Archive for the 'Aliyah' Category


Trying to explain

Aliyah is like a good pop song. It looks silly and trite on paper, until you’re there at the concert. Then, you’re just gaping at it all, with this dumbstruck-lovesick look on your face, as if to say, “oh, now I get it. But no, I can’t explain it.”

I mean, there are no power chords in aliyah. Not always. But still.

I Think I’m a Clone Now

A while ago, in January, while I was training in the U.S, Nefesh B’Nefesh called me to ask if needed any help with my aliyah. It went something like this:

GUY: Ilan, hi, this is [whatever his name was; we’ll call him Stanley] with NBN. I was wondering how we can help you with your aliyah.

ILAN: I already made aliyah.

STANLEY: You did?

ILAN: Yes.


ILAN: August.


-awkward silence-

(Recall that he’s calling my American cellphone)

ILAN: I’m in the U.S. now. [pause] But only for a short while.


-awkward silence-

STANLEY: Well, if you want, you can still apply for our services. Give us a call when you get back.

ILAN: Sure, thanks.


ILAN: Bye.

I’m not sure if he ever realized that not only did I make aliyah, I made it with NBN. In truth, NBN is a wonderful organization, which does amazing things for many people, myself very much included, so I shouldn’t make fun of them. But it was funny.
I think I downloaded their application twice or something, and I’m in their database twice, so that in their files, there’s one Ilan who planned out the aliyah process, made aliyah, even got a generous cash grant from them; and one Ilan who never quite got off the ground.

Parallel universe much?

Under My Skin

Excerpt from my journal:

I’m here on the plane to Israel, about to formally declare myself an Israeli, and it just hasn’t sunk in yet. Something makes me wonder whether it will in any reasonable amount of time, if ever. Perhaps I am going to wake up suddenly in the middle of the night, months from now, and say, “wow, I’m here in Israel. I’m an Israeli citizen living in Israel.” Or maybe I won’t come to the realization abruptly at all; maybe through a series of little pinpricks of experience it will slowly enter my mind or crawl under my skin, the way that cold air seeps through the cracks into old houses in the winter, or like a worn hammock will gradually sap your consciousness from you, until you find yourself dreaming with no clear idea how you got there, but perfectly content to live in the dream for as long as you are permitted.

Leaving On A Jet Plane

Days until departure: 1
No time for too much writing tonight. The time has come to stop counting the lasts (my last visit to NYC before aliyah, my last Shabbos before aliyah, my last time driving before aliyah…)

and time to work on firsts.

Too Much

Days until departure: 3

This is too much. Just too much. I mean, I’ve always wanted to be part of something momentous and grand, but it seems that I’ve gotten my wish in spades. Not only am I making aliyah, and making it during a war that’s turned about 14% of the citizens into refugees and a huge number of reservists into active soldiers. Through a recent article on Arutz Sheva, I also have discovered this about my flight:

On Wednesday, August 16th – the one year anniversary of the forced eviction of the Jews of Gaza – three simultaneous flights will arrive….the planes will depart from Canada, America and England – all arriving simultaneously in the Holy Land.

The August 16, 2006 influx will constitute the largest number of Jews in history making Aliyah to Israel from Western countries in a single day….
Arutz Sheva, Aug 09, 2006, by Ezra HaLevi (emphasis added)

I don’t know. Maybe it’s self-centered or something, and I never thought I’d say this, but it’s just too symbolic – being part of such a historic event (and anniversary) and not really knowing what I did to deserve it, not knowing how to deal with it, and not knowing whether I can live up to the demands implicit in it. I mean, Should I see myself as part of the salvation of the country, however small a part, or is that too grandiose? And if I don’t see myself that way, is it somehow an abandonment of responsibilities inherent in my place in all of this? These are definitely not questions I can answer now, but you can be sure that they are important ones for me to think about in the coming days. I suspect that, like most of the important questions in life, they have no sure answers, but thinking about the questions can have a more profound effect than answering them ever would.


Days until departure: 13
On the application for Nefesh B’Nefesh (the organization helping me move to Israel), it asks you to write a brief essay telling them anything else you want them to know. I didn’t really know exactly what to put in that section. I had already written in an earlier section about why I wanted to move to Israel, so writing an essay about that seemed redundant. So I wrote an essay explaining why I thought I deserved to make aliyah. It was a bit of an odd question, and I crammed a lot of really nice ideas into the one page I wrote. But they weren’t really well-connected; the whole thing kind of jumped from idea to idea. It wasn’t great, but it was good enough. Nevertheless, months later, NBN contacted me to let me know that they want to make a book of essays, and they want to use mine. I was flattered, to say the least, but I reread the original essay, and I thought I could do better. So after putting it off for a week and a half, I finally sat down two nights ago and in less than an hour, I produced something I was proud of, encompassing a lot of ideas from the original, along with stuff that had been percolating for a while. I don’t think it’s prize-winning writing, but I liked writing it, so I hope you enjoy reading it:

Last September, I was talking to a friend, an oleh who had moved temporarily from Israel to America. We were discussing the recent disengagement from Gaza, and how painful it was. Regardless of whether it should or shouldn’t have happened, no matter how I looked at it, it all just made me sad. My reasons for making Aliyah felt, well, insufficient.

Yes, I had reasons. I knew them well, and I believed in them, and I believed hard. They’re classic reasons – fulfillment of a national identity, aspirations of personal and religious growth, and a feeling of attachment to a homeland – but they all fell short. They all felt far too idealistic to talk about in the same breath as the messy, complicated reality. I couldn’t bring up these reasons to my friend. So I just asked, “Remind me again why I’m moving to this country?”
“I don’t know. I look at the news and I’m reminded of why I left,” he replied. I was dumbstruck. I was expecting something uplifting, perhaps a tired sigh as he recalled his first love affair with Israel years ago, or a swell of pride for his time served in the IDF. Not this. I didn’t expect this. I mean, he moved to Israel, didn’t he? But he just felt that it was too painful, too difficult to deal with.

Time went on, and in January, I visited Israel. I was reminded of all of my lofty reasons for my upcoming move, but something still gnawed at the corners of my mind. Several people—taxi drivers and potential employers included—asked me why I was moving, especially now, during such a troubled time. I didn’t answer them. I couldn’t answer them. The words felt wrong coming out of my mouth, because I knew I would sound naïve or childish, listing ideals and high-minded morals. Our generation has been trained to be instinctively skeptical, to look at the world with a cynical eye. Telling these Israelis that I was coming “to be in the Jewish Homeland” or “to fulfill my national destiny” would be almost laughable. So I left Israel, still seeking a clear, rational reason for my upcoming Aliyah, one that I could feel smart and sophisticated explaining at a job interview.

I didn’t find one. Because in the view of the cynic, they’re right to question me. What I’m doing makes no sense. I would, in all likelihood, make more money, be relatively safer, and would still have a viable Jewish community in the United States. But then again, modern-day Israel is a country that simply makes no sense. Despite all the cynicism all around us, deep down, Israel is still swimming against the current and trying to make this crazy experiment called the Jewish State a success. So perhaps it’s a good fit – an irrational decision for an unlikely country.

You see, I finally realized that my original reasons were good enough. Maybe we need to tell the modern skeptics that it can be done. We can dream with both feet on the ground, messy reality and all. And what about the pain, the hurt that drove my friend away? I disagree with his view. Making Aliyah is about embracing Israel as a complicated reality, not just as an ideal. If I am to make Israel my home, it isn’t just for the happy times. Situations can be too painful to deal with, but not this one. If your family is rejoicing, you rejoice with it, and if your family is crying, then—especially then—you cry with them. You comfort them. During good times and bad, you always go home, and find an embrace. Sometimes they’re mourning at home, and sometimes they’re dancing, but you always, always go home. That’s reason enough.