The big six letter word. ALIYAH. It is every Jews inherent desire to come back home to Israel. To “make” aliyah, to rise up and move home. I knew I was making aliyah since the first moment I stepped off the plane in Ben Gurion airport in Israel at age 12. At the time I had no true understanding of my feelings and my need to live in my homeland. As I got older I knew that in order for me to feel whole I needed to live and breathe in Israel. There was this instant connection I felt to my religion, my people and to my G-d whenever I was here in Israel.
I decided to make aliyah now and not in some obscure time in the future two years ago when I was in Israel volunteering on the ambulances through the Jewish Agency. I called my mother up in the outdoor market in Tel Aviv and I told her that I wasn’t coming home. I was already home and this was it.
I had been talking about if for years and I was done talking and ready to take some action.
Needless to say my mother was stunned, upset but more importantly I had promised her before I left that I would come back to the States. I promised her that this phone call was never going to happen. At the end of the conversation we both understood that I would need to come back to America and settle things before moving. I had signed a new lease for my apartment in Boston, I was studying at university and I had other responsibilities that I couldn’t ignore.
I promised myself that when I came back the States I would only be there for two months max. Two months were followed by six months and then a year and a half passed. By that point I had taken care of all my responsibilities and could move to Israel. I was ready to leave ASAP. The one thing holding me back was that I had applied to Nefesh B’Nefesh in January and I was waiting for a response.
My biggest worry was not how would I find a job or a flat or even make friends in Israel. My biggest worry was that I would some day need to come back to the States to pay back my student loans. This is where Nefesh B’Nefesh came into the picture.
I had heard about Nefesh B’Nefesh a few months after I had come back from my amazing summer volunteering for Magen David Adom (the summer I called my mom to tell her I was not returning but did in the end). I had a friend who had a good friend who made aliyah through the organization. I wasn’t that impressed with the group flight or the ceremony but I was very interested in the grant money that they give out. I thankfully didn’t need the money to make aliyah but it was a big factor in helping me stay in Israel.
So I applied for the grant in January. The letter with either my acceptance or denial was scheduled to come sometime in March. Luckily that year my family was going to Israel for Passover for the first time. I was ready to go and make aliyah but I wasn’t sure if I should pack up and move right before Pesach or wait until the summer and go with Nefesh B’Nefesh. I decided to wait it out and see what the letter said before I made any decisions.
On the day I left for Israel for Passover I received my letter congratulating me on my acceptance by Nefesh B’Nefesh and that I would indeed receive a grant from them.
The moment when I got out of the sherut in Jerusalem and saw my mother waiting there for me to arrive was indescribable. I realized right then that I might have arrived that day for Pesach but that in a few months I would finally be arriving home for good. I started crying and I said, “Mom, I’m coming back. I’m coming back. I’m making aliyah.” I was crying out of happiness and pure joy.
Every time I came to Israel I knew that at some point I’d be retuning to the States for an indefinite amount of time until I could return. This time I knew it would be exactly 3 months until I came back again.
A week before I was scheduled to make aliyah, my middle married sister calls up my parents house and lets them know that she just gave birth to their first grandchild, a son. I have to say my sister has impeccable timing. The biggest moment of my life and she tops it with one of the biggest moments for my family.
So I took my mother to that airport that day and my father left Saturday night and then I left on Tuesday. I knew I would see them in a few days. The strangest part of this situation was that I had to call friends to try to find someone to give me a ride to the airport with all my stuff. After all, I was moving to another country but when I got there I would see my parents waiting for me.
At the airport it was a mass of people waiting on line, waiting downstairs, just waiting around. We all said our goodbyes to our families and friends and entered the restricted part of the terminal. All I did was look around and see a lot of kids and families and think, “Wow, we are all making aliyah but this is going to be one noisy flight.” The flight was uneventful. The brilliant people at Nefesh B’Nefesh organized the seating in alphabetical order with the singles grouped together in each section of the plane. We chatted about our backgrounds, why we were making aliyah, where we were going when we got off the plane. It was fascinating to hear different peoples perspectives on why the needed or wanted to make aliyah.
Closer to our estimated time of arrival we all started getting antsy. All of us knew that we were not just making aliyah but we were making aliyah together. This was the beginning of something amazing and scary at the same time. As we started to descent the plane started clapping and singing Israeli songs. The moment we actually landed I started to cry.
My dream had come true. I didn’t know what the future held for me but what I did know was that I declared aliyah and I had now landed as an Israeli citizen. I was no longer a visitor with religious roots but as a citizen of the country.
As our plane taxied from the runway to the hanger where the ceremony was going to take place you could see everyone peering outside trying to see the land that they decided to call home. They opened up the doors and all you could see were a lot of people waiting for us shouting, clapping, singing and there were dozens and dozens of chayalim from IDF waiting there at the end of the stairs holding Israeli flags. I got off the plane and looked around in amazement. All these people came here because we, I , made aliyah. I started to cry. The family walking behind me brought over a torah scroll from America. I paused midway down from the stairs to the hanger and looked back at the plane. There were singles, families, religious, non religious all coming off the same plane I just came off and they all made aliyah. There was a bond created at that moment for each and every person who flew with me. I didn’t know most of their names or any other kind of information about them. The one and only important piece of knowledge that I have of them was that they too made aliyah and did it with me.
There was a large that ceremony consisted of speakers and music by the IDF band. Ariel Sharon spoke as did Bibi Netanyaho, Tzipi Livni, Natan Sheransky and the list goes on. What they all said within their personal speeches was that this was a special moment in history for the history of Israel and in the history of the Jewish people. But more important was that there will be a day when we will have more than 300 people on one flight coming home. I couldn’t help but keep noticing the waving Israeli flags. Those flags represent so much to me that I kept tearing up. Those beautiful white and blue flags blowing in the wind were no longer a symbol to me of my country far far away but of the country that I now lived in.
Six months later I was finally able to attend a welcoming ceremony for another Nefesh B’Nefesh flight. This one consisted mostly of singles making aliyah rather than families. I got up on Tuesday morning all exited to go to the ceremony but when I arrived at Binyaneh Haoomah there was no sign of CSM or the Nefesh B’Nefesh buses. I thought I got the time wrong and that I missed the bus. I even considered taking a bus from tachana mercazi to the airport so that I wouldn’t miss the ceremony. Thankfully I came to the realization that I was a day early. The ceremony was tomorrow morning and not today. It was a good thing I did not realize it while on the bus to the airport.
Wednesday morning I woke up really early and got to Binyaneh Haoomah and found the buses waiting. At least that day I got it right. I sat on the bus next to a woman names Mrs. Nathan. She had decided to go to the ceremony because it would be a great thing to do. She and I started talking and I shared with her that approximately six months earlier I came on one of their flights. I was so excited to welcome the next batch of olim that even though I hadn’t had my normal cup of coffee yet I was still wide awake. We got to the airport and got off right in front of the hanger. It was the same hanger I was in back in July. The main difference this time was that it was now freezing in the hanger instead of being boiling hot. There was hot drinks and cakes to warm us up and wake us up. We waited around for about a half hour until the plane landed and taxied up to the hanger. There were hundreds of people there to welcome the newest arrivals plus groups from the Israeli air force, navy and army all in their ceremonial uniforms.
Once the plane taxied up to the hanger we all started clapping and singing along with the band. We waved banners of “Welcome home or CSM welcomes Nefesh B’Nefesh, Aliyah revolution etc.” All of us couldn’t wait to wish a mazal tov to the arrivals on their respective aliyah. Once they all came off the plane and we went to take our seats so that we could begin the ceremony. This moment of wishing someone else a mazal tov on their aliyah reminded me of how far I’ve come. More importantly was that I too recently made aliyah and thank g-d I could look back at the past months and said that they have been the happiest months so far in my life.
The band started playing music and some of the new olim started dancing. Then more and more people joined in. Even the soldiers started dancing with the olim. I saw in my head the pictures of the olim dancing back in the first stages of the country and now years later we were still dancing. I started to tear up at that moment. We are lucky enough to be part of a generation that has the ability to live in the established State of Israel.
I am a Sabra at Heart