I used to dream of making Aliyah, but it has become a far away fantasy. During my single days I spent every summer break there and left my first job to work in Tel Aviv. I met my husband in Israel; he shared my vision and we’ve continued to discuss making the big move. Twenty seven years have passed since we met and we’re still in New York, so what happened? Well, life did…kids, extended family, work and finances, and also a sense of inertia and comfort with our existence here.
We’ve watched neighbors fill shipping containers with their belongings and go for a year or for good. I recently spent time with my friend who did something only considered normal here, in Brooklyn and Teaneck. She lives in Israel with the kids while her husband continues to work here. He’s a frequent flyer who leaves JFK late Thursday night, travels light, sleeps through the flight and arrives early Friday morning at Ben Gurion, ready to spend quality time with his family.
Though this solution wouldn’t work for us, we wish full and part-time olim a heartfelt “kol hakavod” and admire them for their efforts to realize the Zionist dream.
Yeshiva Rambam and Yeshiva of Flatbush instilled in me a deep love of Israel and a strong desire to be there. Some of my Israeli teachers were on a mission to encourage Aliyah. They planted the seed which motivated me to spend a summer at Tel Aviv University after my freshman year of college.
I had never been away from home on my own and it was quite an incredible experience. I fell in love with Israel (and my independence!) and didn’t want to return to Brooklyn. I informed my parents I wanted to move there immediately, but was sensibly told I could go after graduating from Brooklyn College. After that amazing summer, I filled my need for an Israel “fix” by visiting annually.
I eventually did move to Israel with the hopeful intention of staying permanently. I found a good job and sublet a room in my friend’s Tel Aviv apartment. My stay was cut short by fate when I met my future husband who was ironically on his way to New York from South Africa.
In five months away, I caught a glimpse of how hard it would be to leave my family permanently. That small dose of minimal contact with my parents and sister, before Skype and cheap calling cards, is a big reason we haven’t moved. I observed the difficulties of emigration through my husband’s experience when he left his family in Durban. He saw his parents less than once a year, relying on letters and phone calls to keep connected.
Each time I revisit Israel I get an injection of the same fervor I felt on my college summer there. I love the Tnuva welcome sign at the airport and magically switch to Hebrew mode. I enjoy the bounty of delicious produce and dairy, the Mediterranean, “chag samayach” signs on buses, conversations with taxi drivers and reconnecting with my Israeli family.
I am well aware of the negative aspects of life there; overstressed pushy personalities, the pervasive addiction to breaking news, economic struggle, the harsh reality of sending children to the army and a constant vigilance about the surrounding enemies.
My fears about the ever-present “matzav” dissipate as I observe how Israelis handle it by living “normally.” My frantic phoning to check up on our sons in Israel contrasts sharply with an experience I had in Tel Aviv with Ariel when he received an alert on his cell phone signaling possible danger.
We were waiting to be picked up by our Israeli cousins one Friday morning to visit the shuk and I called to mention the alert. My very sensible cousin sighed and said, ”if we stayed home for every warning we’d never leave home…it’s up to you, but we’re going.”
I was torn but, uncharacteristically, decided to join. I was nervous until we passed through the Nahalat Binyamin’s security and melded with the sea of locals; there were not many tourists then. I felt, who was I to be more cautious than my Israeli cousin who was living this way day after day, when it could, even should, be me living here.
My husband phoned me from Woodmere about the alert, to see how I was coping. I told him I was shopping in Shuk HaCarmel and he couldn’t believe it. He told me to remember this when I came back home and harassed the boys regarding my fears concerning Israel.
I’m excited to visit my daughter and niece next year during their year in Israel. I’m in awe of my friends’ children who join the IDF, envious of families moving en masse via Nefesh B’Nefesh and was amazed to read about the oldest couple ever to make Aliyah, age 95 and 93! Though anything is possible, I’ve (mostly) made my peace with living here. I feel as strong a bond as ever to the land and our people…and still tear up whenever I sing “Next Year in Jerusalem.”
Miriam Bradman Abrahams is Cuban born, Brooklyn bred and lives in Woodmere. She organizes author events for Hadassah, reviews books for Jewish Book World and is very slowly writing her father’s immigration story. She teaches yoga. Miriam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.