Leila Deluty, 21, made aliyah from Englewood on September 6 to Herzliya. Leila, 5 feet, 10 inches tall, wears No. 11 for Ramat Hasharon’s professional basketball team.
Where did you go to shul in Englewood?
I grew up davening at Congregation Ahavat Torah, but Kiddush Club was always at the Markoviches.
What schools did you go to?
I went to Moriah for elementary and Frisch for high school and to Bar Ilan Israel XP afterwards.
Before going to Bar Ilan, did you take any significant trips to Israel?
I went on Camp Koby’s summer program when I was 16; we went to my brother’s army ceremony when he was a lone soldier; and we also came a lot to visit my older sister, who lives in Tel Aviv. Each time, I never really wanted to leave.
Did you go to a Zionistic camp in the U.S.?
I went to Moshava IO, which was very Zionistic.
Tell me about your Zionist education at school.
From both Moriah and Frisch, I got a great Jewish and Hebrew education. I am fortunate that my Hebrew is great. I got a good education about Israel and Israel advocacy from both schools, which was the foundation of how I ended up here.
You have a brother who served in the IDF, and a sister who made aliyah, so I assume there was some kind of Zionist messaging going on in your house when you were growing up.
My parents are very Zionistic. They sent us to Moshava and went to the Celebrate Israel Parade every year.
How did your siblings influence your aliyah decision?
Once my brother enlisted and my sister made aliyah, there was really no question about it for me. My siblings were a huge influence on me coming here.
How did you decide to make aliyah right now at this point in your life?
I got a scholarship to an honors college at Baruch in New York, offering free tuition and allowing me to play college basketball.
As the weeks went on, I had this gut feeling that I needed to be in Israel. Then college basketball made things difficult about not playing on Shabbat, so I decided to follow my gut and try to play basketball in Israel. I registered for IDC in Herzliya and sold myself to an agent in Israel by saying, “I want to play basketball for Israel and be in the Olympics. That’s my goal.”
The following summer, I came and worked at Tamir Goodman’s basketball camp. Someone saw me practicing and I won a spot on Ramat Hasharon’s top-division professional team.
It’s hard practicing during the day, playing two games a week, and flying to Europe for EuroCup tournaments all while being a student, but it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I stand on the court and think, “I’m playing professional basketball for Israel.”
I’m so grateful to play on a professional team with WNBA and Israeli national team players and to work with some of the best coaches.
What do you love about the experience of living in Israel?
No matter where you go, somebody always has your back. One day this summer, I had just finished basketball practice, and I was hungry and tired and cranky. I went to a falafel shop in Tel Aviv, and I tried to buy a falafel but realized they only take cash. I burst out crying because I only had a credit card on me, and a random stranger came over, gave me a hug, handed me 50 shekels and just walked away. I thought to myself, “This is why I live in Israel.”
Do you miss anything about living in New Jersey?
I miss my friends and my family and Englewood so much. I miss Target and CVS, and I miss having things easy. Despite missing all of these things, I’m happy to be here. I wouldn’t trade it.
Do you have a message for anyone young who is thinking about making aliyah?
It sounds cliché, but if you feel it, get on the plane, and try it out. Take the leap. I’m very happy I did.
By Aviva Zacks