Aliyah: Our story in many parts: Part I

Yesterday, almost a full week post arrival in Israel, we got connected to the internet at our apartment. For a week, I have been writing and writing, and each time I wrote more, I realized that I couldn’t possible publish a single blog post about our actual aliyah experience last week. So, now that I am able to publish what I write, I will spend some time editing and writing more, and will post pieces of the story, a little at a time. Enough to keep you interested, to keep you coming back for more. I hope.

We woke early last Monday morning, around 6:15, and began to get ready for the trip of a lifetime. Once all the kids were up, our bags fully packed and ready to go, Keith picked up our dog, Guinness, from the doggie hotel where she had stayed since Friday. Boy was she happy to see us!

We had booked a car service to take us the short ride to JFK, and when we explained that we were 5 people, 1 dog, 9 cases and duffle bags, 5 carry ons and a dog crate, they sent us a 14 passenger van. It was still tight!

On arrival at the airport, we needed 3 luggage carts, all of which were overflowing. Somehow, we managed to get everything and everyone (and Guinness) into the airport, and find the Nefesh B’Nefesh crew working the floor. They pointed us to a Disneyesque line, that began in one place, curved around in a big U, and eventually led to a Nefesh B’Nefesh desk where we filled out final information before our check in. From there, it was straight to check in. The staff at El-Al were extremely courteous, even when Guinness decided to step on the luggage scale and say hello. We handed over our many passports, plus Guinness’ USDA papers and finally offloaded our luggage. Keith had put together the crate for Guinness while we were in line, and once we were checked in, it was time to convince her to get into it, and leave her with the other dogs (and a cat) making aliyah at the “Oversized Baggage” area. I guess that she’s figured out that no matter what, we are always coming back for her, because when we opened the crate, she walked straight in, rearranged her blanket and lay right down. That made all of us relax a bit, as she has never enjoyed being crated.

From check-in, we went straight to security. We bypassed the departure ceremony, mostly because it was already well past the time that started, and it was very crowded in that area with families tearfully saying goodbye.

Once at the gate area (I finally had coffee), we found our friends who were on our flight, and all the kids were happily joking around together. I have to say that my kids surprised me that morning. I expected tears, refusal to get on the plane, and hysterics, but instead I had smiling, excited, happy children. They admitted some nerves, but also excitement about a new life in Israel.

We didn’t rush to get on the plane, and once on board everyone settled down quickly. To be on a plane with almost 350 people, all of whom have the same purpose – to move to Israel and make it their home, was an experience unlike any other. I can’t explain the feeling, I can’t even try.
Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, cofounder of Nefesh B’Nefesh made a welcome announcement, the pilot thanked us all for making aliyah, and there were cheers when the plane took off from JFK.

The flight itself was smooth enough – I hate flying – and there was an atmosphere on board that cannot really be put into words. Ordinarily you may not speak to the stranger next to you on a flight, and if you do, the first thing you ask them is unlike to be “Where are you going?”. But on this flight, that was the only question asked – where to, how come, how long have you been planning, and so on, and so forth.

The arrival ceremony was beyond my wildest dreams. I was excited about it for so long, and sometimes you’re disappointed when expectations aren’t met. But not this time. Yes it’s long, and yes everyone is exhausted from a long flight, and jet lagged, and emotional, but it’s so great!
At the bottom of the steps to the plane stood the president of Israel, Ruvi Rivlin, and the chairman of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky (truly exciting, as I remember all the demonstrations I went to as a kid for his freedom). There were over 100 new soldiers on our flight – young people, making aliyah and going straight into the army.

We were met by my cousins from Netanya, and one of Keith’s friends from Yokneam. They joined us for the ceremony, which was a bit long, but streamed live on the internet, so our families and friends were able to watch from the US and the UK and Ireland. There was also wifi in the hall, so I was able to see people commenting on Facebook and Twitter that they saw us disembark from the plane and during the ceremony.
Once that was over, there was some bureaucracy to take care of, and we freed Guinness from her crate. She was super happy to see us, very confused, and definitely jet lagged! She’s still jet lagged and super confused, but she likes Israel, because there are a lot of cats, and she gets to chase them out of our yard. I’ve heard it said that the only free ride you will ever get in Israel is the free taxi to your destination from the airport upon making aliya. In our case, we were allocated a mini-bus. Rehovot is only 20 minutes from Ben Gurion, so in no time at all, we were in our new home.

Our apartment is exactly as it looked in the photos. It’s very spacious (our lift isn’t due for another couple of weeks). The kids each have their own room, which is exciting for all of us. The wonderful members of our new community, and our landlord, made sure we had enough mattresses, pillows, sheets, chairs & a table, some basic kitchen stuff and a full fridge!
Our neighborhood is very nice, a number of buildings built around a park, including a dog park and a playground.
10583945_10152179596190870_4586744457979321767_n 10603805_10152179595895870_467940149441423506_n 10425078_10152179595585870_9034215147000383898_nThe photos show the kids trying “shoko  b’Sakit” (Chocolate milk in a bag) for the first time. They always said it sounds “disgusting”. Oddly enough, they no longer do…

The first couple of days were taken up trying to figure out phones, ordering internet service, figuring out the buses, getting our teudot zehut (id cards) and other tedious boring stuff (like finding our way around a city we had only visited once for 24 hours!). Everywhere we went, all we had to say was “I made aliyah yesterday” and everyone was at our service.

I learned that the only things I really, really need in life are a washing machine and a working phone.  I will have a working phone by the time this blog is published. We looked at washers on Friday, and I was ready to buy one Sunday to be installed ASAP. Meantime, our upstairs neighbor came down to introduce herself. A few minutes after she left, she came back, because she said, she just bought a new washer, and her old one is sitting in her entryway, waiting for her soldier son to take to Tel Aviv. “Take it,” she said, “Use it til you can get one. He’s not in a hurry to move it. It’s small, but it works, just leaks a bit at the bottom”. So five minutes later, thanks to Keith and her husband, I had a working washing machine in the apartment! For real. It’s tiny, but it works, and we have clean clothes for shabbat. I have to also mention that 3 different people offered to do our laundry for us from our new shul. One of them even took a load to do. Never underestimate how much you rely on having a washing machine!

New friends took us grocery shopping, did our grocery shopping, delivered us pizza, lent us a phone that works, gave us information on buying appliances, cars, offered us furniture and so much more.

We are all set for meals for Shabbat for the first couple of weeks, and we even have an invitation for Rosh Hashanah! We still have a lot of bureaucracy to deal with, but it seems that everyone is happy to help these days, and not so quick to say “not my department” like in the old days. Today we registered Elnadav & Shalhevet for the local religious public school – a very easy process (but we still have to get supplies and uniforms…). Tomorrow we go to Misrad HaKlita (the Absorption Minisitry) to finish up a few things, and then one more trip to the Municipality. We did manage to get to the Ayalon Institute Museum this afternoon with the kids. Right here in Rehovot, usually referred to as “The Bullet Factory”, it was a secret, underground ammunition factory used in the lead up to the war of Independence in 1948.
Everything is great, and I’m pretty sure that once we are done with all the basic stuff of getting set up, we are going to be even happier here. Once upon a time, if you were a new oleh in Israel, Israelis took advantage of you. While I’m sure some still try, today, it appears that if you’re a new oleh, everyone wants to help you, everyone wants to make sure you have a “klita kallah ve’neimah” – an easy and pleasant absorption. If this is how Israel has changed in the 16 years since I last lived here, I’m happy to be back!

And so here we are

It feels like we have been traveling for days, and we have. It feels like we are without a home, and we are. It feels like we are living in an alternate universe, and we are. It’s almost as if nothing that has happened since last week is real.

Last Tuesday was the 9th of Av, a day of great mourning for the Jewish people. I’ve written about it previously. This year, for me, personally, the 9th of Av was incredibly difficult. It felt like Tisha B’Av more than ever before – first because of our soldiers fighting in Gaza, and the ongoing war. But second because in spite of the prohibitions on greeting friends on that day, our house had a revolving door – people came and went all day long, from morning until very late at night to wish us farewell and bon voyage.

We left our door open, with a sign that said “Just Come In”. Friends, neighbors and some family came by, sat with us, talked to us, hugged us. The kids spent time with some of their friends, we tried to also get our last minute packing done, paperwork completed. It was a long day.

Frankly, I never imagined feeling so emotional. I knew I would be sad. I knew I would have a hard time saying goodbye to my friends. But I really didn’t expect to be at breaking point, to feel like there were no more tears, that I couldn’t possibly cry any more.

Don’t get me wrong, I am looking forward to moving to Rehovot. I believe strongly that this move is necessary for our family, and will be the best thing for our children. But you don’t live some place for 13 years and have no connections.

A couple of friends came by Wednesday morning right before we got in the car, and they will attest to the fact that I was barely functioning. I’m not embarrassed by this, I’m an emotional person, and while I don’t often do public displays of emotion quite as explosive as last week, I do cry frequently about all kinds of random things.

You guys will probably be relieved to know that I had stopped crying almost completely, by the time we reached Fort Pierce… The tears started again when I began receiving emails from the people in Rehovot asking what we need in our apartment when we arrive – from mattresses to food – and telling us where we will be for meals for our first few shabbatot. But they were tears of joy, because clearly we are moving from one incredible community to another.

I’m not going to call out names, but there’s a few people back in Boca who deserve a very special thanks. I am actually quite flabbergasted at how I left my house. I cleaned out the fridge and the pantry, and obviously our furniture shipped a couple of weeks ago. But there was still so much stuff. Junk that we simply didn’t have time to get rid of. Things that we weren’t able to rehouse. And our friends, our wonderful, selfless friends, went back to our house after we left and took care of all that stuff. We didn’t ask them to. They just did it. And there are no words to thank them for that, because I can’t invite them for Friday night or Shabbat, or bake them challah or cinnamon bun cake right now. But you should know, that you all have an extra special place in our hearts, and that we really hope to host you in Israel some time soon.

Tomorrow is the big day. The kids are all finally sleeping. I know it will be a tough one for them. They are excited and scared and nervous and all kinds of other emotions rolled into one. And that’s okay. It would worry me more if they were just excited. I pray that our flight will be smooth (I hate flying) and that everyone will sleep, at least a little bit. I pray that we will land in a quiet country, with a full welcoming committee, and no welcoming fireworks, so to speak. I pray that my children will quickly grow to love Eretz Yisrael like we did, so many years ago, and will understand why it is so important to live there.

I will continue to blog, and hopefully have time to write about our road trip to NYC. Not sure how fast we will have an internet connection, but rest assured that as soon as we do, I’ll be back.

For now, au revoir, or L’hitraot, as they say where we are going.
To watch our arrival live, as we get off the plane and begin our new lives, tune into the website below starting around midnight tomorrow (Monday) night – 7am Israel time on Tuesday.

Pomp and Circumstance

We have had our last Shabbat in Boca. Our lift left the other day, and is hopefully already on its way to Israel. Our house is mostly empty. Our hearts are filled with the outpouring of love from our friends locally – the meals, the coffee, the air mattresses, the ziploc bags, the pot to boil some eggs. Emotions are raging. One minute we are excitedly talking about the things we want to do next weekend in New York CIty, and the next our eyes fill with tears because we are leaving the place we have called home for so long.

And on top of all of our personal emotions and reality, there is the extra emotions of the current situation in Israel. It hasn’t ended. Too many of our beloved soldiers have been killed. And it is unclear how much longer it will go on for.

My older children have said they are not afraid of rockets. They know we will have a shelter in our apartment, and that if we are not home, we must always keep an eye open for where the nearest shelter is. They understand what Iron Dome does, and how it has protected the Israeli people from far more harm than has been inflicted. We haven’t shied away from conversations about what is happening, as it will be our reality very soon.

We will be on a charter flight with 340 people on board. 100 of them are new olim going straight into the army. No one has canceled, and no one will. Because Israel is our homeland. It is the only place in the world where Jews can truly be Jewish, and when you get to the point where you are ready to move to Israel, and to live your life there, you know that, and you understand that living elsewhere is no longer an option.

The anti-semitic demonstrations around the world in the last week should be enough to convince every Jew that little has changed since WWII. The big difference is that now we have a place to go. Now we have Israel, we will not be turned away. Now we have Tzahal, the IDF, the most moral army in the world, who will protect the citizens of Israel against whatever threatens them.

Yes, I wanted pomp and circumstance when I returned to Israel, but I wasn’t quite expecting this… I hope and pray that we see quieter, safer days soon, and that mashiach arrives right along with us on August 12.

For those of you who wish to stay up late on August 11 (or wake up early on August 12 in Europe), you can watch a live stream of the Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight arriving starting at midnight EST here:
Nefesh B’Nefesh Arrival Ceremony

A wise woman once said

to a friend “the day they come to pack up your house for an overseas move is the hardest day of the entire experience”

That was me, giving advice to my friend who is also moving to Israel, on the same flight as us.
I was speaking from memory of my experience when I moved from Israel to London, and from London to the US. But I didn’t really remember.

Our lift was due to be packed next Wednesday. So yesterday I said to myself “I have a week to pack the things I want to pack myself”. I’d already packed many boxes of books and photos, and other easy things, mostly just to save time on the day. At 5pm yesterday we had a call from the shipping company, asking if it was okay to send a couple of guys “tomorrow, just to pack the fragile stuff like china”. So Keith and I said “sure” – we’re not eating any shabbat meals in our house, we’re not using our china again on this side, makes perfect sense.
So this morning, 3 guys in a very large truck showed up at 10am, raring to go. Within an hour they had packed most of our breakables – china, crystal, stuff. But they wanted to do more. Now it’s almost 4pm. They’re still here, and the only rooms still intact are my bedroom and the girls’ bedroom. The dining and living rooms are wrapped in cardboard. The paintings are off the walls.


I guess it’s good they got so much done today. It means less time spent next week packing, and getting the container out of here earlier in the day. And tomorrow Keith & I are going on a date. R&R time just the two of us.

As for poor Guinness the dog, well, she is sleeping on the couch as usual…

My heart is heavy, my eyes are filled

Last night (this morning?) I stayed up well past my bedtime to watch the arrival of the first of this summer’s two Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flights. Last night’s flight had over 200 new immigrants on it from North America. The youngest was 3 months, the oldest 88 years old. On that flight were my friends, and neighbors of the last 3 years, the Pillichowski family – Uri & Aliza, and 5 of their children. I waited up to watch, not only because I wanted to see Uri & his Torah get off the plane and be interviewed (he was,  it was fun to see) but because I will be IN that next live broadcast of a Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight arriving.

Our flight is scheduled for 3 weeks from yesterday. Right now, most major airlines have canceled flights to Israel from the US, and from some places in Europe. I understand the precaution. I also understand that people with plans to travel to Israel for vacation might think twice and cancel their trip. I understand parents whose children are leaving for the year to Israel, having second thoughts, and wondering if they should make other plans for the year. Of course I understand. I am in awe of those 230 men, women and children who got off the plane at 7am Israel time today, to start a new life in Israel, at a time when our enemies are doing the best they can to destroy us. I hope, and I pray, that this will end soon. I pray that God will guide the IDF to victory over the terrorists that make up Hamas, that they will be wiped out, that their arsenal will be destroyed. And I pray that it will be over before August 11.

The tears I cry today are not of sadness for leaving the US and my friends here. They are tears for the soldiers who have already lost their lives. They are for the sheer hatred that is being shown towards Israel by the rest of the world. The anger some may hear in my voice when I speak – that is for Hamas, who holds a population prisoner in Gaza. It is for the media, intent on making Israel look like the aggressor. It is for the UN ,who when weapons are found in the schools they run, say “how terrible” and then return them to Hamas. The fear I show when people ask “why are you still going?” – it is a fear for Jews around the world who don’t see why now is the perfect time to go! Look at Paris. Look at London. Look at CHICAGO! The anti-Israel demonstrations around the world, coupled with the torching of synagogues and Jewish businesses is a wake up call to all of you! There is no other place to call home if you are a Jew.

We have no plans to change our minds. You don’t make a decision this big without knowing what you are letting yourselves in for. Israel has always been under threat, and until Mashiach comes, will always be under threat. As long as the Nefesh B’Nefesh flight is leaving on August 11, we will be on it, with our children and our dog. Do we want to start our new life under threat of rocket attacks? No. But we do need to send a clear message to everyone – Jews and non-Jews – that Israel is our God given homeland, and we must all strive to live there.

Time to get real

IMG_3264Two weeks from tomorrow the moving shipping company is coming to pack up our house and send i to Israel. Three weeks from tomorrow we get in our car, and drive north, headed towards New York to catch our Nefesh B’Nefesh flight. And in 27 days (27!) we board a flight to Israel, with another couple hundred crazy dedicated people making aliyah.

I wasn’t panicking until my husband mentioned last week “35 days til we leave!”. Thanks honey, I was not quite ready to start counting the days, but well, now I am. When I say “panicking”, you should understand that this is not related to the current events in Israel. It’s simply the panic one feels when moving your entire life from one house to another, and from one country to another. It’s no easy feat, especially with 3 kids and a dog.

Suddenly you realize that there is so much to do, and so little time. Out of nowhere you discover things you thought you’d sold or given away years ago. You’ve been purging for months (or so it seems) and yet there is still so much stuff in your house.

You cannot imagine how everything will get done, and yet, you know that it will.

To try and calm my sense of being overwhelmed (read, can’t stand not being organized), we got boxes from the shipping company this week. So we have started packing the easy things – books mostly, linens, winter clothing, toys, school supplies etc. – things that we will not be using between now and when the shippers come. As far as I’m concerned, the less time they spend in my house, the better. Having done this a couple of times before, I know that the hardest day is that day your house is getting packed up. It’s tiring, it’s stressful, it’s long, it’s hard work. And it’s emotional, because it makes it all real.

You don’t live some place for 13 years without making friends (I hope!). The last few days, I’ve had opportunity to spend time with my friends at various “farewell” things, and although I’m doing a great job of keeping it together when I’m with them, I totally fall apart once I walk away. So you may not see me cry. It may appear that I’m excited to leave, and that I don’t seem to care that I’m leaving you all behind, but you need to know that’s not true.

I’m blessed because I have an amazing group of friends here. There are some very special people in my life, and being far way from you all is going to take some getting used to. I don’t really do “goodbyes” because I’d rather believe in “L’hitraot” or “au revoir”. As much as I am looking forward to the next phase of my family’s life in Israel, I will miss you all very, very much. Come visit us soon in Israel!

I dreamed a dream…

I love Les Miserables. Not just the musical, I’ve actually read the entire Victor Hugo book in the original French, and in English, just in case I missed something in the French. I love how in spite of all the misery and hardships, there is a relatively happy ending. Not the happy ever after ending of a fairy tale, but a content, life can go on kind of ending.

Life is not a bed of roses. Bad things happen to good people. Different folk deal with that in different ways. Some use bad things as proof that there is no God. Others use tragedy to say all religion is bad. Still others tell us that disaster strikes because we don’t put enough faith in God.

I believe in God. I’ve had times in my life when that belief has been tested, but ultimately I believe in God. I believe in the Torah, and I believe in Judaism. I don’t always agree with the interpretations, but the beauty of Judaism is that there is always more than one answer to a question.

When times are tough, I try hard to tell myself that it’s a test, and that God only gives you as much as you can handle. It’s what I told myself when I battled post-partum depression, when my husband was out of work for a long time, and at other stages in my life. I don’t know if I believe it completely, but it does help me get through, and it drives me to pray harder, to do extra mitzvot, and to give more tzedakah – there is always someone worse off than you!

The past 6 weeks my faith has been tested to the limits. As time flew by since our interview with the Jewish Agency in Miami, we heard nothing about our application to make aliyah as a family. Others who interviewed weeks after us were approved, their flight confirmed. We approached from as many angles as we could, trying to get some information – was there a document missing, did our file get lost, anything? Eventually we discovered, as I had expected, that it was related to my aliyah some 20+ years ago. Our application had to go through a special committee. You cannot make aliyah twice – this I know. All I wanted though, was for our family to arrive in Israel together on a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight. I never had a free flight, as I made aliyah from within the country, and my husband & kids are entitled to a free flight per the laws of making aliyah. It was so important to me that we were on a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight. I want my children to arrive in their new homeland to an enormous welcome. To singing and dancing. To be welcomed by the leaders of the country. To understand from the minute they arrive that this is HOME, this is where we need to be. And if we weren’t approved for the Nefesh B’Nefesh flight, well, it just wouldn’t be the same.

Baruch Hashem, we finally heard this morning. I give so much thanks to both Rabbi Fass at Nefesh B’Nefesh, and to Iris at the Jewish Agency in Miami, for their patience in dealing with my incessant emails and phone calls, and for their investigating for us. Thanks to Keith, my ever-patient spouse for ignoring my insistence that if we weren’t on that flight I wasn’t going. Thank you to my Mahjongg girlies for allowing me to have an evening playing Mahj, without a single mention of the move – you guys have NO idea how serious I was – I would have just left Tuesday night if anyone had mentioned it.

And now the real work begins. The dream is being realized, but we’ve a way to go. I’m not expecting a fairy tale outcome, but I cannot wait to live in Medinat Yisrael, Reishit Tzmichat Geulateinu. The State of Israel, the beginning of our redemption, the only place the Jewish people can truly call “Home”.

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