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(photo credit: Sasson Tiram)
Aurelie Botbol's grandfather grew up in Tunisia but dreamed of living in Israel after he retired. He did eventually make it to the Promised Land - but only in a coffin. He died soon after retirement and was buried in Lod.
"I don't want to go like him," said Botbol, 28. "I don't want to wait until it's too late."
By the look of her London home Tuesday afternoon - hours before she, her husband and their two young daughters were to board the first Nefesh B'Nefesh/Jewish Agency flight from the UK to Israel - there was little danger of that happening. Their cars had been sold, their belongings boxed and shipped, and the shelves of their rented house were bereft of all but the tell-tale signs of a move: tape, tissues and items to be given away.
Not so much as a set of dishes or food items remained, so Botbol's husband, Mikhael, had little choice but to gather Sarah Jane, four, and Shana, two, and head to the local kosher restaurant for dinner. The trip, though short, took a long time as Mikhael's energetic daughters kept his hands full, behavior partly attributable, he said, to anticipation of the journey and the excited preparatory activity at home.
Once there, the French-born Botbol slipped when he asked the waitress for an order of "fries."
"Chips," Sarah Jane corrected. Luckily for her, Israelis have Hebraicized the British term for french fries, referring to them as "cheeps." It is one adjustment she won't need to make in her new home.
Her father, though, was looking forward to some of the changes he expected would come with making aliya.
Watching his daughter munch on her deep-fried potatoes, he described British society as "straight and rigid," something he could do with less of. Since he and his wife are French, he said, "I think it will be easier for us than for others from England to go to Israel."
Mikhael's family also had roots in North Africa. Shortly before the Botbols' departure for Israel, his mother told Aurelie that when she and fellow Moroccan Jews talked about Israel and making aliya in years after the Six Day War, they had to use code words because of the dangers faced by the Jewish community.
In a sharp contrast, Aurelie said, "We're going proud. We're going with peace in our mind. And we can talk about Israel."
Mikhael said part of the reason they had decided to make aliya was to take advantage of an opportunity that hasn't always been available.
"As a Jew we always say, 'Next year in Jerusalem,' and 100 years ago it was very hard to go to Jerusalem," he said. "It would be stupid not to go there when it's so easy."
Technically, however, the trader and his family won't be headed to Jerusalem but to Herzliya Pituach, where they plan to buy a house near the beach. Still, they said, they feel they are taking part in history, especially by moving at a time when Israel has been under attack.
It's a move that their friends admire, they said, with many indicating they hope to follow the family's lead. The Botbols said the hardest thing about moving would be leaving the many friends and the strong Jewish community they had in London.
One family from that Jewish community was set to move into their former house, so the Botbols left the mezuzot on their doorways.
When the Botbol family arrived in Israel Wednesday morning, tired but excited by their new surroundings, they could think of nothing else left behind.
Anyway, Aurelie said, "Even if we forgot something, it's too late. Now it's time to build here."