Photo Credit: The Samters

Bayla (Maza) and Yehuda Samter both grew up in Oceanside, N.Y., and both always valued aliyah, but as a young family they settled in North Woodmere in the Five Towns. For their 10th anniversary they went on a pilot trip, but ultimately decided they weren’t ready, due to financial concerns and because they were unsure if it was the best decision for their oldest son Moshe, who has special needs.

Seven years later, in March of 2016, Bayla was in the car listening to the news about the political upheaval related to the election and she found herself muttering under her breath, “We should really be in Israel.” Her son Avi, who was 14, overheard and responded, “So, why aren’t we going?” Bayla asked him if he would really be willing to move away from his friends and their family – all of whom lived nearby – and attend a new school in Hebrew. He responded, “If we can do it, we should.” For Bayla, his words were a subtle sign from G-d, which led her and Yehuda to reconsider. Moshe, who has developmental delays from multiple medical interventions, along with features of spectrum disorder, was stable but attending public school as there wasn’t a great Jewish school option for him. They were also now in a better financial situation to go than ever before.


They went on another pilot trip, spoke to Nefesh b’Nefesh and Yehuda asked for permission from his job to work remotely and commute, fortunately receiving approval. The Samter family arrived in their new home in Modiin with their five children aged 16, 15, 12, 8, and 5 that August.

“We felt it was an obligation that we speak about in our tefillot every day. We ask to be here and if we can make it work, we should be here. Children do well here. There was no good excuse to take the gift of Eretz Yisrael that Hashem has given us, and as frum Jews to not even try. We felt if our kids were on board, we needed to be the kind of parents who practice what they preach and not just talk about love for Eretz Yisrael but make it happen.”

It was hard to move away from family, but unexpectedly Yehuda’s sister and her family joined them a year later; Yehuda’s parents followed them a year after that; and Bayla’s parents now spend several months in Israel and are in the process of making aliyah. While they had been so concerned about what aliyah would be like for Moshe, they found that there were so many more services and opportunities for him in Israel. “He adjusted beautifully and had so many amazing teachers and providers,” says Bayla.

“Before we arrived, we spoke to a wonderful school placement specialist who helped us through the process to find him a kita tikshoret, which is a class for kids on the spectrum. After two years, the teacher felt that due to the language and other reasons, he wasn’t a great match for their bagrut program so she helped find him a school in Yerushalayim, whose focus was on life skill development and also helped him improve his Hebrew acquisition. Afterward, the school helped him transition to a post-high school program called Yad l’Yeled Mechuchad, which is an organization that offers support and skills to live independently as well as to find and manage work opportunities. He enrolled in Specials in Uniform which is a program that integrates kids with special needs into the Israeli Army as volunteers and Moshe loved being in madim (uniform).

“Currently, Moshe works at a factory in Ashdod, getting job skill training through this program. He lives in an apartment with five other boys like him. He’s happy and feels loved and cared for. They celebrate him, they take him on tiyulim, have multiple weekly activities, including dog training, horseback riding and karate. The boys make Shabbos together, including shopping and preparing the food with the support of a madrich. And when they have parties around the Jewish calendar, Moshe is the DJ. Everything is Jewish, the food is kosher, and as a child with special needs in a program, he is completely incorporated into Jewish and Israeli life. When he’s home, he’s integrated in our shul and neighborhood and serves as the gabbai; he feels so adored and valued here

“Two of my sons now serve in elite commando combat units. Avi, who was the impetus for our aliyah, is a commander in a counterterrorism unit and has been singled out for excellence; he has been in and out of Gaza since the beginning of the war. My third son just drafted into Duvdevan and there is a strong likelihood of his joining the war efforts in Gaza or Lebanon in the next six months and he has been training very hard. I wouldn’t call it a challenge, though. Sure, there is constant fear and worry, but my fear is tied to such an extreme pride and is something I wouldn’t give up for anything. I am so proud that my kids are fighting for our country. My kids were relatively older when they came and they had very little Hebrew. They succeeded in high school and attended wonderful post-high school yeshivot.

“My third son was the least on board about making aliyah when we came and watching him dancing in front of hundreds of people at our first Bnei Akiva “hofaah,” settling into the culture was very special. Watching the oldest kids in Bnei Akiva at their Daglanut ceremony, where they choreographed a dance with Israeli flags, filled me with so much pride. Spending Shabbat Chayei Sarah in Chevron at my son’s yeshiva and walking into the dining room to see the boys singing “Shomrim” with chayalim on their shoulders as they danced around the room was so emotional – knowing my son was singing for these soldiers but in a year or two he would be that chayal, fighting for this country that is ours. I never imagined in a million years that this would be me or my life, and I couldn’t believe we had made it happen. Both my boys’ tekes hashbaah (swearing in ceremony) at the Kotel was the greatest highlight of my life. We stood at the Kotel with thousands of chayalim, each with a gun in one hand and a Tanach in the other. The entire pluga shouted in unison and with pride, “Ani nishba” (“I swear”), and then sang HaTikva. Chills went down my spine to think this is our family, and our collective boys who are swearing their willingness to die defending our country. There has not been a prouder moment since we’ve been here.”

Bayla was told that Frum Faces of Aliyah was initiated (in part) as a response to a specific episode on the 18Forty podcast, as a way to highlight the many frum people who have moved to Israel and have made wonderful lives here. As it happens, Bayla wrote a letter to the 18Forty podcast in response to the same episode and this is an excerpt from the e-mail she sent:

“The list [of what makes us so proud to live here] is endless. But maybe it peaks when you give your son(s) or daughter(s) a beracha and wish them a Good Shabbos over the phone as they make their way into Gaza fighting for the survival of our people. The pride, the awe, the beauty and the privilege are feelings that begets expression and conversation. It does not boil down to whether we wear sandals or keep our shirts untucked, or whether or not we have weddings similar to the likes of those being made at Marina Del Ray. It boils down to the fact that we have babies being named after their father’s friends who have fallen in defense of this country. It relates to the resiliency of our youth and the pride of our people living in the land that G-d chose for us and begs us to inhabit. Regardless of whether there is a Costco within a 5-mile radius or same day Amazon Prime delivery. So many of us have, baruch Hashem, raised incredible, strong, happy, resilient, frum kids who thank us often for giving them the gift of being raised in this country, despite the pain, the hardships, the fears, the sirens, the losses, even, if not even more so, during war. We are so happy to be here.”

Her letter says it all. It was an absolute honor for us to share the Samter family’s story.

Follow @frumfacesofaliyah for other aliyah profiles.


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Ariela Davis is a passionate Jewish educator/writer and also served as a Rebbetzin before her aliyah in 2020. She is the Menahelet of Ulpanat Orly in Bet Shemesh.