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The Challenges and Triumphs of Student-Aliyah


Jewish Agency for Israel volunteers at an aliyah event

Jewish Agency for Israel volunteers at an aliyah event
Photo Credit: Gili Yaari/Flash 90

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Visit http://israelcampusbeat.org for the latest Israel trends and events on campus.

As college seniors approach graduation and questions about their “next step,” they are faced with the difficult reality of a tight job market and a slow economic recovery. These facts have prompted a small but significant number of students to explore the professional benefits, as well as the Zionist fulfillment, that might come from life in Israel; for some soon-to-be college graduates, campus Israel activism is giving way to a different kind of action: moving to Israel, or making aliyah.

For new college graduates, the decision to make aliyah can be complicated. It means leaving behind family, friends, budding careers and a life of comfort and familiarity.

Indiana University-Bloomington (IU) senior Avi Coven’s path mirrors that of many of his peers. “When I was applying to colleges,” he said, “I figured I would go to a good business school, get a good job in America and maybe retire in Israel.”

For others, aliyah has been a longstanding dream, and graduation brings an opportunity to make it come true.

“I knew I had to spend the rest of my life [in Israel],” noted IU junior Melody Mostow. “It might have been a rash, drastic decision, but I’ve stuck with it since I was 15.”

“After my first month [at school] I knew, I needed Israel in my life,” said George Washington University (GW) junior Emily Seckel.

What exactly is drawing students like Coven, Mostow, and Seckel to give up their predictably comfortable lives in the United States for an unknown future halfway around the world, separated from family and friends?

Long-term programs in Israel, strong Jewish upbringings and the desire to live out the dream of moving to the Jewish homeland are leading factors in students’ decisions to make aliyah.

Long-Term Programs in Israel

Programs like USY’s Nativ and Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim (TRY), Young Judaea’s Year Course, North American Federation of Temple Youth’s (NFTY) Gadna army training, study abroad in Israel, and the many MASA programs offer students the opportunity to experience life in Israel.

“I recommend programs [like those of MASA and a semester abroad] to students who want to make aliyah” said GW’s Israel fellow, Noam Aricha.

Israel fellows like Aricha have been stationed across the country at different universities and, among their many roles, they provide students with a wealth of knowledge about how to proceed with aliyah plans.

“I try to represent to the students how life really is in Israel,” Aricha said. “I can connect with them and work with them through what can be a challenging process; I’m here to help, and I’m here to be their friend.”

Coven and Mostow met each other during their gap year before college on United Synagogue Youth’s (USY) Nativ program. The two started dating on the program and plan to make aliyah together after graduating from IU.

“Israel became part of my daily life. It made me tick,” said Mostow, commenting on her semester in Israel on TRY. “I’ve gotten back to Israel for pretty much free, almost every year since 2006.”

During his time at IU, Coven has been involved in Hillel as well as the university’s Aish HaTorah chapter. His focuses as a student leader gravitate toward religious programming on campus.

When Mostow started at IU, she knew she would be involved in Israel activism. She quickly became involved in the university’s AIPAC contingency, IIPAC, and worked in AIPAC’s Chicago office during the summer of 2011. Mostow is currently IIPAC’s vice president, and will take over the group in fall 2012. IIPAC focuses on supporting Israel through politics, lobbying Congress, and engaging and educating student leaders about Israel.

“This is a cause I truly believe in,” said Mostow. “I find it to be the best way to advance Israel’s cause while still on an American campus.”

For Seckel, it was her deep involvement in Young Judaea that really started her role as an Israel advocate.

“I had always grown up with a strong appreciation of Zionism and of Judaism,” noted Seckel. “I decided to take the initiative and become an advocate [for Israel] on campus; Israel is not a war zone, and it’s important to teach people that it’s a real place and it’s more than just the conflict.” She currently serves as the president of GW’s pro-Israel group, Student Alliance For Israel (SAFI).

Financial Stability — and the Dream

While the economic downturn continues to plague college graduates in the U.S., Israel’s job market has been booming and unemployment is at record-low rates. Nevertheless, financial successful is more difficult to achieve in Israel than in the United States.

In a new job market, with a new language and skills marketable for a different country, being financially independent and stable is no simple task. “In Chicago, I know exactly what I need to do to succeed and I have no clue how to do it in Israel,” Coven acknowledged.

“We both have strong career aspirations and are real planners,” Mostow said. “We just need to get hired from the connections we already have there.”

Organizations like Nefesh B’Nefesh provide olim with a multitude of networks, connecting them to employers across the country. For many, making aliyah is about fulfilling a dream.

“It’s all emotional, [the decision to make Aliyah],” said Seckel. “When I’m there, I’m just so happy; it’s overwhelming.”

“Israel is still establishing itself in so many ways, and I feel a strong responsibility as a Jew to be a part of that process,” said Mostow.

Family and Friends

Students who are planning aliyah say the most difficult part of the decision is leaving family and friends behind. “Having the parents’ support, working with them and keeping them involved will make the process much better for everyone,” Aricha said.

“It’s very much a new thing for them,” said Coven. “They are sad that I’ll be far away, that they won’t see me as much, and that they won’t see their grandchildren very much.

“I know that deep down they will be proud of me no matter what,” he continued. “Once I can show them that I can succeed and make a good life for myself, I know they will be proud.”

Aricha, who works closely with campus advocates for Israel and tries to help those who are considering aliyah, stressed that making aliyah is a very personal decision, and not a simple one. “I admire the students that even think about making aliyah,” he said. “It’s a very hard and serious decision and even considering it is a very impressive thing.”

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