Our aliyah story is not typical. We weren’t planning on this for many years. We didn’t have a five, three or even a one-year plan. It was more like a three-month plan. We woke up one day last January with this crazy idea of aliyah and our journey began with exploration and a pilot trip at the end of March.
Ever since that fateful decision to explore and then actually decide to make aliyah, things have been crystal clear and everything fell into place. Hashem has been right here with a guiding hand helping us, and for this we are truly blessed.
Probably the biggest question we faced among other big questions like parnasa and where to live was what to do about our teens. Everyone is eager to tell you how dangerous and challenging it is to move to Israel with teens, like it’s not something we were aware of. I call those naysayers modern day miraglim (spies). Thanks to Yerushalayim Torah Academy (YTA) there are options now.
YTA is a yeshiva high school for English speakers located in Yerushalayim. It is designed especially for the oleh, and offers a new and innovative program that has become the model for the Ministry of Education. There are separate boys and girls campuses.
There are differing opinions on how long a pilot trip should be. For us, we arrived Monday and left on Motzei Shabbat. It was a whirlwind trip.
We took our two oldest, Zev and Azriel, as we wanted “buy-in” on this aliyah decision from them. The trip was a huge success and we didn’t stop moving. We had meetings at different schools, YTA included. We spent an amazing Shabbat in the community of Ramat Shilo in Ramat Beit Shemesh.
One story I can tell you that happened on our trip depicts what this journey has been like: a message from above that was subtle but impactful at the time.
As we were walking down to the Kotel, Renee happened to notice a man, and said that she thought he was the actor Tim Allen. I quickly looked up “Tim Allen” and what movies he’s in (“Home Improvement” and voice of Buzz in “Toy Story”). We ended up getting closer to him, and at some point I blurted out “Tim?” and he responded, “Yes.” We ended up taking a picture with him and then made our way down to the Kotel. Our oldest son Zev, enamored by this encounter with greatness, asked Renee “Isn’t that cool that we saw a famous actor?” Renee responded nonchalantly, “It’s cool, but he’s just a regular guy. His talent just happens to be in the public eye. He’s not better than you or me.”
Later on, after visiting the Kotel, we were walking up the stairs to leave. A friend of ours who works at Aish HaTorah happened to be looking down and spotted us as we were walking. She took us inside and up to the roof overlooking the Kotel. It was a moving sight. On the way out, one of the Aish rabbis happened to be available and offered us a tour of the “prayer room.” We were taken into a soundproof room with nature sounds and birds chirping. He spoke to us about how God is like a father who wants our prayers and wants us to reach out to Him. He then mentioned how he brings very successful actors, actresses and business men into this same room, and they, too, are moved. The message was that they, too, are regular people, just as Renee had mentioned to Zev not more than an hour before. At the end of the talk we had the opportunity to write a note to put in the Kotel. In the stillness of the room, I wrote a simple prayer and folded up the note and put it in my pocket.
During the trip, we met an incredible mechanech, Rabbi Borstein. One quality that stood out in Rabbi Borstein was his warmth. He spent time with us and learned about the boys, and we learned about YTA. The kids got a chance to talk to some of the students, and were happy to learn the kids were just like them—chill, as they say. We all left YTA feeling relief, hope and excitement.
All the pieces seemed to be falling into place: It was really going to happen.
Fast forward to back in the States. As we were going through our things and packing, I found a folded slip of paper in one of my pockets. It said, “Hashem, please give us clarity on our aliyah decision.”
One final note. I was back in the States recently, and was surprised to find that I hadn’t missed it. Yeah, I stopped at Starbucks and went to Trader Joe’s for Renee, but I was so happy to land back in Ben Gurion. I was home. Israel is now our home. While I was away I saw this amazing photo that Zev shared that brought tears to my eyes. It was a picture of the YTA seniors on a tiyul. It is such a beautiful picture to me: Zev is smiling with his friends. He’s one of the guys. This midah of warmth and inclusiveness is reflective of their time here at YTA and the connections they’ve made with their wonderful rebbeim and teachers. We are very blessed to have found YTA for our children.
By Ron Tovbin