I am on a journey, to make Aliyah, and want to share my journey with my family, friends and anyone that is interested. I made the decision to make Aliyah in December 2002 and now I am actually doing it. This blog will chronicle my story and adventures leading up to getting on the plane and then the continuing story of the beginning of my new life in Israel and what I experience once there.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

My Father Welcomed Olim

I was finishing packing my box of photographs and had a few photo albums to pack with the loose photos I had already packed. I flipped through the albums and had many walks down memory lane. I also came across an album I had long forgotten that I had in my possession. It is the album from my father's visit to Israel in January 1970. I spent more time in this album than any of the others. I looked at the itinerary. I looked at all the places he visited and the places that I'd now like to visit as well. He had meals with (don't know if he met them, but who knows) David Ben Gurion, Menachem Begin and Ezer Weizman.

For me the really interesting (and cool) thing is that he went to the airport to greet new olim arriving from India. While he had no idea that his son would one day be making Aliyah, he got to experience the euphoria of people arriving and being there to greet them. So, while he may not be there to see my arrival, I now have a feeling that a piece of him is with me when I make Aliyah and experience the arrival at the same airport that he visited so many years ago (albeit slightly more developed today).

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ordered My Initial Cell Service

There are lots of choices for cell service in Israel. All but one require you to have an Israeli ID number and bank account. The one that does not is geared to students, tourists and new olim (immigrants). The service offers both an Israeli and US numbers. Both numbers ring on the single cell phone so it will be easy for people in either country to call me. Before I leave they will send me my numbers and the sim card to go in my unlocked GSM phone. They have plans with a phone but for now my old phone is just fine (and cheaper too). The company is TalkNSave.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Video Clip of my Presentation

A couple of posts ago I posted the text of what I said at the Rally at the SC Statehouse (moved inside because of rain). The different speakers presentations are now online at Grassroots 4 Israel.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lots of little updates

Nothing big has happened in the last week but I can update everyone with the little things that happened this week., particularly the last couple of days.

Friday was my uncle's birthday and a lot of the family got together to celebrate. The last place you'd expect to find a nice Jewish boy who keeps kosher. The all-you-can-eat BBQ place. I went because of the family gathering not the BBQ. We had a great time and I enjoyed seeing a lot of the family in one place. They recognized that my move is getting near and that this was also a good opportunity for family and I to spend time together too. While the guest of honor got the big cake, they also had a decorated big cookie for me.

Saturday at shul I was the board representative on the bimah and lead musaf too. Not too sure how many more things I'll get to daven but it's definitely something I thought about when I started.

Emily finished her motorcycle class today and was one of only 4 class members to have passed the course. I'm glad that she has the class behind her, but still will worry about her on the bike, at least for foreseeable future. Maybe one day I'll be a little less apprehensive but that just the father in me.

As for kids they finished with school and graduation is coming.

Today I spent a couple hours packing my second box. This time it's the pictures. The reason it took so long.... I had to stop and look at some along the way and even had to scan two (to put on Facebook) since it'll be a few months probably before I see the pics again.

I created a group on facebook for those of us sharing the Nefesh b'Nefesh flight together. So far about a dozen people have joined either the group or the actual flight event. (just 230 more to find).

I put in my cancellation order for my cell service. Since my contract is not complete they have a process to cancel when you move overseas. After only having to talk to two people they told me that basically I cancel my service. I will get billed for the cancellation fees and when I get to Israel I am supposed to send them a copy of a bill (cell, internet, etc) and they'll then credit the fee. I said that was fine, but that they probably won't be able to read the bill. The guy was like "Can't you request it to be in English?"

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rally at the SC Statehouse

Yesterday was a good day in SC for Israel. A large group of people gathered on the grounds of the statehouse to rally in support of Israel. My last post shared the list of speakers and the words that came from each made me proud to be a South Carolinian. They spoke of the right of Israel to exist, to defend herself and the reasons for their beliefs. The flags, the music and the common beliefs bridged the differences in the religions that were in attendance. Who have thought a nice Jewish guy sitting and listening to a Baptist minister quote the bible and make connections from history, not run for the door thinking what am I doing here? The whole experience showed me how people can co-exist and focus on the similarities that bind us while respecting what makes us different. Maybe one day more of the world will be this way and not focus on the differences.

So, what did I have to say? I felt humbled by the experienced speakers that preceded me but I didn't have the anxiety that I figured I would. Here are the words that I shared:

When I was asked to speak here today I had no idea what I was even supposed to say. I am not a seasoned public speaker, which the next few minutes will prove. I don’t consider myself an activist, nor am I a politician; I don’t work for or speak for an organization that supports Israel. So who am I? I am an American. I am a South Carolinian and in just a few weeks I will also be Israeli.

Growing up in South Carolina has helped shape who I am and will continue to be. I learned you can be many things at once. I don’t have to box myself in and say “I am Jewish” or “I am American” or “I am a South Carolinian”. So to add Israeli to that, does not diminish my other characteristics. I learned to stand up for what I believe in. South Carolinians did that so many years ago at Fort Sumter. We do it today: whether or not we agree with our Governor’s decisions he stands up for what he believes. I do so today by standing here and speaking out to you. “Don’t Tread on Me”

By gathering here today y’all share with me the idea that you can support Israel while not diminishing your support for South Carolina and the United States of America.

I am moving to Israel for many reasons, but this is my way of “Put up or Shut up”. While moving to another country is not what everyone does to show support. I know many of you gathered here today don’t need much encouragement, but Supporting Israel is good for the world. Those of you, I know there must be one or two out there, that have a cell phone should thank Israel. Those of you that are ignoring calls and letting it go to voicemail should also thank Israel. Have you swallowed a camera for medical reasons? Thank Israel. If you have swallowed a camera for other reasons, I don’t think we want to know about it… I could go on and on. Israel is an innovator and has made the world a better place.

Israel is central to the monotheistic religions of the world. We share a belief of one g-d. We share a sense of fairness. We share a responsibility of defending what is right. We want the world to be a better place.

There are those out there that try to focus on the unfortunate events that have occurred over the years in the defense of the Israeli way of life. There are many who think Israel has been evil and malicious in these events. If Mexico were bombing San Diego I don’t think we’d sit quietly and let it go on for years upon years. Bibi Netanyahu said “if the Arabs laid down their arms there would no war, if Israel laid down its arms there would be no Israel.” There is no crystal ball, no magic; the hope is for peace and prosperity. We will continue to work towards this goal and maybe one day this won’t be a hope any longer.

Israel needs us, continue to support her. Speak out, join organizations, visit Israel and if you are so inclined move there.

Am Darom Carolina Chai! – The people of South Carolina Live!

Am Artzot Habrit Chai! – The people of the USA Live!

Am Yisrael Chai!

Thank you!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Another Speaking Event

Next Sunday will be a Gathering, a rally, or some such thing at the South Carolina Statehouse in support of Israel. A group of people have pulled this together with an amazing lineup of speakers. I have also been asked to speak and have agreed to do so, but I do feel a little outgunned, but it's a program on a subject that means a lot to me, so I go into this with genuine excitement. I have never truly spoken in public, speaking in shul to a room of people that I mostly know or even a business presentation to 8 people that I don't know is not the same as speaking in front of the central government building, on the steps, with cameras, reporters, supporters and probably a few people who are not supportive of Israel.

I would like to note that this has been assembled by a group of people who are true friends and lovers of the State of Israel. Not all are Jewish. I met a couple "Zionistic Christians" when I was volunteering in the IDF, but didn't realize that there are actually a good number, even right here in South Carolina.

So, who is on this amazing list of speakers that I get to share the microphone with:

  • US Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC)
  • SC State Representative Mac Toole (R-District 88)
  • Rabbi Jonathan Case - Beth Shalom Synagogue, Columbia, SC
  • Avi Posnick – East Coast Outreach Director - Stand With Us, New York, NY
  • Kathleen Cox – Vice President - Israel Always, Charleston, SC
  • Bob Schwartz – Assistant Exec Vice President - American Friends of Magen David Adom, Miami, FL
  • Pastor Gene Rowell - Gantt Street Baptist Church - Cayce, SC
  • Rebecca Pinsker & Friends - Music - Education Director - Beth Shalom Synagogue, Columbia, SC

So, my friends if you are in the area next Sunday, May 17th, join us in front of the SC Statehouse from 2 until 4, rain or shine, but I'm hoping for shine. Wear your Blue and White!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Facebook and My New Olim Friends

Over the last couple of months I have made friends online with others that are making aliyah this year. One will be on the same flight that I will be one, another is trying and others are on different flights. As the year progresses I am enjoying seeing their posts to Facebook. Their status many times resemble what mine have been. I did all of my paperwork and such earlier than most people so they are now doing things such as waiting for approvals and visas which I was fortunate enough to have already completed. As they post their status I am recalling each time how I felt at those milestones and know they must be having similar responses. I am happy for them! I don't mind either that their joy makes me feel good too.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Speaking today at my Shul

Today I was the guest speaker at my shul. I was asked to speak on the topic of why I am packing up and moving to Israel. This is my presentation as I presented it to my congregation:

In today’s parsha God tells Moses to speak to the entire Israelite community. He is to tell them:

קדשים תהיו כי קדוש אני יי אלהיכם You must be holy, since I am God your Lord [and] I am holy.

He proceeds to tell us how we can do that in the form of commandments. What is really being told to us is that we have to live a certain way, in order to be holy. In today’s world it means to live a Jewish life following Jewish law. We have learned that we don’t know everything at once and we have to grow into “our” Jewishness.

I grew up in this community and recall Sunday School at the education building next to the old JCC. I recall the JNF Tzedakah boxes. I recall the posters of Israel, Jerusalem, the kibbutzim, the chalutziim (the pioneers). I especially remember always singing Hatikvah at the end of each school day. We moved to this building and some of the posters didn’t follow but we continued to sing, I became involved in USY. I considered becoming a Rabbi.

I let society dictate confusion and assimilated myself into secular life and for many years I did not attend shul or do anything Jewish. It took Mormon missionaries in Utah to push me back into the shul. That is a story for a different day. But they also started me down a better pathway of life. I reconnected to my roots, both in general family connections, but also to my heritage. When I moved to Atlanta I was seeking out ways to incorporate Judaism into my everyday life. I found a Jewish outdoor group, Mosaic. Named for the first Jewish hiker, you know… Moses… I went to shul regularly, I went on weekly hikes and found other things to volunteer in within the community.
I was feeling pretty good about my reconnection. Sept 8th 2001 shared the parsha from my Bar Mitzvah. This was the 3rd year of the triennial so Maftir matched from years ago when I chanted those words. The Haftorah was of course the same, while I don’t remember who chanted it that day I recall that I was humming along, remembering those words from so long ago. My heritage, my history and my future. I was moved that Shabbat. Three days later the world shook. September 11th, the Gregorian date of my Bar Mitzvah, was now forever shared with the tragedy in New York, DC and Pennsylvania. I did not know anyone that died, but I was somehow connected. My shul in Atlanta had daily discussions followed by the evening minyan. I went each day, somewhat in shock, but comforted by being with b’nei yisrael, the children of Israel.

I continued my participation in Mosaic events, camping, kayaking, hiking and enjoying that all the participants were all Jewish, we didn’t’ travel on Shabbat, we only ate kosher food at our events. I now had a portion of my life that wasn’t ritualistic but allowed me to live a Jewishly integrated “regular life”. I was on a hike in the Georgia Mountains and was walking along chatting with a friend. We chatted about how he had traveled to Israel and volunteered in the IDF. I was intrigued and asked more questions and basically learned about the Sar-El organization that facilitates civilians volunteering in the IDF. I went home from that hike and thought to myself; that sounds really cool. I researched the organization and within a couple weeks I was signed up to volunteer for 3 weeks. I didn’t leave for a couple of months, but I then became an information junkie regarding Israel. I read everything I could on the internet, bought travel books. I recalled stories from years ago in Sunday and Hebrew School and the places we studied about were about to not be distant pictures but places I could and would actually visit. The Sar-El organization sent me all my paperwork and documents to better prepare me for my travels. One thing that struck me was they mentioned in their documentation, that 46% of people that come on this program eventually make Aliyah. I thought to myself “that isn’t going to be me”. I received several other documents from them before my trip. They all stated the same statistic and I still thought “that isn’t going to be me”.

I went to Israel, when I got off the plane, I had the cliché response, but it was genuine, I felt “at home”. Riding in the car and seeing all the signs in Hebrew left me thinking this is really cool. I am in a Jewish place where being Jewish is “normal”. The entire time I was volunteering they reminded us, 46% eventually make Aliyah… And I said it wasn’t going to be me. I rode on busses and listened to people actually speaking Hebrew. It wasn’t the language of the synagogue, but the language of life, everyday life.

There were several bombings while I was there and that was weird, but I didn’t want to leave. I was part of this and I belonged. I went on a hike with the Mosaic group based in Jerusalem and unlike the Georgia group where we might see a civil war site; we hiked in the valley where David slew Goliath. That left me with a feeling of understanding this was the land of my ancestors and our history was all around me. Spending time in Jerusalem, the old city, the Western Wall just added to this experience. I spent Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, in Jerusalem. Not as a spectator, but a participant. I marched in the parade, waving a flag and ending up at the Western Wall. There was a huge gathering of Israelis. Music playing, dancing and general celebration. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t Israeli, didn’t hardly understand a word of what was going on. They pulled me in, I danced and was an integral part of the celebration. I belonged and they were telling me this, just not in words.

At the end of my trip, I gathered up my memories, got on a plane and returned to the US. I thought to myself, see it wasn’t me. I loved everything about Israel, but Aliyah, not me…

I returned from Israel in May 2002. That summer I read about a charter planeload of North Americans that all were making Aliyah together with the help of a new organization, Nefesh B’Nefesh, Jewish Souls United. I thought that was really cool and at this point didn’t think much more about it. Over the next couple of months I read more and more about Nefesh B’Nefesh and in December I read that they were chartering another plane. I was now thinking ok, “normal people” make Aliyah. People leave North America and move to Israel, just because they want to. My mind was made up. I wanted to be in Israel. I had been wrong. This was me.

I downloaded the application from Nefesh B’Nefesh and started to fill it out. I talked with a child psychologist and was told I either needed to do it right then or wait until my kids graduated. I did some soul searching and decided that right then was not ideal for many reasons, but if I were to wait until the kids were older then it would be their decision instead of me making them go. So, knowing that they would graduate in June 2009 I now had a target date. When I told people that I was making aliyah in six and half years they were saying, YEAH right, today I am telling you about my journey to make Aliyah, six and a half years later. Now I feel many are saying yeah, RIGHT, the same words but the emphasis is on the RIGHT.

What else have I learned about during my journey to this point in my life?
  • The orthodox don’t have a monopoly on Aliyah. Conservative Jews make Aliyah. Non-religious Jews make Aliyah. People actually move to Israel because it is an amazing place to live, to raise a family, have a great career. Oh yeah, live Jewishly without having to make much of an effort.
  • Assimilation is a good thing, in Israel.
  • While we should do everything we can to be supportive of our intermarried friends and family it is still something we have work at. In Israel you would have to work hard just to be intermarried.
  • Israel is constantly trying to grow and improve. Israel is constantly seeking new people to grow the majority but more importantly bring new ideas and strength to the state. I feel I have a lot to offer and to contribute to the future of the State of Israel.
  • The founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass has stated that we are not running from something, but running to something. I couldn’t agree more.
  • Aliyah is not the destination, life is. Living in the land of Israel is the objective
  • I recently read an article by Hanna Zakon, who recently made Aliyah she made the point:

Mark Twain once asked us what our secret is. How is it that despite our meager numbers we have stood the test of time? How is it that despite others turning their heads to our suffering, we have survived? How is it that we have outlasted the greatest empires? He, and the world, saw us as the few, as the weak. They measured us by numeric strength. Mr. Twain was missing one piece of crucial information when he wrote his remarks. He saw us as individuals; he did not see the rows upon rows of ancestors that stood and still stand behind us. With his question he missed the point; we have survived because we are a 'We' and not an 'I'.

Rebbe Nachman stated:לכל מקום שאני הולך, אני הולך לארץ ישראל
To every place I go, I go to eretz yisrael

While you may not be getting on the plane, many of you grew up with me here. You saw the same things; you heard the same things and did the same things. I take with me a piece of this community and you are all invited to join me in Israel, be it for a day, a week, a month, a year or even making Aliyah. I hope I can share a Shabbat meal with each of you when you come. Follow your heart, I am. Please stand and join me in the singing of Hatikvah.