Instead of going to Hawaii for our 10th wedding anniversary on June 27, 2009, we made aliyah. In retrospect, it symbolized our “search for meaning” over indulgence in the pleasures of this world. That “road travelled,” to Modiin instead of Honolulu is not for everyone, but the journey of looking back at the map and the roads taken is certainly a meaningful way to mark a decade.
This year when we celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary in the heat of Modiin there will be no leis or Hawaiian tunes. The music playing at the secular school that abuts our home will (annoyingly) ring out Jewish songs at every recess break, the radio will continue to air political debates about the next elections and the words of “Im Eshakacheh Yerushalyim” that were sung at our wedding will feel quite surreal as we dine in a cool Jerusalem restaurant. And while it’s not Hawaii, there is much that is other-worldly about it.
When my son, who is graduating sixth grade, was asked to describe the “aliyah experience” for his family roots project (an Israeli rite of passage) and said he didn’t know it, I was shocked by both my failure as a parent to have him know “our story” and my personal growth in relation to this question. When my eldest had to do this same assignment years ago, I told him to leave it blank. There was no great story to write—we were the only family members here in Israel, we had not made any significant contribution to the state, no good war or spy stories and he needn’t write about his parents’ gradual decision to relocate. But now, six years later, I felt it was very important for my children to understand the process, tribulations and gift of aliyah. So I invite you to share in my documentation of five popular questions, with the hope that perhaps it will inspire others to consider this momentous move or simply reflect on their personal 10-year growth.
“Don’t you just love living there?” people ask when they meet olim. “Isn’t it magical?” The cynic in me responds: “It’s life. I yell at my kids to get to school and to bed on time, I dread dealing with the phone, electric and water companies, education has its ups and many downs and nothing feels magical when it’s your everyday life.” And then every so often the cynic gets caught up in the magic—those only-in-Israel moments just fill your heart; you beam when your children are fluent in Torah and only know Jewish life (what’s a “weekend”?), when leaving a yishuv there is a huge billboard with Tefillat Haderech and your vote for the Knesset has ramifications as to what defines a Jewish state for the indefinite future. The balance of real and extraordinary fills the life of every oleh, who has the gift of comparison with life in Galut.
For many years I withheld final judgement about the next most popular question: “Is life better there?” I had always answered reservedly: “I can’t really opine about adult Israeli life. I have lived here during relatively peaceful years and don’t juggle the very full life of a working mom that most Israelis must.” After 10 years I will be brief—yes, I have a beautiful life here.
From nearly day one I knew that life for kids in Israel is great—in terms of values, education, independence and fun. The day-to-day life of children is unpressured, embraces the whole child and their interests and is full of friendships, sunshine and an ability to grow into unique, appreciated people. Formal education is definitely deficient and I see no improvement any time soon. I can’t believe I am saying this, because Bnei Akiva was quite a circus to adjust to, but seeing the empowerment and selflessness that the movement promotes, I can now accept the craziness and chaos that come with a basically teen-run program. The power of the 18-year-old “woman” that leads an entire community; the cooperation and camaraderie developed by the counselors; and the healthy, outdoor, tech-free fun that is provided for the kids are all things I never experienced and couldn’t have imagined for my family. I see happy children living a Jewish life in their homeland and growing into responsible good adults—what a pleasure to witness.
“How did you decide to move?” Our pilot year, which ironically was a gift of the 2009 recession, became a decision to stay already by November. Our second grader had started learning Breishit from the start in the Barkai method, in which they learn with the “teamim“ (cantillation notes) and quickly progressed through the parshiot. That singing alone was inspiring. When he got to Lech Lecha he made a picture to hang on the door, to welcome my husband back from a business trip. It said “Welcome back to Isreal (sic), to home of the Jews where Hashem directed Abraham” and then continued to quote the pesukim of Lech Lecha and draw pictures of Avraham and Lot on their way to the “land of milk and honey.” My husband and I, who were having a very tough adjustment, as most adults do, looked at one another and knew that we could never explain to our son that “the bureaucracy is just too hard for us to manage,” or “it’s hard to be immigrants away from family.” The religious promise of the Jews being brought back to our land was so simple for an 8-year-old to see and we embraced that simplicity as a reminder of our values and mission.
“Were you always a Zionist?” I was but it was only when I started raising my kids that I felt the push to connect to something bigger than ourselves. I saw us getting caught up in a nice life balanced with Torah, whose goals would be for our children to have the exact same nice life; that static type of walking on a treadmill felt incomplete. At the same time, I was also tough on myself and felt that in some way aliyah was ironically the easy way out, of adding meaning just by changing my address. After we moved here and the Jewish life calendar and practices became our new norm, Torah life as a Jew in America seemed weird and hard. My opportunity to live a joyful life guided by Torah and be part of creating the Jewish future in Israel is now perceived by me not as an easy way out, but as a gift and mission for me to elevate it further. Besides my strong conviction that the Jewish future lies here and that it is my role to be part of building it in numbers, I believe that the talents and values that we are working to contribute to Israeli society will improve it and serve as a fulfillment of God’s mission in gifting our nation its own land.
“What were the hardest parts of your move?” Leaving family when you know that your relationships are now a series of visits instead of stable parts of your life was very hard. But as I tell my children—I did it so they won’t have to separate from us or their siblings, please God. And Facetime helps too.
Starting a new life at age 35 was very hard, too—I had few people with whom I shared a past, no profession that was easily transferable and no family to rely on. The immigrant experience differs from that of my grandparents who came to a totally foreign culture out of necessity. But we are still immigrants—with lives and paths different from those of our children, which is and will continue to be a challenge for us all.
And education. I try to focus on the fact that the kids are really happy, they are appreciated for their whole being and not just their test grades and that perhaps knowing how to write is overrated. We supplement with private lessons and hope that the mantra “יהיה בסדר”will work for all of them.
Though it’s not Hawaii and is yet quite far from God’s vision of a promised land, it’s our land with our people, and has provided me with much satisfaction in my search for meaning and contribution. May it continue so, please God.
By Jordana Schoor
Jordana Schoor lives in Modiin with her husband and six children. Jordana writes and consults for non-profit organizations.