Ariella Cohen

This Is Israel

An Israeli flag flies proudly outside a private home in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. (courtesy)

Today marks two months since I boarded my Aliyah flight. I always knew I would move to Israel, but I never actually knew why. I imagined my future here. It wasn’t a desire as much as an awareness. Before moving here, I visited Israel around 12 times for varying reasons and lengths of time, ranging from five days to 11 months. When I would visit, I would think about how I wanted to live in Israel. Then I would go back to America and get back into my routine. This pattern repeated itself multiple times.

The thing about Israel is that every Jew has an inherent connection to our country whether or not they realize it. People may not feel the connection until it’s triggered. Perhaps by war. Hearing about the carnage that attempted to tear us apart. Or maybe it’s triggered by something else entirely. My friend told me the other day that she brought up the idea of Aliyah with her husband last week. Neither of them has considered moving to Israel any time soon. But she had a sudden desire to move here. During a war. To pick up her family and move to a country that is amidst a war. It may not make sense if you think about it logically. But this is Israel. Israel doesn’t depend on logic. 

Another friend told me just a few months ago that she hasn’t been to Israel in over 15 years and doesn’t really feel the need to come back even to visit. This week, she told me that she wants nothing more than to hop on a plane and get here as fast as she can. Some people may feel this way because they have an inherent desire to be with their people during a time of suffering. Others may feel like this because they feel helpless in America and want to feel like they are doing something hands-on. (Truth be told, plenty of people in Israel feel helpless too.) I’m sure there are Jews who do not feel particularly connected to Israel even now. But I do believe that the connection is there, and something and some point will trigger it. 

For me, moving to Israel was a practical move. When people would ask me if I was excited to move, I didn’t quite have a good answer. I honestly don’t even remember what I told the numerous people that asked me that question. Because I wasn’t excited. But saying that makes people feel uncomfortable because it’s not the obvious answer that they expected. And saying that makes it seem as if it’s a bad thing. But it wasn’t a bad thing. It was the next step in my journey. Not good or bad. Just parve (for lack of a better word choice.) 

Sure, it was quite a big step. Usually big steps in life come with some level of nervousness or excitement. But I really didn’t feel a strong sense of either one. I knew with certainty that I was doing the right thing, so I did what I had to do to make it happen. It was a lot of work. I wanted to rip my hair out more times that I can remember. But you do what you gotta do when it comes to nonnegotiables. This was nonnegotiable. 

Over the past couple of weeks many people have made comments implying that it must be so hard to be a new olah as our nation is at war. Honestly, it is hard. But not because I just made Aliyah. Because the fact that our nation is at war is hard. If anything, it’s making me prouder to be Israeli. Proud to be more closely associated with the incredible (understatement) human beings who are serving our country in more ways than one. Would I feel this connected if we were not currently at war? I’m not so sure.  

Israel is our land. It says so quite clearly in the Parsha that we read today. This is the week we read about Avraham (then Avram) leaving the home he knew and coming to Israel for the first time. Like Avraham, thousands upon thousands of Israelis have experienced their own personal Lech Lecha over the past few weeks as they were told to evacuate their homes. We also read about our future of inheriting this land. We are Avraham’s future. Israel is ours. And it’s beyond me why a large percentage of the world is trying to fight that. We are seeing that confusion play out now more than ever. In very scary ways. 

But that just means we have to work harder to prove it. To show them that their psychological warfare is not going to stop us from our claim to our land. I’m doing my very best to combat it in my own personal way. Just by being here.

I went to Jerusalem this week for the first time since the war began. I was hesitant to go since I hadn’t been leaving my own neighborhood. But I went. Because I wanted to daven at the kotel. To be a presence where it is currently too bare. Way too bare. And I walked through the Old City because I could. And to do my tiny part in making our presence known. The best part was that I didn’t feel scared. It felt like my space. Not like I was encroaching on somebody else’s. Because it’s not somebody else’s. It’s ours. Because this is Israel.

Driving home on the highway as the sun was setting, as the sky was turning all sorts of incredible shades of pink and orange, I noticed a car stopped with two people standing next to it. Praying. Making sure to catch mincha as the day was fading. This is our land. A land where people feel comfortable pulling over on the side of the road to pray. In public. No one will bat an eyelash. Because this is Israel.

I personally appreciate seeing these things because it’s something that I used to struggle with in America. Not anymore though. There were so many times when the only time to daven mincha was on the go in a public space. It felt severely uncomfortable. Because it was not my land. Granted, nothing bad ever happened as a result of these instances, but I was on my guard every time. Many times in Manhattan I went out of my way to stop and daven at Chabad of Midtown so that I wouldn’t have to pray in public. But here in Israel that’s not an issue. And I love that. 

There is nowhere else I would rather be as our nation is at war. Nowhere else. This is partially selfish because if I was in America or anywhere else, I would constantly be worried about all my family in Israel, both immediate and extended. The worry tends to be stronger from afar. That’s how it’s always been for me at least. So here I am. Walking our holy streets, riding buses, going to shul, and putting myself out there. Because I can. Because this is Israel.

I was talking to someone recently about national anthems. About how they express confidence in our country and our pride and love toward it. I am proud to be Israeli, and I am proud of my fellow Israelis. And I am confident that we will win this war. The love and pride that I feel in my heart has only been strengthened because of the war. I’ve never been prouder. And I have certainly never in the past felt such a strong love for so many strangers. And for this land. The Star Spangled Banner is a great song. But that’s all it is to me. A song. Not my national anthem. Hatikva is my national anthem. Singing it, playing it, and hearing it all make me emotional these days. I have never been particularly proud to be an American, and I don’t love America. But I do love Israel. 

Aliyah flights are still continuing to come in. A group of new olim from America (including my cousins) and another group from France have arrived within the past two weeks. Yes, we are at war. But Israelis (and soon to be Israelis) have proven quite well that when their people are in crisis, they are here. Even if it requires flying in from across the world. Literally. In the middle of a war. This is Israel. 

They say home is where the heart is. I’ve never felt as at home as I do here in Israel. Even during a war. My heart may not have been in Israel for most of my life, but it sure is here now. It’s home. With my people. With my broken Hebrew. And thankfully my body is here now too. I may have moved to Israel for practical reasons, but now I am here because it’s my home. That is why. אין לי ארץ אחרת. 

This is Israel.

About the Author
Ariella Cohen grew up in Far Rockaway, NY and made Aliyah from Bala Cynwyd, PA in August 2023. She is an engineer and amateur musician with lots of other hobbies on the side.
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