Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Unbelievably, last Friday we celebrated the one-year anniversary of our Yom Aliyah (our arrival in Israel). I can still vividly recall the surreal feeling of stepping out of Ben Gurion Airport with my husband, children, and 15 overstuffed duffel bags. I could scarcely believe it was actually happening.

Just a couple of weeks before, we had gone out to a restaurant with my parents and in-laws, not knowing that we wouldn’t be seeing them again before we moved overseas. Just a week and a half before, we had celebrated Purim in shul with friends, not knowing that we would never be able to have our send-off kiddush. Just a week before, I was still in my office, churning out motions papers.

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Just days earlier, we were New Yorkers, living among family and friends, with schools and jobs to go to.

And then, all at once, everything changed. Stepping out of the airport, I clutched my family’s teudat oleh – the certificate that declared that we were now officially olim chadashim (new immigrants) in the State of Israel.

Piling into the sherut (van) that would take us to our new home, I felt both overwhelmed and excited. The words of Tehillim, perek 126, kept swirling in my head: “Shir Hama’alot, B’shuv Hashem et shivat tziyon hayinu k’chol’mim – When the Lord returned the captives of Zion, we were like people in a dream.”

After years of planning… after endless months of paperwork and delays… after the sudden threat of an international pandemic… Could we really be home?

One year later, the reality of it still hasn’t fully set in, but bit by bit we have been building our new lives here. We’ve been adopted by the most wonderful kehillah, which truly embraces the values of ahavat Yisrael with Torat Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael. We will always remember how they cared for us when we were stuck in bidud (quarantine) upon our arrival.

Enjoying lunch on our aliyah anniversary in the Old City.

My kids are happy in school with a chevra (group) of friends – Adi is already a star pupil and an excellent soccer player and Lani runs to gan daily and speaks with a better Israeli accent than I do.

My husband Tzvi has settled into working remotely, and the kids love being able to drop in to supervise his work. Though I have yet to find my “real job,” it has been such a blessing to spend so much time with my kids, something I was hard-pressed to do back in New York.

While we miss our family overseas desperately, we have found ways to stay connected, video-calling multiple times a day and sending (and receiving) a constant stream of pictures.

Even though our aliyah experience has not always been easy, I wake up each morning feeling grateful and blessed to be living the reality of day-to-day life in Israel rather than dreaming about it from afar.

On the anniversary of our Yom Aliyah, my family and I traveled to the Kotel. (It still boggles my mind that in less than an hour, we can drive from our home to the holiest place in the world.) There, we gave thanks that one year later we were still here in Israel – happy, healthy and safe. We also prayed for the happiness, health, and safety of our family and friends.

We hope to be able to welcome you all to our new home here soon.

* * * * *

Dear Readers,

When I was approached to write this column, I hardly believed that anyone beyond our immediate family would be interested in reading it. I have since received many e-mails from readers considering making the journey themselves with questions and messages from readers who appreciated the personal glimpse into the aliyah experience.

(Admittedly, there were also a few readers who thought I kvetched just a little too much and might discourage aliyah – certainly not my intention!) Friends and neighbors have helped our parents shep nachas from afar, letting them know that they too were following along our journey each week.

Although I may not know you personally, you have been my companions this past year and have given me such chizuk. When we hit the inevitable obstacles, I tried to step back and wonder what you all would think. This exercise helped me keep everything in perspective and focus on the humor in the situation.

Though we have not yet shed our olim chadashim identity, a lot of our “olim firsts” are behind us. While I certainly have not written my last entry into my “Aliyah Journal,” going forward, this column will not appear weekly. Have no fear, though. As we reach new milestones (like voting for the first time!), you will surely be hearing all about it.

Thank you for reading, and please stay in touch!

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Aviva Karoly made aliyah to Israel with her husband and two children on March 19, with Nefesh B’Nefesh, in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel, and JNF-USA. She can be reached at myaliyah2020@gmail.com.
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