My Aliyah Experience

The day I had been dreaming of for so long had finally arrived. March 12th 2013. Rosh Hodesh Nisan. My daughter drove me to the airport with my three suitcases, gave me a big hug, told me she was proud of me, and drove away. “Not to worry,” I told myself, “You will be back to visit soon.”  It is true, I travel back and forth from Israel 3 to 4 times a year. But this time, I was not going as a tourist. I was coming as an immigrant.

I approached the USAIR counter in Orlando where the Jewish Agency had arranged for my free one way flight to Israel. After a little confusion regarding why I was entitled to bring 3 bags for free, I checked in and went to the gate to board the short flight to Philadelphia, proudly wearing my new blue and white kippah.

The gate at the airport in Philly was filled with a mixture of Israelis returning home and tourists from America. I was bursting with the desire to tell all the Israelis that I was no longer a tourist, but that I was one of them. I overheard someone speaking Hebrew in a cell phone, figured he was Israeli, and introduced myself in my non-fluent Hebrew and showed him my passport with my Aliyah Visa stamp. He shook my hand and said, “Baruch Haba” which means “welcome” but is literally translated as “blessed be your coming.” I felt blessed.

I had brought my siddur and wanted to daven maariv before the overnight flight to Israel. This is not normal for me, but I am starting a new life and I wanted to start it by thanking Hashem. I approached one of the few Haredim and asked if he knew if there would be a minyan at the gate. He told me that he had already prayed but that he would be happy to join one if I needed it. I approached my new Israeli acquaintance next and he told me he would join. Then I started asking person after person if they were Jewish and wanted to pray. Unknowingly I started with a Christian tour group and received “no” after “no” but I was undeterred. I was a missionary. In the end, I was able to put together a minyan in a corner of the crowded gate area with a Haredi rabbi leading the service. Many of the participants actually thanked me for organizing it. I was off to a good start.

I was able to sleep a few hours between movies and meals on the 11 hour flight. As we exited the plane, my fatigue transformed to excitement as I realized I had arrived at my new home. I introduced myself to the volunteer standing at the gate holding a sign with my name listed.

greeting at gate

It turned out that there were three other Olim Hadashim on my flight. We all headed to passport control and were given a special id card but no explanation what it is for. I still have the id card and I still don’t know what to do with it. Then we went upstairs where the ministry of absorption and the ministry of interior have a joint office at the airport. The room was filled with Olim from Russia who had arrived just before us. Everyone in the room was speaking Russian including the Israeli workers and for a moment I wondered whether I was in Moscow or Tel Aviv. I waited an hour in the office while the efficient workers processed immigrant after immigrant. I drank water and took advantage of the opportunity to learn about my fellow Olim from the USA. One young Oleh was from Miami and came to Israel to study Kosher culinary arts. He said that his choices for learning how to be a Kosher chef were between Brooklyn and Israel and it is less expensive to study in Israel.

I called my wife who was waiting to pick me up after I got through customs to let her know it was going to be a while. If nobody was coming to greet you, you were given a voucher for a private taxi. Most people were given vouchers. I asked the Israeli worker if I could be moved closer to the front of the line as my wife was waiting for me. He told me that this was not his problem but then he called me to be next anyway.

ministry worker
Come to the Front of the Line

The process was very quick and efficient and I hardly understood what was going on. The first stop was at the absorption office. I was asked a few of the same questions that I had answered on my Visa application. “What is your phone number in Israel?” “What is your Israeli address?” “What is your occupation?” “What is your education?” I was then given my Israeli documents and taken across the room to my second stop at the interior ministry desk. I had to give him the documents and also show my birth certificate again and my letter from the Rabbi stating that I was Jewish. I held my breath while the Interior Ministry worker read the letter and said “Chabad” to himself regarding the Rabbi who signed my letter. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” I wondered as I looked at the knit kippah he was wearing. I guess it was ok because he stamped my documents. I left the office with a bag full of information that I still haven’t read, my Israeli National ID card, my new Immigrant ID, my Israeli health insurance document, and an envelope with 1250 shekels inside.

I was escorted through passport control and went in search of my luggage. The plane had arrived so long ago that it was no longer listed and I had to ask information where it would be. She advised me where to check and to my surprise, my three suitcases were waiting for me in a small pile in the open right where she had told me they would be. As I exited customs, I had an even better surprise waiting for me. My wife had arranged a welcoming party with family and friends, music and dancing, wine and cookies. Exhausted after the 20 hours since I had been dropped off at the airport in Orlando, I stood in amazement as they danced and sang and hugged and kissed me. Not just my family and friends, but strangers waiting for their family also came over to welcome me home. Still I want to cry.

The next few days in Israel passed quickly. I opened a bank account and had my form stamped. I brought the form from the bank and my Israeli id cards to the Haifa immigration office and met with clerk who again asked me my occupation, education, address, etc. The bank account is important so Israel can know where to send me my first 6 months of aid and from where to take my small health insurance payments. I was given a voucher for much needed Hebrew lessons at the Haifa Ulpan.

There is an expression, “Be careful what you wish for because it might come true.” I wished all my life to become an Israeli. Now I am 49 years old and my wish has come true. I have to ask myself what I am going to do now.

I have wished for a few things in my life and baruch hashem, all my wishes have come true. I have an amazing woman to love and she loves me. I have three wonderful children. I have a successful business. As each wish came true, I learned that it was not the end, but just the beginning. A good marriage requires hard work. Everybody knows having children is not easy. It is when wishes come true that the real work begins.

I think that the Jews can say the same thing about Israel. For nearly 2000 years, we have dreamed of having our own country. That wish has come true. The Jewish State of Israel is truly a miracle. But now that we have our Jewish State, we can’t agree on what that even means. Our history is not so good. We seem to come together as a nation when we face external threats and then fall apart when those threats are gone.

As an Oleh Hadash, I want to help us come together; Haredi and Hiloni; those who support Shelly Yachimovich and those who support Naftali Bennett. I want us to be able to see the good in each one of us. We are able to see it so clearly when we are threatened from the outside but somehow unable to see it when the threat passes. It is important for us to debate our differences but even more important for us to respect each other. It is easier for an Oleh Hadash to see than it is for somebody who has lived here many years. It is natural to take things for granted once you have achieved them. If I take my wife for granted, I am guaranteeing that my marriage will be a failure. What a tragedy that would be as I am certain that my wife is a miracle given to me with the help of Hashem. Israel is a miracle. Let us not take her for granted. We have to remember that this country was built by Jews of all types working together for a united purpose. We cannot forget our purpose. We cannot forget what we have accomplished so far and what we still have yet to accomplish. We have to work together to insure that Israel will continue to be a light unto the nations and will shine brighter with every year.

About the Author
David Brent is a NASA engineer with a master's and bachelor's from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology turned candy entrepreneur. He made aliya in the spring of 2013. David commutes between Israel, where his heart is, and Florida, where his business is.