On our six year aliyah-versary

Six years ago this week, on the Jewish calendar, (15 Tammuz), our lives changed forever. What we had debated, planned, prayed for, dreamed of and yearned for for many years was about to become a reality. We were going to leave Chicago and move to Israel. I would be leaving my position as a Rav of one of the local shuls. My wife would be leaving her teaching in pre-school and her many community issues she was involved in. My daughters would be leaving their schools and friends. We would be leaving our HOUSE and we would be moving to our HOME, in Israel. We were making Aliya.

The last few days prior to leaving were extremely difficult and tumultuous. We had to say goodbye to my dad who was laying in a hospital bed (BH all good today!) and to my mom who sat by his bedside. A last, teary goodbye to my siblings, their kids and our friends–it was an emotional drain on us all. We had a million personal and communal obligations in the last few weeks, and it seemed that we were experiencing six months of life compressed into the time of two weeks.

And then it happened: We boarded a plane out of JFK and began our new lives in Israel. Truth is that I have not looked back since the day of that move. Yes, we still have much family and many friends in the Old Country. But our lives are HERE; here with our fellow Israelis in this huge melting pot of Jews. We are so proud to be in a country wherein the mix of Jews (origins, customs, foods, etc) are so diverse! We are so proud to be a part of the fabric of society and contribute our little part to writing the history of the Jewish  People.

No, life is NOT perfect and no, it can be downright taxing at times. But the good FAR outweighs the bad! There is not a single day that goes by that I do not at some point still thank Hashem for the opportunity to live in Israel. Each and every day I marvel at the beauty of the land and its people. And yes, its people are the ones that make this an incredible place to live! This is a country where (similar to where I come from) politics is seen as a sport. This is a country where the person sitting next to you on the bus suddenly realizes, after a brief conversation, that he is your boss’ first-cousin or that she was your next door neighbor’s bride’s maid oh so many years ago. We are one big family and while that is a HUGE plus, it can of course lead to conflict.

And yet…

There is no place else on Earth  I would want to live. A relative recently asked me if I were given $5,000,000 to move back to the States, would I consider it. Without needing to think even for a second, my instant reply was “absolutely not!” If money were the motivator of what I did in life, I would never have left Chicago, in the first place! Why would a rational, sane person (not saying that I AM sane or rational!) leave his homeland and birth place and relocate to a land 7,000 miles away, only to earn an income dozens and dozens of percentage points less than he was earning “back home” ?!

The answer is simple: Chicago is a beautiful community and a wonderful city…but it is NOT my Homeland. Israel is my Homeland, as it is for Jews all over the world. Hashem tells us this over 80 (!) times in Tanach. So, even if it meant earning less (a lot less) money, it also meant that after 50 years, I would finally be coming HOME.

And I never, ever take it for granted that I and my family have the zechut to live here. When we first made Aliya, and I would say things like that, the “old timers” would say, with a glint in their eyes: give it the right amount of time, and I would not be saying things like that anymore. I am pleased to say that they were wrong. My love for Israel and its people only gets stronger every day.

Mazal tov to our entire family and all of those who made that Aliya flight with us all those many years ago. We began an adventure together that continues to this day. May our friendship and mutual love for the land of Israel and its people continue for many years to come.

About the Author
After living in Chicago for 50 years, the last 10 of which Zev Shandalov served as a shul Rav and teacher in local Orthodox schools, his family made Aliya to Maale Adumim in July 2009. Shandalov currently works as a teacher, mostly interacting with individual students.
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