Our Aliyahversary, One Year In by Shifra Feldman
Today, August 1st our family is celebrating our one-year Aliyah anniversary. I get chills up and down my arms just writing that statement. When I think back to where we were one year ago with many questions about how the process would go and how our family would integrate, I realize how much uncertainty there was in our lives. The decision to relocate with our two older children Deborah and Daniel, remaining in the U.S. was one of the biggest factors to consider in the equation. Here we are one year later (Thank G-d), and while there continues to be uncertainty in our future (but really, who’s future is certain? Can’t anything happen at any moment?), I can state with confidence that this is one of the best decisions our family has ever made.
So, what has life been like over the past year? The aliyah experience has been one that is exhilarating, overwhelming, inspiring, fulfilling, emotionally uplifting, and daunting-depending on the day. One of Jonathan’s friends said it clearly to us over a year ago “when you move to Israel your materialism goes down, and your spirituality increases”. The connection we feel to Hashem and to Torah is stronger here than outside of Israel, and we feel people’s lives are less cluttered and that they are more focused on what is truly important in life.
No doubt, it is a challenge to adjust to a new culture, language, and lifestyle. But the payoff is indescribable. It is a feeling you get walking and driving around the land. It is the perception of being a part of something where you truly belong, it is the awareness that I am living amongst my own brothers and sisters and these people deeply care about me. It is true that these same people may cut in the line you have been standing on for twenty minutes or interrupt you when you are speaking to a cashier or bank teller. What we have come to realize is that in Israel these behaviors are normal and part of the culture, and therefore completely acceptable. In addition, these same individuals would give you anything you need and any assistance in a New York minute-no questions asked. This realization is hard to articulate. The connection that I feel with my neighbors here in Israel goes deeper because we are all connected to the land. We share the same desire of watching our grandchildren be born as sabras. This vision cements the bond and adds a tremendous sense of purpose to our lives.
One of the beautiful things about settling in Israel is living in our new community, Ramat Beit Shemesh A. This is a neighborhood that embraces new olim (Israeli immigrants) regardless of one’s background. There are many types of people coming from different places, so anyone can find his or her place. We have made (thank G-d!) incredible friendships in the past year and we are continuing to make new ones all the time. People are kind-hearted, welcoming, caring, growth-oriented, and extremely helpful. There aren’t enough words to express the gratitude we feel to our family and new friends who have embraced us and to the community which offers me the opportunity to embrace others!
After we became somewhat settled, my parents joined us with their aliyah (Thank G-d!) in October. What a sight to see when we welcomed them at the airport with our big sign of the Israeli flag that said, “Welcome Home!”. We settled my parents into our apartment which was easily accessible, had an elevator that runs automatically on Shabbat which is in the center of the neighborhood, and our family moved to a different apartment not far away. Now they are living in Jerusalem, a short distance from us, in an assisted living facility. We go there once a week with our girls to visit with them. A total blessing!
In April one of my sisters made aliyah to Tel Aviv. She is currently in the process of settling into a home, learning her new neighborhood and studying intensive Hebrew; and loving every minute of it!
The Jewish holidays in Israel are a powerful and transcending experience. During the holidays (and every shabbat as well) the roads are empty of vehicles. Children play and run in the streets while families walk about pushing strollers and chatting, enjoying their families and the serenity. The neighborhood is calm and still, which enables one to focus on spiritual matters and reflect inwards. In a five-mile radius, there are (I am not exaggerating) over eighty synagogues to choose from- truly a place for everyone!
I am blessed to have found the synagogue that I have been searching for my entire life. Comfortable, warm and welcoming for women, beautiful tunes, and a Rabbi’s stirring sermon that is only 7-10 minutes long (I am joking!) in Hebrew! They also say a blessing for the soldiers of the IDF every week and since many of my friends sitting around me have boys in the army, it is quite emotional.
My professional life has changed significantly. I used to be a pharmaceutical sales representative, meeting with customers throughout the day to influence doctors and the treatment team to prescribe/recommend the medications I was selling. Now I am a marketing manager sitting in an office, editing, writing, and researching for a biotech company. I enjoy my work very much and work with good-natured and helpful people. I continue to feel like I am making a difference in the process to advance medicine-another blessing!
One of the biggest adjustments in moving here is working on Sunday. The Isreali work week (and school) is from Sunday-Thursday. Therefore, Thursday night is cooking night so that Friday can be a recreational day. We are managing to keep to this schedule with the long days and late shabbat times. We shall see when the days get shorter.
One of the best changes is the weather! Absolutely loving the warmer temperatures than those of the Manhattan winter, and how there are more warmer days in the year. Yes, there is winter, and it does get cold enough for a coat. However, the winter is much shorter (November-February) and the temperatures aren’t as extreme and there are mild days in between to break up the cold.
So how is it living life in Israel? It is our dream come true and so far, has been an extremely positive experience (Thank G-d!) for our family!!
Here are some of the specific changes in which my life has been impacted:
Instead of waking up to the noise of construction and honking horns, my day begins with the sounds of birds chirping and children’s laughter. While our neighborhood on the Upper East Side was relatively quiet, we would hear activity at times.
The U.S. companies I worked for observed and closed on national holidays in July and December, while in Israel national holidays are celebrated in October (High Holidays, Succot) and April (Passover); and I am celebrating too! This also means I don’t need to use my vacation time to commemorate Jewish holidays.
I used to drive on Third Avenue to get to the supermarket and now I drive on Rashi (medieval French commentator) Street in order to do so. Many of the streets in Israel are named for renown holy people that impacted Jewish life. Soon I will be parking on Rav Kook (a Jewish thinker, Kabbalist, who is one of the fathers of Zionism) Street-how cool!
Instead of reading company emails in English, I am now receiving and writing them in Hebrew (thank you google translate!)
In place of going to the DMV in Queens or Harlem, we travel to Jerusalem, one the holiest cities in the world! We did so to get our Israeli drivers licenses-a real milestone!
In synagogue on Shabbat, the Kohanim (priests) bless me not once, but twice (morning and afternoon services). This is truly one of the highlights of my week. I receive blessings and keep in mind all of my loved ones with whom I mentally share these blessings.
I would be remiss if I didn't give a shout out to Nefesh B’nefesh, the outstanding organization that assists people who embark on the aliyah process. We had and continue to have an excellent experience and relationship with their team. Every individual that I have been in contact with at Nefesh B’nefesh is deeply dedicated to the success of new immigrants in every area of life. Kol Hakovod (kudos to you!) to you Rabbi Fass, who is a co-founder and Executive Director, for leading this extraordinary enterprise!