When I made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) last week with Nefesh B’Nefesh, I knew I was going to have to spend the high holidays isolated in quarantine.
A Rosh Hashana alone, celebrating without any family and close friends sounds like it may be a little depressing, but why look at the glass half empty?
True, when I touched down at Ben Gurion Airport on September 16 as a new Israeli citizen there wasn’t a crowd of jubilant people waiting to cheer me on. And, no, I didn’t get to hug and kiss my family who lives in Israel and with whom I’m very close. I also won’t be enjoying a massive feast under a sukkah with them as we sing songs celebrating the glory of the new year.
Back in the US – where I spent the majority of my adulthood – the high holidays spent away from family took place in the loving embrace of Chabad, who created a warm and filial ambiance on campus despite separation from parents and siblings. This year I also had to forego many of the traditional Jewish services, most notably Tashlich (the ceremonial tossing of one sins of the past into a flowing river carried in crumbs of bread), but I am doing my best to maximize the solitude of quarantine for the purposes of the contemplative holiday spirit. Perhaps it will be my last such solo celebration, but I imagine it will be one I won’t soon forget.
While I have spectacular memories of spending both Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot here in Israel, unfortunately, the Coronavirus pandemic has drastically altered what holidays in Israel will look like now. Reminiscing on my joyous Sukkot celebration shared with family versus the solo holiday is a stark reminder of just how much has changed for all of us in a short time.
While this has been a fraught year for the Jewish people and the world, I take solace in the fact that we have a home to call our own. So when I unpacked my bags and settled into a quiet AirBnb I rented with a modest outdoor area in Haifa, instead of focusing on all the things I couldn’t do, I was grateful for the quiet which afforded me an opportunity to contemplate this next exciting chapter of my life.
I came to Israel so I could continue my life-long mission of advocating for the Zionist dream. After working as the director of development at the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a recruiter bringing in young engineers to enroll in the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and a Hebrew University Alum, I have spent much of my professional life living and breathing all things Israel.
Yes, it was scary to leave my familiar surroundings of Capitol Hill in Washington for the unknown. But as a staunch Zionist, making Aliyah was exactly what I was supposed to do. With this move, I feel that I’m finally putting into action everything I’ve done both professionally and personally up to this point.
The circumstances are not ideal. Historically, though, making Aliyah hasn’t been easy for many. Immigrants from Europe who traveled to Israel by boat after surviving the horrors of the Holocaust, Ethiopians who came here by foot seeing many friends and loved ones die along the way, know very well the sacrifices that are made in order to settle in the Jewish homeland.
Luckily, with the help of Nefesh B’Nefesh, while I had some bureaucratic challenges, they made the whole process as easy as possible. They were the ones who put me on a United Airlines flight after El Al canceled theirs, helped me determine which Hebrew language program was the best fit for me, and assisted me in navigating the country’s medical system.
As I get adjusted to my new home, I am glad to be able to enter the country and proceed with establishing my new life in the Jewish homeland. As a rabbi reminded me some time ago in this process, Aliyah, is more than a simple parallel move from one physical location to another, it represents a spiritual ascension. I suppose there is no better time for a new beginning than the spiritual new year.