Next week, my husband and I are making aliyah to Jerusalem, G-d willing! The past few months have been a whirlwind of bureaucracy, paperwork and hours on hold at the Jewish Agency listening to “Ein li Eretz Acheret.” For us, there really is no other land, and we are thrilled to return home as Israeli citizens. We’ve had our fair share of challenges along the way, acquiring many lessons (and laughs) that we’d like to share with you here:
- Pay attention to the details: When requesting an apostille, the form asks which country the document is being authenticated for. My husband and I both wrote, “United States.” We discovered the correct answer was “Israel” only AFTER we received our marriage certificate back with something called “Certificates of Incumbency” instead of an apostille. Whoops. For some reason, our birth certificates came back with the correct apostille. The mistake only affected our marriage certificate—the last document we needed before approval. Time for Take #2.
- Don’t use USPS: We started the process again and sent off the last copy of our marriage certificate to get the proper apostille. After several weeks, I called the office to check on its status. The clerk told me they sent the apostille back…last Thursday. Each day, I diligently watched for the mailman and dashed to the mailbox when I saw his truck (it might have looked like I was stalking him). As the days turned into weeks, we eventually had to accept that the apostille was lost in the mail. And that is how we learned another valuable lesson: don’t use USPS for important documents. Always send mail via FedEx or UPS with tracking.
- Everything happens for a reason: So we lost the apostille in the mail and had to drive 2.5 hours to Tallahassee to get a new one (third time’s the charm, right?). Turns out, it was Yom Yerushalayim — a perfect day for Aliyah paperwork! We arrived at the office one hour before closing and were greeted by the sign, “Checks and money orders only.” Of course, we forgot our checks, and I sent my husband running to find a money order. At the same time, I started chatting to a nice woman in the waiting room, who happens to run a document courier service. She offered to write us a check, and we left with our precious apostille in hand. We stopped for dinner at a new Israeli restaurant in Tallahassee called Cafe Yerushalmi…on Yom Yerushalayim! The Israeli owner opened the restaurant in the midst of Corona to bring Jerusalem flavor and spirit into a town with hardly enough Jews to make a minyan. We were so grateful our apostille got lost in the mail so we could drive to Tallahassee and meet her (the food was delicious too)!
- Always fill up the tank before a road trip: We had about a quarter tank of gas left and wanted to fill up before heading home. Yet we soon realized something strange was afoot: all the gas stations were either packed with cars or completely empty with plastic bags over the pumps. Turns out, people were panicking because of the pipeline hack and gas stations were quickly running out of gas. We waited in a long line and just as we got to the pump, someone yelled, “No more gas!” Luckily, there was still some premium gas left, and we arrived home safe and sound with our final apostille in hand.
- Be persistent: The Jewish Agency Global Center approved our application eight weeks after our aliyah interview, but it would have taken much longer if I hadn’t been such a nudge. Each time I called the Global Center, there was something else we had to take care of, whether it was filling out new forms or resending “missing documents.” It’s all part of the process, as frustrating as it may be. Be polite, gracious AND assertive. You got this!
- Start Early: Whether you plan on making aliyah in 6 months or 6 years, start now! Everything takes time, from decluttering the house to acquiring apostilles and new passports. Start early and start small, whether it’s by ordering a birth certificate or starting your Nefesh B’Nefesh application. Every step toward Israel counts, and you will thank yourself later!
- Mind Your Belongings: Speaking of decluttering the house, start paying attention to what you’re acquiring. My husband and I had so many belongings to sort through, and we’ve only been married for 7 months! Start those give-away piles now. Lifts are expensive, and you must choose wisely if you want to ship overseas. Don’t let your stuff hold you back from making aliyah!
We’ve learned many lessons during our aliyah process so far, and we haven’t arrived in Israel yet! I’m sure we have much more to learn, so stay tuned for Part Two of “Lessons from our Aliyah Journey!”