Shalom!! I hope by now you’ve had the chance to first read the “Welcome” post under “Home” and the “About” post as well. If not, grab a nice cup of tea or coffee and settle in. Go ahead. I’ll wait…
Now, I know many of you want to know the full story about why and how we are doing this wild and crazy thing. As you just read in the “about” page, living in Israel was a dream I had when I was quite young. During the years I was busy raising all my children, it went away completely – or so I thought.
My husband, 13 year old son, and I visited Israel for three weeks in August/September, 2011. It was love at first landing. As they say in Israel, “You had me at ‘Shalom!’” It was something John and I couldn’t shake. In Hebrew, moving to Israel is called making Aliyah – the right for a Jewish person to return to the Homeland. Every night we’d say the Hebrew grace which begins with Psalm 126: When G-d will return the captivity of Zion, we will be like dreamers. Whether reading prayers in synagogue or while at Mass with my husband, every reading seemed to be speaking to me, a Child of Israel, beckoning me to come home. There was no way I could express this in words at the time, but had to rely on G-d to somehow confirm this in John, which He did independently of me.
Last January, while planning out our “Texodus” – our immigration to Texas after retirement, John said I should also go check out Israel for an extended period. See the good, the bad, realistically. So I set out levad, alone, for five weeks. I had never gone anywhere all by myself, least of all traveled to another land. I immediately had an increased admiration and bond with my beautiful daughter, Elizabeth, who lived in France for a year. Being confronted with a new culture, language (the alphabet is completely different, being read from right to left – without vowels, YIKES!), and people was intimidating at first. After the 3rd day, renting a car – in Hebrew!!! by myself!!!! and getting directions in Hebrew!!!! I was totally empowered and ready to go. Traveling north from Haifa along the coast reminded me of California’s Pacific Coast Highway. Once I headed east into the country and surrounding mountains, something hit me like never before. I don’t know whether it was the beauty of the landscape (it was actually exactly like Southern California), the Hebrew music on the radio, or what. There was an instant connection, an overpowering joy mingled with tears. It WAS a dream, and G-d had put a song in my mouth as He said He would!!
I traveled the North for several days, and stayed with a friend of my California acupuncturist. Miri lives in the lower Golan Heights overlooking the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee. Every day, I visited anywhere from one to five towns, working with the wonderful, friendly, and informative staff of Nefesh B’Nefesh, whose job it is to settle new immigrants in the land. They would set me up with people who had immigrated from the States within the past three years. I could talk to them about their experiences and about the town I was visiting at the time.
After seeing Karmiel on day five, I knew this was the place. How strange: I filmed everything on my iPhone and just last night found a clip of myself narrating from Karmiel saying this would be my home a year from now. It almost gives me chills. Anyway, Karmiel is a city of about 50,000 nestled in the mountains overlooking a sliver of the Galilee (Kinneret)to the Southeast, and the peak of Mount Carmel to the Southwest. It has a large population of English speaking residents, and is very suburban – very neighborhood and family based, just like Thousand Oaks. It has a Civic Arts Plaza for music, theatre, films, and dance. There is a small university for engineering, a “Big Mall” – parks, libraries, lots of youth activities, and is close to the Israeli aerospace/defense industries (jobs for John). Centrally located. Relatively speaking, quiet and safe. Affordable….there would be a small Conservative synagogue within walking distance, and a church within a half hour’s bus ride. Trumpet lessons for Max, and lots of opportunity to play in ensembles – with two astronomy observatories. The perfect place for all our needs!
Passover and Holy Week was spent in Jerusalem, which was a spiritual high point in my life. Traveled to the South and stayed with my dear friend and Hebrew teacher, Eti and her family in Ashdod. Beautiful city, with lots of tall, white skyscrapers right on the Mediterranean. It was great, but not home. Traveled all over the country by train, by bus, by rental car. The whole time, I was passing out dugmot, the samples I had brought with me, of my fig and port conserves. I gave them to chefs and restaurant owners; cheese shops; wine tasting room owners – to jump start my new business. You see the plan is to sell my jams, jellies, pickles, relishes and sauces; to teach classes on home preserving, organic backyard gardening, and stretching the budget. And I got several very favorable responses.
I stayed with old friends we’d met three years ago, and new friends I made on my trip. Living with the people of the land really helped me get a feel for daily life. I was able to interview them in depth about the best and worst aspects of life in Israel. Another high point, and there were so many, was talking with Eti and Yossi one night. We had the most heartfelt conversation and it was Yossi who began asking me questions. We all realized this idea of moving to Israel was something I was destined for, something way bigger than any of us. It had come from a seed that G-d had planted deep within me. I traveled to more cities, towns, kibbutzim, villages, and spent the last week back in Karmi’el. The day I left, I felt as if something had been rent deep within me. I couldn’t stop crying. It had been the most perfect day – we’ll go together to many of these same places – and I knew I’d return.
Back in the States, we finished the application process I had begun before the trip. Working with Nefesh B’Nefesh, attending their Aliyah Fairs to find out about employment, insurance, education, immigrant rights and responsibilities, housing, was more than helpful. Every month we attended webinars. I had to produce all kinds of paperwork proving I was fully Jewish: parents and grandparents birth, wedding, death, and burial certificates; my birth certificate; Jewish naming certificate (for a boy the certificate from his Brit M’ilah, circumcision and naming); plus a letter from my rabbi saying I was in good standing with the congregation, and, in fact, Jewish. All signed, sealed, officially stamped, and delivered.
Then came the interview process – John and I went down to the Jewish Agency to state (rather informally) our intent to immigrate to the land; why did we want to do this; what plans we had once we were there; general information. It was a breeze. I had gotten all worked up about this nothing? We were emailed and called a second time to give more specific, detailed answers to rather pointed questions. Why would John, a Catholic, and engineer in the defense industry want to go to Israel? What about his security clearance? What exactly did he work on? Did he practice his faith? If so. how? Did I go to church with him? (Yes, we are a team, a family. We do things together.)
The third interview came a few weeks later with more questions – how did we raise our children? (To know, love, understand, and respect both faiths as one leads to another and draws from the other. To be a bridge of dialogue and understanding as stated in “Nostra Aetate,” the Catholic encyclical on Jewish-Catholic relations). What would our 16 year old son be doing? Exactly what were our plans? Did Max become a BarMitzvah? A bit more nerve-wracking, but I got through it. The last interview request came several weeks later. I was to come into the Jewish Agency – two days before my daughter’s wedding – our home was already on the market!!!! I decided to go it alone. This was the biggie. I had to completely explain my faith and answer as to exactly who I believed Yeshu (Jesus) was. Was he the promised Messiah? If I was Jewish, why was one of my daughters a Catholic nun? After answering as honestly as possible, I demanded to have an answer from the board of rabbis by the next week. We had put our lives on hold long enough. I guess all my answers were acceptable, because we got the go-ahead exactly a week later. Yaaaaaay!!! Through the entire process (5 months), John never lost faith that we’d get in. I didn’t want to get my hopes up just in case, plus I was struggling with whether this was something G-d had orchestrated, or whether it was all me? A good friend one day said, “Nu? Why can’t it be both??”
So – for some of the more “practical” reasons and answers: As part of the Aliyah Benefits & Immigrant Absorption Package, and by moving to the less-populated North, we get:
free airline tickets to Israel
duty/customs/tax free shipping of our belongings
3 suitcases & 5 carry-ons apiece
complimentary shuttle from airport to new place of residence
medical coverage, with dental and optical
an absorption basket with stipends towards six months rent, city municipal taxes, and utilities
a free college education for Max!!!
no income tax in Israel for the first several years
business connections/mentorship/ small low-interest small business loans
How can we pass this up???? Plus there are fewer regulations on small business start-ups here. It’s really high tech and business friendly. Only makes sense. Innovation and entrepreneurship is strongly encouraged and cultivated. The government wants its citizens to be successful.
What are our responsibilities?
We must attend Ulpan for the first five months It’s a Hebrew language intensive program five days a week, five hours a day )with 2-3 hours homework!). We’ll also go on field trips, study the history, culture and politics so we can be informed, productive citizens.
We will gain Israeli citizenship, plus we will be able to keep our American citizenship as well.
On the down side, everything price-wise is extremely expensive, and the sales tax is 18%. We will be about 20 miles from Lebanon and 35 miles from Syria. All of Israel’s surrounding neighbors and many other countries would love nothing more than to see Israel at the bottom of the Mediterranean. Many would love to see Israel divided into two separate states (West Bank, which is a HUGE swath of area, and Israel). This will leave Israel 7 miles wide in the middle of the country from the Western to Eastern borders. “They” also want Gaza; the strategic Golan Heights; and to divide Jerusalem – and have Tel Aviv the capitol. Oy!!!
Are we afraid? Not in the least. We are excited for the greatest adventures of our lives to begin. So come along!! What are you waiting for???