How to Make Aliyah Work — Or Fail
Illustration: Nefesh B'Nefesh Charter Flight by Eic413 (talk) [Public Domain] via Wikimedia
“Even if I’m having a bad day, it’s still a good day, because it’s a day in Israel!”
Although I cannot remember exactly how many times I used that line, each time it came out of my mouth I meant every word of it. After all, I had made aliyah (immigration) and could not have been happier with my decision.
Let me backtrack to the spring of 2011, when I was living in the U.S. and my parents invited me to join them on a trip to Israel. We were only supposed to be there for two weeks, but I felt a need to extend my ticket, so my Israeli vacation lasted over a month. Six months later, I found myself living in an absorption center in Israel — that only lasted about six hours, but it is a story for another time.
I did it! I became Israeli on the first day of Hanukkah, my favorite holiday. My enthusiasm for this incredible opportunity of aliyah was expressed in every way possible. Whether it was the Israeli flag popping out of my Facebook profile picture, my non-stop purchases of Elite chocolate bars with hazelnuts — because they are made in Israel, beyond delicious, and purchasing them helps the economy — or my quirky YouTube videos promoting Israeli products, I became a walking advertisement for the Land.
Six-and-a-half years into my aliyah — in a surprise to myself and all my friends — my social media posts changed from, “Where can I find the best falafel in Jerusalem?” to “Refrigerator for sale, 500 NIS or best offer.”
How sad — I was making “yerida” and leaving Israel.
I chose to do the one thing I never thought I would, and had the chutzpah to judge others for doing. Why was I, of all people, moving back to the U.S.? Why hadn’t things worked out for me in my favorite part or the world?
I had many reasons for this decision, the main one being that I was missing my family. Also, having been unemployed on and off — sometimes for too long — was tough. I rarely took advantage of the many social opportunities available to me, which caused me to feel alone all too often. On top of it, my anxiety showed up uninvited, and like an unwanted houseguest it moved in with me.
But what really happened? Could it have possibly been my fault that things were not working out for me in the Land that I was so passionate about? Was I to blame? The answer was simple: Yes, it was my fault.
I did not need to ask myself what I did wrong because I already knew the answers. Israel was working for me, but I simply was not working for Israel. At least, I was not working hard enough.
For starters, I did not take ulpan (Hebrew school) seriously. I could have mastered the language easily if I had put in the effort, which would have helped me greatly with my employment situation.
I was overly picky with friendships and rejected more social invitations than I accepted, due to my stubborn personality. Had I been a bit more open, I probably would not have felt so alone and could have broadened my social network.
In addition, I always blamed my anxiety on everything that was not working for me, rather than doing something about it.
Israel was the most incredible experience for me. I simply did not know how to be incredible to Israel.
In my opinion, the opportunities in Israel are endless. I might have rolled my eyes here and there while waiting on line at the supermarket, but where else in the world would the cashier invite me to her home for a shabbat meal?
Where else, other than Israel, would my landlord and I have a huge screaming match, and then five minutes later, he would hand me his car keys in order to make my move easier? And is there any other place in this universe other than Israel where my neighbor would yell to me from her window, “Esti, you have mail in your box from Bezeq that you need to open?”
Now that I am in the U.S., I find so many incredible things around me. I love being back with my family and joining them in endless games of Rummikub — another amazing Israeli invention! I love being able to get together with my best friend in person, rather than working out a mutually convenient time for us to connect via video through our phones. There is so much that I love.
But with all of this love, I am missing so many things from Israel. I miss touching the mezuzot on the doors of every public place I enter. I miss seeing the names of fast food joints such as Pizza Hut in Hebrew. I miss those incredible friends whom I could go to every shabbat, raid their pantries, and be treated like family.
I miss Israelis. I miss Israel.
Thinking back on those olim (immigrants) I judged for making yerida, I did not know their reasons for doing so, but I do remember seeing a lot of their struggles on Facebook posts.
Two friends in particular come to mind: one was constantly posting her need for a job; and the other one was often posting his search for a shabbat meal. I did not reach out to either of them at the time, but maybe if I would have shared her post and connected him to a shabbat host, they might both still be in Israel today.
I do not know if I could have helped them, but I will tell you what I do know: When someone decides to leave Israel, no matter what their reasons are, it is not my place to judge. But I did judge.
So the next time you hear of a fellow Israeli — be it an oleh or not — in search of employment, please consider forwarding their CV to your place of work, even if it is not relevant. The next time you hear of an acquaintance looking for a shabbat meal invitation, try to connect them to an appropriate source. Most importantly, the next time you hear of someone making yerida, please do not judge.
I'm missing you Israel.
Eileen spent many years writing and producing promotional copy for US Cable television. She fulfilled her dream of Aliyah in 2011 and has since been using her quirky and creative energy to serve as an advocate for Israel. This article is reprinted from the author's blog. Click here to read more from this writer in The Jerusalem Herald.