April 18, 2024
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‘The National Jewish Dream’—New Jersey Families Make Aliyah

Teaneck—Jewish life is, for many, centered around Israel. We pray facing Jerusalem, we donate money to Israeli causes, and our ears perk up every time we hear “Israel” on the news. That being said, not everyone has the courage to pack up and move to the Holy Land.

Nefesh B’Nefesh, a nonprofit organization that assists those wishing to make aliyah, chartered a flight this July with many New Jersey families on board.

“I think my desire to make aliyah was motivated by the collective national dream of the Jewish people that I felt since I went to Israel for the first time,” said Rabbi Mordechai Gershon, in an interview with the Jewish Link. “The future of the Jewish people is in Israel and I want to be part of that vibrant future.” Rabbi Gershon, 30, has been an assistant rabbi at Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood for the past five years and will be making aliyah this summer with his wife and three young children. He has also been director of the shul’s Benaroya Sephardic Center.

Gershon went on a pilot trip to Israel last year to explore different community options and finally settled on Ramat Beit Shemesh, a large Anglo city where the family has several friends. Gershon said he chose the community because he was struck by the tremendous amount of achdus (unity) people of various hashkafos (Jewish outlook) had with each other. “Ramat Beit Shemesh is a thriving community with a strong Torah presence—it is vibrant in every sense of the word.”

He discussed that the major challenge of aliyah was moving away from friends and family in New Jersey. “After being a community rabbi for five years, you develop strong relationships. It is hard to break away from a community that you’ve given so much to.” In terms of family, “it’s hard to go from seeing them frequently to keeping in touch by Facetime and Skype.”

Despite the difficulties, the rabbi said he is looking forward to making this momentous life step. “In Israel, I feel that you are just more in touch with reality and have a stronger connection with am Yisroel.”

Avi Turkel, 38, and his wife, Esther, 40, will be making this momentous step with their five children. Married for 13 years, Turkel said that this is something he has always wanted to do. “I strongly believe that Israel is where we all belong—it’s the Jewish homeland,” Turkel told the Jewish Link. “I think living there is a bit more of a challenge than what we have here, but I feel strongly about having a goal and working hard to accomplish it.”

“This is something that I’ve been thinking about for 20 years,” commented Turkel. “Now that my family is at this point, I’m nervous but excited. “

“We will be moving to Ramat Beit Shemesh, along with the rest of the Americans,” he joked. When he looked at different communities, he saw the real benefits of moving to a more Anglo community. “For us, and especially for the kids, it’ll be a softer landing to be around other Anglos. Even if there’s culture shock, at least socially they’ll have the opportunity to be able to talk to people who speak their language.”

Although they don’t know “too many people,” Turkel added, “people seem very nice there and we’re hoping we’ll make friends.”

Turkel said that his friends and family had mixed reactions to their move but overall it was very positive. “Some friends told me, ‘Figures—if it was going to be any of us, it’d be you.’”

Joshua Goldstein and his wife, Tova, will also be on a July charter flight. They, like the Gershon and Turkel families, will be moving to Ramat Beit Shemesh. “When my wife and I first started discussing it five years ago, we thought about raising our kids in the Jewish homeland and in a more family-oriented Israeli culture,” Joshua Goldstein told the Jewish Link. Now, five years later, they are making that dream a reality. For his friends and family back home, Goldstein said that it is “definitely bittersweet.”

All together, 32 families and 53 singles from 14 states, the District of Columbia and four provinces across the US and Canada departed for Israel on Monday, July 13. The flight was organized in collaboration with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and JNF-USA.

A departure ceremony took place the morning of the flight at JFK Airport. Notable guests at the JFK ceremony included Israel’s Minister for Senior Citizens, MK Gila Gamliel; The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Director of Absorption Programs, Orly Zuckerman; KKL-JNF Vice Chairman, Menachem Leibovic and Nefesh B’Nefesh Co-Founders, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and Tony Gelbart.

By Bracha Leah Palatnik

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