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.