Eli Craimer, 17, made aliyah from Riverdale in the summer of 2018 when he was 14. He came with his parents, Ruthie and Shim, his older brother Uri, his twin brother Ben and his younger sister Mia. He credits his success to the fact that his family settled in Modi’in, a city with a strong network of English-speaking teen olim. He misses his friends back in Riverdale, but can’t imagine living anywhere besides Israel.
Aviva: How did you find out you were making aliyah?
Eli: My parents decided it was the right time because, for the first time in a long time, my mom’s entire family was all in the same country. We had never actually lived near our grandparents or aunts and uncles because we lived in America while they lived in England or Israel.
How did you feel about the decision?
We all said, “There’s no way.” America was my home. We lived there our entire lives. So why would we want to leave our lives and go to a place where we would have to restart everything? I was especially upset because Ben and I were going into eighth grade, which was our last year at SAR Academy. We were going to miss the best year and graduation.We ended up being invited back to graduate with our class.
How do you feel about it now?
I would never want to live in America now that I’ve lived here.
How did it go for you at the beginning?
For the first month, we lived at my aunt and uncle’s house, so it felt like a vacation, but then we started school. The first year was hard because I didn’t know Hebrew, but the school gave olim ulpan and a lot of other help. We had friends from New York who had also made aliyah, so we weren’t alone in school. I’m a very shy kid, and I didn’t want to go out and meet new people, but the second Shabbat we were in Israel, I went out to where kids my age were hanging out and said, “Hey, I’m Eli.” The following week, I had a cold, so I didn’t go out. Ben did go out and they thought he was me. Eventually, they worked it all out. We formed this amazing group of friends that I would never want to change. I feel close to all of them.
What do you love most about living in Israel?
The freedom. In America, my parents would never let me go on a train or a public bus alone, but I feel so free here. I’m able to go wherever I want because my parents feel safe. It gives me so much more space to grow as a person and become more responsible.
What do you to do in your free time?
I mentor a new oleh in seventh grade for two hours a week. I know what he’s feeling because I went through the same thing. I really like music and sports. I taught myself piano and I work on that, and I joined the football team. I also play soccer with my friends from school about twice a week. And of course, Sunday nights is NFL football. I’m never bored.
How is your school life different here than in America?
In America, my entire life was school. We always had schoolwork, and when we got home, we didn’t leave again until the next morning. We were either studying for a test or doing homework. Our social life revolved around school. For sports, we were either on a school team or we weren’t on any team. In America, everything revolves around school. Here, they give us work, but we are able to do it and then still have enough time to have a life.
Is there anything that you miss about living in New York?
I was born into our shul. My dad was the chazan of the shul, and I do miss singing with him every Shabbat. I also miss the cold weather.
Do you have a message for kids who are making aliyah?
Kids are often scared to make aliyah, and they think their parents are ruining their lives. It won’t ruin your life. I think it will change your life for the better and you’ll grow as a person.