Monday, February 10, 2014

Aliyah's Dirty Little Secret

We’re all familiar with the phenomenon of people encouraging aliyah. We hear it from different people, at many point in our lives. For the most part, we all accept this as a positive part of our Jewish lives. I agree, but we need to be careful about it.  

I grew up surrounded by Zionism. I attended Fuchs Mizrachi School in Cleveland, Ohio where we learned the value of making aliyah and saw families actualize the value every year. For me personally, aliyah was a thing that a lot of people did, and my parents always talked about doing, but probably would never happen.

When I was 16 I went on Bnei Akiva's Machach Ba'Aretz trip. I had never been to sleep away camp before- it was never really my thing- but I decided a trip to the Holy Land was worth it. I went, I hiked, I heard shiurim, I ate a lot of pre-packaged schnitzel, and decided that I wanted to make aliyah. I flew back to Cleveland with my new Hadaya ring stating “Wherever I go, I'm going towards Israel” and the knowledge in my heart that one day I would be back to stay.

Around this time my parents developed their plan-which said that they would make aliyah after my younger sister graduated from high school, and before any of my other siblings started high school. This meant that I would graduate high school, attend my year of seminary in Israel and then have two “in the air” years before my family made aliyah. What would I do with these years? Should I go back to America to be close to my family and make aliyah with them? Or should I bite the bullet, take the leap, and start my life as an Israeli on my own?

I took the leap. After a year studying at Midreshet HaRova- where all the students were encouraged, even pushed, to make aliyah- I did it. On July 28, 2010 I arrived in Israel as a citizen. I attended Ulpan in Bar Ilan University throughout the month of August and began studying social work in Bar Ilan in October. The first few months went all right- I missed my family and the comforts of home, but I was getting along. And then came my first exam period. During this time I went through some personal issues, as everyone does sometimes. But, nobody had warned me about going through hard times alone in a foreign country. Living far away from my family, culture, and language was indescribably hard. Studying in another language and failing tests is hard. Entering a new job market where no matter what you will be making less money is hard.

Now, here's the dirty little secret that no one tells you. Aliyah is really hard. I know that sounds obvious, but I don't think it's talked about enough. No one- from a Mizrachi teacher, to a Bnei Akiva shaliach, to a HaRova staff member- sat me down when I decided to make aliyah and said to me “What you're doing is amazing, and we're so proud of you for choosing to do it. But, you need to prepare yourself for how hard it's going to be.” People in positions of authority- teachers, etc.- have a lot of power over young people. A lot of staff in many Jewish day schools and gap-year programs use this position to push aliyah. This is wonderful- aliyah is an amazing thing to do and I do encourage doing it if it's something you want. But, this push should be accompanied with a warning- aliyah is hard. You will have to work harder, you will have to fight harder, you will have to push harder. You will struggle, you will be sad, you will miss your family. You will laugh, you will cry, you will wonder what is wrong with Israelis, and you will be in awe of the miracle that is the State of Israel. You will wait for half an hour at the post office, only to have it hit 12:30 which of course is when it closes and get kicked out- and wonder why you possibly came to this country. And then the post office worker will apologize and invite you over a shabbat meal and you'll remember exactly why you came.

So here's a message to everyone, especially people in authority positions, who push and encourage aliyah- keep doing it, but be realistic with these potential olim. Please tell everyone thinking of making aliyah that it is hard, but it is worth it. Make sure they're prepared for what they are about to do, and be there for them when they struggle here. Because, they will - we all do. And it will be easier to get through the struggle when they're prepared.


  1. better yet, provide a support network beyond NBN (which sort of falls short once you get here)

  2. Great piece, and as someone who encourages young people to make aliya, a lot to think about.

    But we're really glad you did make aliya, and thanks to your efforts it worked out for you - and hence for us!

  3. Hi, I have mixed feelings about what you wrote. On the one hand -- I agree, aliyah IS hard, or rather, CAN be hard. You did it under conditions that made it harder: not having a familial support network nearby. No matter how many friends one has, or how close they may be, it can never replace the bonds of family, and the type of unfailing and unconditional support one may receive from their family. (There ARE exceptions to this, but this is, after all, a generalization.) My daughter did pretty much the same thing you did -- she attended seminary (in her case Michlelet Orot - and there too, she experienced the same "push" toward aliyah), and then, in the year after seminary, she made aliyah. My husband and I essentially had the same plan as your parents only our plan was to do so the year after his youngest finished (we were a second marriage with his and my kids) her "shana b'aretz". We had no break between kids in HS at the time, and we wanted to ensure that each of them had the opportunity for a year in Israel without parental attendance! I well remember that during my daughters first several years in Israel, her complaints about how things were here. It was difficult for her. Dealing with the authorities, with living expenses, with different cultural expectations, with the difference in standard of living, and more. She was lucky in that she had an older stepsister here and my sister, her aunt, here. And friends, of course. She said aliyah is hard. And there were times when I feared she would give up and return to the States because of it. But -- she didn't. She persevered. Today, while she still things there is much room for improvement in Israeli society, she is very happy she remained here and is happy with her life -- and that of her two children.

    Unfortunately, my husband died five years ago and so was never able to realize his dream of making aliyah. I made aliyah in August 2011, alone. But my daughter is here, as are my grandchildren, my sister and her husband, my nieces and nephews, and a handful of my late husband's relatives -- my sister in law and some cousins. I also have many friends here, all over the country. I also came under very different financial circumstances than my daughter did. Thus MY aliyah was not quite as difficult. And when people ask me, how was my aliyah? How was my klita? I can readily answer them: amazing.

    And for those who come and endure the difficulties of aliyah/klita -- after they have gotten over the hump of the difficult years -- their answer is the same: amazing.

    But there is one thing else, for me, anyway: I came to Israel, EYES WIDE OPEN. I came KNOWING that it would be difficult. I never heard anyone tell me it would be easy. In fact, I had heard enough horror stories of people who'd made aliyah, and all the horrors they endured, that I was a bit intimidated by that. But I came determined that I would turn all those horrors into stories to laugh at later on. Or to turn them into positive experiences. And -- for the most part, I have succeeded in that. I have found Israelis to be wonderful people. They are helpful and friendly. But you just have to know how to talk to them: as if they are already your friend-- because they ARE!

    I am happy that you stuck it out and stayed.

    BTW, I agree that it is important to try to establish a support network of some sort before one makes aliyah -- that is something I did and I think that really helped me.

  4. Aliyah is a lot like having a baby. Your friends will warn you about the difficulties but you know how cute babies are and you want one. Then mazal tov you have one and the lack of sleep, crying and diapers makes you wonder, "What was I thinking?" But as time passes you and your baby get better acquainted, start to love each other, figure things out and how to solve the issues and then you know you made exactly the right decision.

  5. Thank you for writing this.
    One way of putting it is that Aliyah is also a migration, with all the difficulty and displacement that entails.

  6. as someone who came alone at the age of 18 and am now living in Israel close to 40 years I can understand where you are coming from. Despite the distance from family, mine and my husband's (others followed later) the best part of coming at such a young age is that we married here, raised 5 children here, and now I have 8 grandchildren, B"H, and still counting! Think how wonderful it is that you have the chance to start a whole new generation here in Israel!

  7. As an educator for whom pushing towards Aliyah is his educational raison d'etre I'm sorry to say I strongly disagree. Yes, Aliyah is hard, very hard. So is keeping Torah. We keep Torah because it is our obligation. If we're lucky we can feel the significance it adds to our life. How easy or hard it is plays no role in it. If it's easy - that's a nice bonus.
    Yes, Aliyah is hard. Sometimes even very hard. So is going to University and getting a job. Even so, we do these things because we have to. It is our obligation towards ourselves, our families and our society. If we're lucky we are able to find meaning in them. How hard or easy they are plays no role in it. If it's easy - you're probably doing it wrong.
    What is emphasizing the hardships of these things supposed to accomplish other than weakening and deterring people?
    The most significant things in life, the most transformative things in life are achieved through some degree of inner and outer struggle. It is these struggles and conflicts that generate the most meaningful type of growth.
    Aliyah is no less transformative than taking upon oneself a life of Mitzvot, marriage or any other life altering obligation.
    I am not saying the difficulties should be glossed over, rather, the right perspective on Aliyah will result in the hardships being seen in the right perspective.

    1. I think you misunderstood my point. I am not saying that people should not make aliyah because it is hard and I am not saying that educators should not encourage aliyah. That is the opposite of what I believe. I am saying that while encouraging aliyah- as Jewish educators should because it is a Mitzva- they should also make sure their students are fully prepared for what they are about to go through. This includes talking about both the good and the bad.

    2. I agree with the wise and learned author. I believe that that she is articulating the difference between education and indoctrination. An educator's raison d'etre is to help their students be the best they can be. Pushing for particular goals without disclosing the difficulties, or supporting the students when they face them, is indoctrination.

      If Yair Spitz is saying that the difficulties should not be glossed over, then he is agreeing with the entire point that the author made.