Shlomo M., Ramat Beit Shemesh
I grew up in a Modern Orthodox home in Los Angeles. Though this meant we had strong “Zionistic” ideals and involvement, for me, as a youngster, this did not get into my conscious level. It meant going through the motions, even to be fortunate enough to visit Israel a few times.
It was only once I came to learn in yeshivah here in Eretz Yisroel that I felt that this was my home. Although my three years here in yeshivah really linked me to the Land, I went back to America for college just as my parents wished.
Once back in Los Angeles, a good friend and I arranged tours of Eretz Yisroel for boys from modern backgrounds, some of whom would have otherwise gone in mixed groups. For me, the purpose of these trips was to strengthen the kesher of these boys to Eretz Yisroel and to frumkeit, and it was also to get “free” trips to Eretz Yisroel myself (though it wasn't really free considering the amount of effort we put in).
After finishing college – still single – I unofficially “moved” to Eretz Yisroel. While I was still living in L.A., I frequently came back to Eretz Yisroel to learn for Elul zman—now the whole situation was reversed: I was learning in yeshivah in Eretz Yisroel and only going back to L.A. for tax season to work for a couple of months.
That last Elul zman before I moved, I had attended Yeshivas Netzach Yisrael of R' Gustman zt”l in Shaarei Chesed, and this is where I came back to learn. At that time, there were many Americans attending, including singles, avreichim, and retirees. I got married in Eretz Yisroel and continued learning in kollel for about half a year.
We then moved back to the U.S. in order to finish my CPA. It was clear to us that it was a temporary move – the very day I got my CPA I told my wife, “We're outta here!” This took her a bit by surprise, because by that time, six years and three kids later, she had already become accustomed to living in chutz laAretz. Upon mentioning my Aliyah plans to my employer, I was offered a promotion if I would stay, but I turned it down in a heartbeat – Eretz Yisroel was waiting for us.
Our first stop was Har Nof, where my wife had two married sisters and fourteen nieces and nephews. Our family already living here served as a wonderful support group. Though originally from Miami Beach, my wife had been in Eretz Yisroel from after high school until we moved back to L.A. She had schooled and taught here and I had been in yeshivah here for several years, so we didn't experience the culture shock that some others do. Our oldest child was entering first grade and at that age and stage the transition was much easier. Since 2000, we have been happily living in Ramat Beit Shemesh.
During that entire time, my parents were back in the U.S. They lived in the same house for fifty years and belonged to the same shul for seventy, and despite their Zionistic beliefs and activities, they had absolutely no desire or intention to come to live in Eretz Yisroel. They viewed it as “mission impossible” with too many hurdles to overcome. It was also a different language and mentality. But as they were getting older, it eventually made more sense to live where most of their children were located. Only one son was living near them in L.A., with their three other children living in Eretz Yisroel; I was in Ramat Beit Shemesh, one daughter was in Rechovot, and another in Modi'in.
My parents moved here just before Yom Kippur this past year. It was a move done out of necessity and they had zero expectations. To their credit, they came with open minds, willing to begin a new chapter in their lives. Today, less than a year later, they cannot believe how happy they are here! They love their shul and rabbi – Beit Knesset HaNassi in Rechavia of Rabbi Berel Wein, their shiurim (and other activities) at the Israel Center, and their community.
A few years ago, while travelling with Nefesh B'Nefesh presenting at their Aliyah events in the U.S. as a CPA, I had occasion to stay with family in Baltimore for a Shabbos. At a kiddush, an acquaintance overheard what I was doing and approached me. He lectured me on what a terrible thing it is that Nefesh B'Nefesh does, sending people to Israel! His family apparently went through the Aliyah process and had a horrible experience. It did not take me long to understand that they had come unprepared and with unrealistic expectations. I quickly clarified that I wasn’t actually employed by NBN, but I was well aware of their efforts to do exactly that—-to prepare people for the realities they would face in Israel. I have heard people say it takes five years for the initial adjustment and ten years to fully acclimate. In my personal experience, I found that to be fairly accurate.
Contrasting the Aliyah experiences of myself and my parents with those of that acquaintance, it is very important to come as prepared as possible and with realistic expectations. Don't come with rose-colored glasses. If hardships are expected, they are less likely to cause anger and depression. If and when things work out and good things unexpectedly do happen, it is all the more reason to celebrate!
Heart and Soul
Back when I was attempting to start shidduchim in L.A., I was sent to speak to a rav who taught seminary girls. The rav looked at me sternly and said, “I hear that you are only willing to date a girl who wants to live in Eretz Yisroel.” I nodded. He continued, “I don’t have any girls for you, but it is not proper to limit yourself like that.” I then sat with my rosh yeshivah and discussed the conversation. My rosh yeshivah said, “Shlomo, what if I told you I had the perfect girl for you, but she needs to stay in L.A., close to her elderly mother?” I thought briefly and replied, “I never said I’d only consider a girl who WILL live in Eretz Yisroel, rather I expressed that I’m only interested in a girl who WANTS to live in Eretz Yisroel.” To me, that was and is the key: where our hearts and minds are, what we focus on, what we should be doing, and where we should be living, if possible.
On my parents’ last visit to Eretz Yisroel prior to making Aliyah, my father and I attended a shiur given by a talmid of Rav Yitzchok Hutner, zt"l. Upon hearing that my father was planning to make Aliyah, he quoted R’ Hutner saying, “Your Aliyah should have a neshamah!”