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I Never Wanted to Make Aliyah

Published on Monday April 13th, 2020

I never really wanted to make Aliyah. Sure, I sometimes considered it after spending a summer in Israel, enjoying the separate beach facilities, eating a huge hamburger, meeting some of my childhood friends and praying at the Kotel. But once I returned to France, the idea was quickly stored in the back of my mind.

After all, why leave Paris where I have so many references and cultivated so many connections? My family, my friends, my job, my comfort zone of relative affluence, my community, my neighborhood and a warm atmosphere, in short, my entire life.

However, right before our wedding, my husband clearly expressed his wish and dream to live in Israel, to which I replied: "Wherever you will go, I will follow.  But please give me five years to prepare for it "

Even if our plans to immigrate to Israel were constantly in the back of our minds,  I honestly cannot say that I did my best to hasten our departure. Every time we consulted an Oleh Chadash (new immigrant), we have told us the same thing: "Do not immigrate to Israel unless you have resolved these three issues: your place of residence, an adequate school for your children, and a means to earn a  livelihood.

A neighborhood, Schooling, and Parnassa

The first two questions seem surprising. But one must be aware that in Israel, people choose their neighborhood and the most fitting educational frameworks for their children, based on the area’s level of religious observance. Levels of observance are generally stereotyped into four broad categories: secular, traditional, religious Zionists and Charedim (Orthodox). The school day generally ends at 1 pm, so children are accustomed to playing outside in the afternoons, where they befriend other neighborhood children. Hence the importance of picking a neighborhood whose residents share our values.

For us, plans dragged on until we found the answers to those three questions and thus, our departure date was postponed for an additional five more years than we had planned to begin with...  

Step # 1: Determining where we wanted to settle down (belong). Given our desire to grow spiritually and commit religiously, it seemed obvious that we would pick an Orthodox neighborhood (although, I confess I was a bit concerned that settling into a community of people who all behaved and dressed identically might feel stifling).

Step #2: The choice of schools. For girls, it’s a simple decision given that up to the age of 14, the only choice within the Charedi community in Jerusalem is Beit Yaakov. This school has branches in different neighborhoods and girls are accepted according to their place of residence. But, buyer beware! Before being interviewed by the headmistress, one must be briefed by someone who has lived in Israel for a long time and who masters the behavioral codes of the school. One misstep in that direction can make things really complicated. And the reputation of French immigrants sadly leaves much to be desired. Schools for boys are independent, so the choices are more varied.

Step #3: Parnassa. It is critical to immigrate with some prospects for earning a livelihood because savings and a little help from the Jewish agency are helpful, but the money runs as fast as the Israeli buses! And strangely, the word "Tashlumim" (payment in monthly installments) quickly becomes part of your vocabulary ...

Step #4: This step is seldom discussed (or perhaps we purposefully decide to ignore it): Making Aliyah is difficult! Yes, Israel is our homeland. But after making that leap of faith overnight, we lose all our references, our children return from school in tears because they miss their friends or refuse to go to school altogether, and our Hebrew is too poor to fully understand and communicate.

That's when I remembered my Romanian cleaning lady who tried to speak to me in French. I had to tell myself: “From now on, the Romanian is you” ... That's where Olim have to make a crucial choice: either spend the next 20 years of life amid French-speaking people, who do not cease to complain about Israelis and reminisce about the good old days, or register in an Ulpan (Hebrew course) and make a personal effort to understand Israelis so they can become part of this beautiful country ...

The Most Important Reason: the Torah

Shortly before we made aliyah, I heard a beautiful lesson from the Rav of our children's school. He talked about the dangers that some environments and new technologies can have on our spiritual development. To cement his Dvar Torah, he quoted the following example: to cook a frog, you must first place it in a pot of cold water. Gradually, as you increase the heat and the water temperature rises, the frog, oblivious to the danger, and content in a warmer environment ceases to be vigilant. It eventually dies.

He compared us Jews living in diaspora or in inadequate environments, to this frog. Little by little, we lower our guard against local bad habits which insidiously penetrate our homes.

When one chooses to live in a religious neighborhood, the water temperature that warms us is the Torah. Except that instead of leading to death, it brings us back to life ... In a religious neighborhood, everything revolves around divine service. A few weeks before Rosh Hashanah, everyone practices Shofar blowing.  Prior to Sukkot, huts start to burgeon on every home’s balcony. By the 25th of Kislev, when the stars begin to shine in the sky, the Chanukah candles light up every window. On Shavuot, around 4 am residents of Jerusalem flock to the streets, heading to the Kotel after a night of study.

Not to mention the joy of listening to one’s bright-eyed children, recounting stories of Tzaddikim or witnessing genuine love and sincerity in their prayers to Hashem. Ultimately, without ever fully realizing it, the Torah becomes intrinsic to our lives, as opposed to just a part of our lives.

And if Alyah can fulfill all of this…What are we waiting for?

Lea NABET - © Torah-Box

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