June 13, 2024
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Aleeza Barrera: Raising Her Children in the Holy Land

Aleeza Barerra, 35, made Israel her home after several events pointed her in the direction of aliyah. She lives in Efrat with her 6-year-old daughter, Yakira, and 4-year-old son, Joey.

Aviva: When was your first trip to Israel?

Aleeza: I first came to Israel when I was 17 for my gap year. I was on my way to Midreshet HaRova, and I remember feeling so excited that I was finally going to see Israel that I was looking out the window the whole flight.

Then I went to the Kotel for the first time, and it felt like an out-of-body experience. I was there, looking at the actual miracle of the Kotel, in Eretz Yisrael; I was there physically, yet it felt so unreal to me. How lucky I was to be standing there, where so many lost their lives yearning to be where I was.

Aviva: How long did you stay in Israel?

Aleeza: I studied for one year of Midreshet HaRova, and then I did a year of Sherut Leumi. At that point, I really was considering just staying and making aliyah, but I didn’t stay in the end.

Aviva: What motivated you to make aliyah?

Aleeza: I always wanted to live in Israel. I came from a Zionistic family, a Zionistic shul (Young Israel of Passaic-Clifton) and Zionistic schools (Hillel Academy, now called YBH Passaic; and Bruriah High School). I was always taught that Israel is the place to be, and I always wondered why so many people were not simply living there. Once I experienced being in Israel, I actually felt being part of Am Israel—part of a nation that I am so proud to be part of. For me, it wasn’t something I felt nearly as strongly in New Jersey.

It’s definitely not an easy decision, and some people do feel it outside of Israel, where there are great community leaders and activists. I just wanted to feel more connected, so I decided to make aliyah.

Aviva: How long did it take you to make your dream a reality?

Aleeza: After Sherut Leumi, I ended up going back to New Jersey, going to school there, getting married, having two children, and getting divorced. Right after the divorce, I realized that this was my opportunity. The application process was not so bad, thanks to Nefesh b’Nefesh. They walked me through all the paperwork, and the community also really helped me get everything in order that I could have needed in order to make my aliyah as smooth as possible.

Rabbi Donath in Fair Lawn and my aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends—everybody wanted me to make it. They knew that it was so important. I had a wonderful support system helping me in America as well as my amazing sister here in Israel.

Aviva: How did your kids feel about the move?

Aleeza: I had to get them to buy into the idea of moving to Israel. They each find it challenging, but they are happy, they’re making friends, they’re starting to pick up on the language, and they’re really proud of themselves when they say something in Hebrew. I asked my daughter if she wanted to say anything in this interview, and she said, “I’m so happy we live in Israel. I want to live here forever.” Even though there are definitely challenging moments for the kids, having moved across the world and all, their daily smiles and sincere curiosity and joy make it all worth it.

Aviva: What do you do professionally and where do you live?

Aleeza: I live in Efrat, which is a great place for olim because there’s a lot of English speakers. And everyone I meet is super friendly and genuinely nice. All the neighbors are amazingly helpful.

I’m an occupational therapist, and since May, I have been working in a mixed Arab and Jewish school for children with special needs. I’m making friends, and everybody is really warm and welcoming.

Aviva: What do you miss about living in New Jersey?

Aleeza: Amazon two-day delivery and Lawry’s seasoned salts.

Aviva: What message do you have for people reading this interview?

Aleeza: You only have one life to live. Whatever you want out of it, now is the time to work towards making that happen. You can’t go back in time. Waiting idly is not worth it. My mother passed away suddenly four years ago, and then coronavirus came, and the world shut down.

My realization was that time is not ongoing—so, one step at a time, do things to make your dreams come true, and to live the way that you want. Everybody has a finish date, unfortunately. We need to use these 120 years in the best capacity that we can, to live our best life, to leave a legacy, and to be proud of our accomplishments and how far we’ve come.


Aviva Zacks writes articles and interviews interesting people. She owns Writehook, a content writing company, with her husband, Arye. They have been living in Modiin for 15 years and have three children and two grandchildren.

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