I made aliyah going into 11th grade from Teaneck to Ma’ale Adumim at what people like to call “the impossible age,” 16 years old. I am currently doing Sheirut Leumi as a madricha in an Ulpana (girls’ high school) in Beit Shemesh, helping Olot Chadashot. I believe that although making aliyah is very challenging, it’s worth it.
Eretz Yisrael is a pretty remarkable land. It’s one of the world’s smallest countries, and is arguably the most controversial place in the world. In it live two complete enemies side by side. Life here is hard, especially if you make aliyah in high school. There is something about the disparity of this land that makes living here worthwhile.
I was born and raised in Teaneck. Ever since the day I was born my parents have instilled within me Torah values. Eretz Yisrael, Medinat Yisrael and Am Yisrael were always top priorities in my family. I wore blue and white every Yom Ha’atzmaut, sang Hatikvah proudly and prayed for Israel every single day.
My experiences in America were very positive. I was quite fond of my high school, a rare occurrence for teenagers. I had the best of friends, and received enormous support from all who surrounded me. My life in America was flourishing and I was one of the few teenagers in the world who was actually satisfied with her life. Everyone who crossed my way knew about my lifelong dream of living in Israel and my plan to make aliyah right after high school. Every time Israel was mentioned I had something to say. I was the “Israel girl,” always in the loop about the latest politics, news and achievements happening in our home away from home, 6,000 miles away.
One cold mid-March night I was informed that my dream would come true sooner than I had expected. My family and I were to be making aliyah on July 11, 2011. My initial reaction was confusion. On the one hand, how was I expected to just pick up and leave in the middle of high school? I was looking forward to enjoying the rest of high school in America and graduating as a senior. I wanted to be able to say that I survived the notorious 11th grade and the SATs. I wanted to stay with my grade and my friends, whom I grew with, and with whom I became so close. How would I separate from my friends, history, support? How would I pick up and leave behind 16 years of my life?
On the other hand, aliyah had been my goal in life. Israel was the place I belonged. It’s the place my heart had been longing to be. It’s where I needed to be. No land can compare to Israel. The cloudless blue sky gives off peaceful vibes in the middle of war. The breathtaking views of the mountains look like painted scenery in a Hollywood movie. The water reflects off the blue sky, and the grass, swayed by the light breeze, is a forest green. Along the streets are houses built of beautiful Jerusalem stone, and an aroma of falafel and shwarma fills the air. Sounds of “shalom” and “chabibi” are heard throughout the streets, as each Jew treats all others like his own brother, and makes him feel at home. It was exciting that I was finally returning to the place my forefathers lived, and the place that God is always watching.
Up until aliyah, I went through many different emotions. At times I was excited and at times I was upset. Packing up my room brought back so many memories from childhood. How would I leave all of these memories behind when they were such an important part of me? After a goodbye party filled with tears, I parted with the most important part of a teenager’s life—my friends. Saying goodbye to America was the hardest thing I had to do in my whole life.
Soon, my family and I boarded a Nefesh B’nefesh flight to come back home and accomplish what our ancestors have been striving to achieve for 2,000 years. We returned as proud Jews, ready to serve our God where He’s meant to be served. It was the happiest moment of my life.
Well, after all of the celebrations, real life kicked in. I started 11th grade in an Israeli high school, and I had countless bagrut exams that I needed to take. It was a huge culture shock. I missed my life in America. I missed my friends. I missed my school. I spent many nights crying, asking God to make my aliyah go smoothly and to help me fit into the culture. My aliyah experience has been far more challenging than I ever expected it to be. But after all of the hardships, frustrations and difficulties that I’ve gone through, I still don’t want to leave. Why, you may ask?
Israel is the size of New Jersey, and most of it is desert. So why do so many nations want it? The fact that the world is so focused on this minuscule piece of land must mean that there’s something special about it. God created Eretz Yisrael with many huge mountains. There’s almost no flat land in the country. Some people are not fond of the fact that Israel is so bumpy. All of the mountains and hills hurt their feet. But me? I think it’s perfect. Living in Eretz Yisrael is anything but easy. By living in Eretz Yisrael you need to be willing to give up the simple, flat life and gear up for some crazy hikes—steep ones, at that. Some get scared just by the thought. They stay in their flatter lives and back away from the hike. But here’s what they miss: the intense thrill and tingling sensation that spreads throughout every pore in the hiker’s body when he finally gets to the top and takes a look at what surrounds him. When the hiker finally gets to the peak of the mountain and looks around, he will see all of the other mountains that surround him coming together to create the most awe-inspiring scenery man has ever witnessed. He will realize that his mountain doesn’t just stand alone; it’s part of a greater, more beautiful whole. Of course when the hiker finishes taking in the magnificent view, another treacherous hike awaits him. But that climactic moment on the mountain top, surrounded by all of the other slopes and uneven land, gives him a burst of confidence and sense of pride. It reminds him why he even began hiking in the first place, and gives him a dose of strength to last him throughout the next climb, knowing that somewhere through all the sweat and pain he is about to engage all of his energy in, another worthwhile moment will appear again soon.
To live in Eretz Yisrael is to engage in the biggest, toughest hike out there. It’s to push through and keep going, even when you feel like there is no possible way that you can take one more step without fainting. It’s to try and find a little window of hope through the fog, knowing that sometime soon you will reach a peak, when your whole hiking experience will become 1,000 times more meaningful.
Two of the most meaningful experiences that I went through since making aliyah were going to the Kotel on Pesach, and being in Yerushalayim on Yom Yerushalayim.
On Pesach there were 70,000 people at the Kotel for birkat kohanim, the priestly blessing that the kohanim bless all of the Jews with on Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. As one of the 70,000 Jews present on that hot, sunny day, I managed to slide through the crowd, and I found myself at the Wall itself. I learned a whole lot over the course of my journey from the Kotel plaza to the piece of stone that I poured out my heart to. During my 10-minute voyage to the Kotel (which normally takes less than 40 seconds), I was stepped on at least five times, elbowed in every part of my body, and pushed around. When the kohanim recited their blessing I was squished between two old ladies, and my foot was throbbing because someone was stepping on it. But I was able to hear a pin drop. No Jew who was present dared to mutter even one word, for fear of missing even one letter of the Kohanim’s blessing. I was immersed in Klal Yisrael.
On Yom Yerushalayim I danced through the streets of Yerushalayim singing “Am Yisrael Chai” while waving Israeli Flags. I walked with hundreds of thousands of Jews to the Kotel that night, and got stuck in a human traffic jam. I arrived at the Kotel, propelled by the force of the pushing from my fellow Jews surrounding me (as if that would have gotten us there faster). But as I was being shoved every way possible with everyone screaming at each other to move when there was nowhere to move (there was barely any room to breathe), we all started singing the song “Yachad” (“Together”). Thousands of Jews were singing all together, as one people. Once again, I was immersed in Klal Yisrael.
Why were these my two most meaningful experiences so far? It’s because I reached a climactic peak of my hike, where I witnessed so many mountains joining together to paint the most breathtaking picture I’ve ever seen. Individually, every single Jew present was his or her own steep mountain. But when my steep mountain joined another steep mountain, followed by another steep mountain, and so on, it reminded me why I even set out on this hike in the first place. It reminded me that by living in Eretz Yisrael I am part of something greater than myself. It reminded me that while I may need to make many, many sacrifices, it’s all part of one unique gorgeous picture called the Jewish nation. That’s what living it Eretz Yisrael is about. We didn’t move here for the easy life. Nobody lives here for that. There’s just something about those few brief moments that makes me never want to leave.
I moved to Israel at a very difficult age. Trust me; settling into a new house, moving into a new community, going to a new school, and adjusting to a new culture whose language I was not fluent in, all in high school, had (and at times still has) its challenges. But as hard as it was to make this transition, at certain times I was (and still am) reminded that I am fulfilling my dream. I have been reunited with my home, my family, my history. As crazy as I am for moving away from my spacious American home into a small apartment with absolutely no storage area, I know that it’s worth it. By living in Israel, you need to make sacrifices. That’s okay, because the Jewish nation needs to make sacrifices for each other. Despite all of the twigs, rocks and thorns that I have tripped over and will continue to trip over, I am proud to be called an “Israeli.” I have the privilege to fulfill one of the most beautiful mitzvot in the Torah, which our rabbis say is equivalent to all of the other mitzvot. I feel a sense of pride that I am finally reconnected to my stunning home and semi-dysfunctional yet united nation, and I am ready to continue climbing. Who’s willing to join me?
By Gavriella Berger