon.”

To which my dad added, “HEY, she’s definitely going to go SOMEWHERE. FLORIDA. Or SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. Somewhere it doesn’t snow. It may as well be Israel. Look, Ariane, I don’t know anyone who was here last winter that wants to be here this winter.”

And I started laughing and crying at the same time.

I’m a new blogger for Times of Israel and Nefesh B’Nefesh. I’ll be writing about the process of making Aliyah, the trials and tribulations, the charter flight, the arrival ceremony next week (watch the twitter tag #LiveLoveIsreal and follow me @Arianemandell). I promise I’ll tell you about the wackiness of packing, caring folks who will help you along the way, the highs and lows, and all the rest.

I didn’t want to introduce myself to you this way. I wanted to be the picture of the smiling olah, I wanted you to believe that this isn’t hard. Or, maybe I wanted to believe it isn’t hard. But it is hard. And I’m doing it anyway, because I want to so badly, because I love Israel and I want to be part of it, because it’s the right thing to do, because it’s my dream and I have the chance to live it. And I’m the kind of girl who takes those chances, like Ro is, like all olim are. 

I’m laughing, I’m crying, I’m racing to the airport.

My "backyard" in Israel
My “backyard” in Israel

About the Author
Raised in New Hampshire, USA, Ariane holds a BA in East Asian Studies from Bates College and a Master's from Harvard Divinity School. After participating in Birthright in 2012, Ariane fell in love with the Jewish Homeland and has has since been part of the Tikvah Institute for Zionist Thought at Ein Prat, the ROI Community, and the Dorot Fellowship in Israel. She teaches and writes novels in Tel Aviv.
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