April 18, 2024
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Zahava Stemp: ‘You Feel Everything So Deeply Here’

Zahava Stemp and family.

Zahava Stemp, 32, made aliyah in August 2022 from Fair Lawn to Ramat Beit Shemesh with her husband Danny and their children Aliza, Isaac, Raylie, Shai and Lielle. The Jewish Link recently spoke with Stemp regarding her aliyah and life in Israel.

Growing up, where did you go to school?

I grew up in Highland Park and went to the Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva (RPRY) in Edison, New Jersey and Bruriah in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Did you learn Zionism in your schools?

Everything at RPRY was Israel-centric. We were always talking about the chayalim and about visiting Israel. We talked about the Israeli Day Parade from the time one was over until the next one. The kids were always part of the preparation.

What shul did you daven at in Highland Park and then in Fair Lawn?

Our family shul was Ahavas Achim and my father liked davening at other shuls too. In Fair Lawn, we davened at Young Israel of Fair Lawn.

Did you get Zionism in your home?

My parents sent me to Moshava, where they shouted “Israel” from the rooftops. We also always went to Israel for January break because for many years my mother ran Israel missions from Highland Park. My parents were upset when I wanted to make aliyah, but I reminded them that they set me up for this. Now they are happy and proud, but initially it was hard for them because I am their only daughter.

How was the aliyah discussion in your adult home? Was it something you always talked about as a family?

I met my husband right after high school and we got married very young. Aliyah was always theoretical, but then life started happening — we got jobs, we had kids, and we bought a house. We figured we’d probably make aliyah when we were empty nesters. Then COVID happened. My husband is a lawyer and during COVID he worked from home. He realized that he could work from anywhere. It was that realization combined with the fact the kids were getting older that convinced us to start the aliyah process.

How did the kids react to aliyah and how are they doing now?

They were nervous and excited. My oldest was obviously most nervous. She had friends and after-school activities that were hard to leave. But they are all doing great, Baruch Hashem. I’m so proud of them for being able to sit in the classroom all day and try to understand everything in Hebrew that first year.

What school did they go to in New Jersey?

The two older ones went to RYNJ, where I taught, and the three younger ones went to Anshei Lubavitch.

What was your ultimate motivation for moving to Israel?

At the end of the day, this is our home. We believe in Mashiach and we wanted to get to Israel to greet him. We also didn’t want our kids to have to make the choice that we had to make. Leaving our families was really hard and we wanted to set those roots down here right now.

What are you doing professionally in Israel?

I was a teacher in America and I’m not working here yet. For these first couple of years, it feels good to be able to just take care of my people.

How has the war changed your life?

I’m grateful we were already here for a year before it started so we feel like it’s home. When Oct. 7 happened, I was scared and nervous and shaken, but I didn’t feel like I wanted to go back. We do listen for sirens, and it has taken a toll on all of us.

We’ve been very involved from that first week — my kids stocked shelves at the supermarkets, I’ve been cooking and baking for the army wives, and my husband did a barbecue at an army base.

What do you love about living in Israel?

You can’t not feel Yiddishkeit here. I love the fact that the whole country celebrates Shabbos, everyone’s making Pesach, everyone is buying things for Purim, and everyone is selling donuts for Chanukah. Being a Jew is the norm and you don’t stick out. You feel everything so deeply here.

Do you miss anything about living in New Jersey?

My family and friends and also conveniences like Amazon Prime.

Do you have any advice for anyone who’s considering making aliyah?

There will be bumps, but as long as you have a positive mindset and know you’re doing such good things for your family and your kids, the bumps will seem petty. I feel so good that my kids are here, I can’t explain it.

There are challenges and there are things that aren’t like America, but as long as we always remember that Israel is the ultimate good place, all the good will outweigh the bad.


Aviva Zacks is a writer living in Israel who loves speaking to olim and hearing their stories. If you know of an oleh/olah who is interested in being interviewed for The Jewish Link,email [email protected].

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