Saturday, July 18, 2015

On My 18th Aliyah Anniversary, Here's My Story!

 מוצש״ק פר׳ מטות-מסעי תעש"ה

This post was inspired by Tomer Devorah's Aliyah Advice For Those Who Are Interested.

Coming up on my 18th anniversary of not only making aliyah, but arriving in Israel for the first in my life, I realized, thanks to Tomer Devorah, that I had never written about my personal aliyah story. Even though I have written tips on aliyah, before, during, and after, based on personal experience.

Eighteen years ago today, I landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport for the first in my life, and I stayed.

My flight took off from Los Angeles, where I was living for the last nine months of my life in the U. S. There was an hour stopover in Chicago, and then it was onto Israel. When we took off from Chicago, my thought was, "This is it!"

"Fly El Al - most of the pilots are former Israeli air force pilots who aren't afraid..." @ASoldiersMother
Periodically glancing at the real time, flight map at the front of the cabin, I saw when we were over international waters, and then past the half-way point of crossing the Atlantic Ocean. There was no turning back now. But, the truth was, I knew that I was never going back, at not permanently, and I never have. In fact, I only left for a two-week course in England, in 1998. That means I have not left Israel in 17 years. For years, I either did not have the money, or I did not have the time off from work. Now, I do not have any interest in leaving Israel at all.

My journey to Israel, however, actually began years before I actually landed here.

You see, I had already tried to come to Israel several times beforehand.

In 1985, I wanted to come for my junior year of study abroad. In 1994, I tried coming for a year of study in yeshivah. In both of these cases, I did not have the money to go. Remember that Birthright did not exist back then. Even though it is just over 10 years old, many Jews do not realize that it is...just over 10 years old.

In 1996, I visited with the shali'ah (State representative) in Los Angeles to "apply" for aliyah.

Taking his suggestion, I wrote several options as to what I would actually be doing Israel, to show how open and flexible I was. I wrote IDF service, yeshivah, ulpan (intensive Hebrew study) and work. I had already wrote to the Ministries of Health and Education to get my professional degrees and certifications recognized, and was in contact with the Israeli branch of my professional association.

But, in the end I was "rejected," for not being focused. Of course, the facts that I had never even visited Israel, nor knew anyone here, worked against me. But, what no one ever told me explicitly was that my only loss would be a paid flight, and help with a place to stay.

Finally, in 1997 everything fell in place very quickly. I believe very strongly that I was meant to come at this time, and not before.

A friend of mine found an ad for a teachers program in Israel, co-sponsored by the LA Federation, the City of Tel-Aviv, and the Jewish Agency. In April, 1997, I interviewed for the program, and was accepted. I was told not to worry about money. This program really took care of me. So, I must give credit where credit is due.

In June, I found a cheap, one-way ticket, from someone with whom I volunteered a couple times a month, who turned out to be a travel agent.

Only a week before I was to fly, I lost my passport. But, I was able to get a new one, with special, yet pricey, three-day service, and a cool boss who let me come into work late a couple of times, so that I could deal with this.

Although Nefesh b'Nefesh did not exist back then, and handouts of chunks of money had been cancelled, at least for Americans, and other olim (immigrants) from Western countries, I managed. The shali'ah in Los Angeles had told me that I should bring at least $11,000. with me, as a single person. Yeah, right! As if!

I stepped off the plane with just $300 in my pocket, a duffel bag, and one carry on bag. Of course, I had a job and a place to live lined up. Like I said, everything just fell into place. I might even say miraculously so.

I even had a place to stay in a merkaz qelitah (absorption center) for two years, which is unusual. Most olim do not even receive more than a year. Rent was only about $86. per month, as I distinctly remember that the rate of exchange was 3.5 sheqqels to a dollar back then.

I soon obtained a student visa, good for a year. Just over a year later, a came back to the Ministry of the Interior at 6:30am, yet I was still only 13th in line. Hours later, I met the same clerk who had given me my student visa. I brought my birth certificate, passport, and letter from my rabbi in San Diego, stating that I was Jewish. I had heard it recommended to bring in your mother's kethubbah (marriage contract) as well, but I did not, as I did not have access to it.

The clerk glanced over everything, but took only the letter and stamped my U. S. passport with my request, and told me to come back in 30 days. I did, and he gave me my te'udath zehuth (identity card), stood up, shook my hand, and said Mazal Tov.

One tip I discovered about the process, which I feel is important to share is that each rabbinical association has its own list at the Jewish Agency of recognized rabbis. The application is sent there for confirmation of ones Jewish status. I called the Jewish Agency in advance of my submission of documents at the Ministry of the Interior. When I mentioned the name of the rabbi who had signed my letter, I was told that his name was absent from the list.

I almost started to freak-out. But, then a thought came to me.... I asked the person on the phone which list she had checked. She said the Orthodox Union [OU] list. Then I asked if Young Israel had its own list. She said yes, and sure enough, found the name of my rabbi on this list. I made a point of telling this to the Interior Ministry clerk, just in case.

I believe this insured that everything went as smoothly as it did. So, check to make sure that your rabbi is listed. I believe that Chabba"d also has its own list.

Almost a year and a half ago, I renounced my U. S. citizenship. I know that this is not the choice for everyone. You can read about my experiences with this, including how the process works, and about reporting ones income, and assets, or lack thereof, for the final time to the IRS.

After living in Tel-Aviv for two years, I moved around. Jerusalem, Beth-El, Ofra, and eventually to K'far Tapu'ah for five years. For the past six years I have been back in Jerusalem.

I have been homeless in Israel, in debt, unemployed, and survived a suicide bombing. I have interviewed, worked, learned, lived, and dealt with government offices. I have job hunted, apartment hunted, friend hunted, and community hunted. It has not been easy. We are even warned in the Talmud that it is not easy. But, this is home, and it is where all Jews belong, not in the U. S.


Devorah Chayah said...

Mazal tov on the "chai" anniversary of your aliyah! It's been a pleasure knowing you all these years.

Geula Girl said...

Mazal tov! So we aren't the only crazy ones.

Esser Agaroth said...

Devash, Thanks! You, too!

GG, Thanks! Yep! Pretty much! LOL!

Shimon Yehouda said...

I enjoy reading about your coming Home.
To were we (Israel) all belong.
Happy anniversary!

Esser Agaroth said...

Thanks so much!

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