July 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

When I first sat down to begin this second installment of my aliyah journey, I thought I would take the opportunity to talk about the ease with which Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) helped integrate me into the country. I thought I was going to discuss how incredibly advanced NBN has become in simplifying all the tasks that have plagued olim for years.

I thought I was going to discuss how upon my arrival, I was handed the first installment of my sal klita (literal: absorption basket; financial assistance paid by the Ministry of Absorption to olim to make life easier upon arrival), a free SIM card to help me get home and begin my integration, a free taxi ride for me and all my luggage directly from Ben Gurion to my apartment, an appointment scheduled for me by NBN for my first official meeting with the Ministry of Absorption, and my Teudat Oleh (a temporary ID card that is sufficient for new olim during their first few weeks in the country).

I thought I was going to discuss how lucky I was while opening my bank account. How I ended up finding the easiest branch to work with and the most helpful banker I have ever worked with. How my banker was patient, compassionate and considerate—stopping me in the middle of the street a day after opening my account to let me know that my credit card had arrived early, it was being held at his desk, and I was welcome to stop by the bank at my convenience to pick it up from him.

I thought I was going to express my gratitude to everyone who made this process so seamless: NBN, the banker, and the incredibly helpful employee I worked with at the Ministry of Interior who helped me secure my permanent ID. I thought I would discuss how unbelievable the chagim were here in Israel. Being zoche to spend Rosh Hashanah at the incredibly welcoming Yeshivat Lev HaTorah in Beit Shemesh, Yom Kippur with my community at OU-JLIC at IDC-Herzliyah, a beautiful Sukkot by Mispachat Cohen (Highland Park’s own, who made aliyah to Modiin), and an energetic and lively Simchat Torah back home in Herzliya, with endless singing, dancing and Torah all night long.

Then I arrived at shul Simchat Torah morning. October 7.

Apparently I am an incredibly deep sleeper, because I had slept through the sirens that had awoken the entire community earlier that morning. When I reached the main gates of our shul, I was quite confused by what I saw. As I approached, a friend darted towards me, on his way back to his apartment clearly in a rush, with an expression of fear and concern. “Chag Sameach,” he said, but kept on going without stopping. As I walked up the steps to the entrance, I saw most of the community standing outside, most on their phones, many armed, and everyone with a face of trepidation and concern. I walked up to a friend and asked what was going on and he just stared at me. “You didn’t hear?” he asked. Honestly, I answered, “No. What?” and he began to tell me what had happened. As I took in the stories that had been relayed to our chayalim about the music festival, IDF bases and kibbutzim in the south, I felt my heart sink in disbelief. I could not believe that such horrific things could possibly happen to innocent people just going about their days in the country I recently began to call home.

Over Simchat Torah and the next few days, I felt numb with shock. I recall sitting at lunch on Simchat Torah watching as friends, one by one, were called from the table to go to their bases to join the battle—stuffing a little more chicken and challah into their mouths as they swung their rifles around their shoulders and headed out the door. I felt helpless and hopeless. Those first few days were unforgettable in the worst way possible.

But then, I joined the rest of the country and slowly woke up. I am aware of the countless Israelis who went through a much worse time than I during those days, from chayalim to the friends and family of those kidnapped or killed, but as a new oleh, getting over the initial shock was something I had never experienced before. Being ready at a moment’s notice for rockets or terrorists was not something I was yet accustomed to.

A few days in, however, I began to feel the determination that others had adopted immediately. I rejoined society and realized that the country around me had been turned upside down: every person focused on helping our chayalim and country however they could. I joined the Chabad of Herzliya in their mission to package and deliver food, clothing and household appliances to displaced families from the south; I joined OU-JLIC at IDC-Herzliya in their pursuit of supplying, organizing and distributing needed gear and military equipment to chayalim all across the country.

What had once been a country in political disarray turned heart-stricken and damaged had become an unstoppable force of unity and drive. Everyone I spoke to had this energy about them, one that was both tangibly vigilant and full of resolve—angry, yet hopeful. The whole country had come together with the mantra of Am Yisrael Chai, no matter their differences.

Those first few days after Simchat Torah, I thought that when I continued this article, I was going to have to spend it talking about the war, the loss, the grieving and the pain. I cannot believe how little credit I gave to a country whose national anthem is “The Hope.” I thought so many things were going to pan out in a certain way, but the truth is you never know what tomorrow holds. Living here has been an intense adventure in just that.

Many people have been asking me if I regret my aliyah now that I am stuck in an active war zone, stricken with terror and pain, only 25 days after arriving. Honestly? There is no place I would rather be. I cannot imagine what it must be like in America watching from abroad, but I can tell you that being here, on the ground, as scary as it may be, I feel honored to be a part of this country, this People, doing my part, no matter how small.

Please keep praying for Israel. Please stay safe as antisemitism rises across the world.


Jason Blatt, a Rutgers University graduate and former RU-Hillel president, made aliyah shortly before Rosh Hashanah this year. He is now enrolled as a master’s student in the Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University.

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