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(photo credit: Yocheved Miriam Russo)
Remember that old saw, "It takes three tries to get aliya right?" Jeff and Jane Bouchard, here a year from Manchester, England, seem to have put that one to rest. They've mastered it in two.
When the Bouchard family first tried to make aliya in 1979, their circumstances were very different.
"We had three young children," says Jane. "We weren't prepared - not for finding work, schools or for dealing with Israeli culture and all that entails. We loved Israel, but we had to return to England. It was a very difficult decision."
"We couldn't make it work economically," adds Jeff. "We lasted 15 months, that's it." Returning to England wasn't easy, either.
"We'd sold everything to go to Israel," Jane says. "And then, we got rid of everything we'd had in Israel. Back in England, we started over. We moved in with my parents in Blackpool for nine or 10 months. That radical switch in environments was very hard on the children - in Blackpool, not only were they in public schools, but they were just about the only Jewish kids."
"Finding a job in England wasn't easy, either," Jeff says. "I'd been in the hotel business, but every place I turned in my resume, they'd ask what I'd been doing for the last 15 months. I'd say, 'I've been in Israel.' Then they'd ask, 'What were you doing there?' It was hard to explain."
The family finally settled in a Jewish section of Manchester, where the children - Daniel, Sarah and David, then eight, six and four years of age - grew up. They bought a home and a drugstore, and Jane began teaching, but the plan to return to Israel never disappeared.
"We visited every year," Jane says. "Several weeks, each summer. All the kids lived here at one time or another. Daniel volunteered for the IDF. Coming back was always the plan."
Twenty five years passed. Then, in January 2004 - with Jeff retired and the children grown - the time came.
"This time, we were prepared," says Jeff. "It's been incredibly smooth," adds Jane.
"My parents were both born in England," says Jane.
"My father was of Spanish descent," Jeff says. "His family lived in Canada for many years, but then moved back to England. My mother left Poland before WWI."
Jeff and Jane met at a dance and celebrated their 27th wedding anniversary during Hanukka. Jane's sister and her 90-year-old mother still live in Manchester.
When Jeff retired, the Bouchard's began making definite plans to return.
"It still took over 2 years," Jane says. "We knew we'd need to return to England a couple of times a year to see my mother, but when we budgeted in the cost of that travel, we couldn't make it work."
"But then something wonderful happened," says Jeff. "For no apparent reason, during those two years, property values soared. Without our doing a thing, our property appreciated, which gave us an added bonus. With that, we found we could easily make it work here."
Again, the Bouchard's sold almost everything, and brought a very small lift with only their most personal possessions.
"We didn't want to spend money shipping furniture, or things we could replace here," Jane says. "So we sent just the minimum, only things like books that couldn't easily be replaced."
They spent the last two weeks in England with Jane's mother.
"We just took a taxi to the Desert Inn in Beersheba," says Jane. "Even that was like coming home - we'd stayed there many times before."
The Bouchard's decided to settle in Beersheba during one of their annual visits.
"It's perfect," says Jeff. "Living costs are low, the climate is wonderful, we're an hour from the seaside, public transportation is excellent, it's a vibrant community, the people are wonderful, it's safe - what more could anyone want?"
Buying an apartment was the first task.
"Hotels cost money, so we wanted to buy as soon as possible," Jane says. "We arrived on Friday morning, and - even with Shabbat - we signed for this apartment on Sunday night. It's perfect."
"We were in the Desert Inn for a month, and used the time to buy furniture and appliances. Our lift came two weeks after we moved in. It was so easy and simple this time."
The Bouchard's live in Neve Ze'ev, a new area of Beersheba adjacent to the Old City. The neighborhood has wide, clean streets, a big restaurant and shopping area and trees and gardens all over. The Bouchard's apartment is a large three bedroom with several other additional rooms including a laundry, balcony and an ultra modern eat-in kitchen.
"All this was done by the previous owner," Jane says. "We're so lucky - when they left, everything was absolutely spotless, we just moved right in."
Jane's calendar is worthy of a Fortune 500 executive. She's been here only a year, but is already deeply involved in Hadassah and AACI. One morning a week she volunteers for the army, and another afternoon is spent volunteering at the AACI Library. Both Jane and Jeff are members of the Scrabble Club and they just joined a Rummy Cube - and that's all in addition to Torah studies, which both enjoy.
"I've never been so busy," Jeff says. "I support Jane a thousand percent in all her charity work, but for me, I love to read or play the piano and do a bit of composing. We swim, we don't have a car, so we walk almost everywhere. We love to travel domestically - now we have the freedom to see Israel."
"All our friends come from the Anglo Saxon community," Jane says. "That's just the way it is."
"I have friends, or at least nodding acquaintances, at the Beit Knesset I go to in the mornings," Jeff says. "I may not know everyone's names, but everyone's friendly, and I feel very comfortable. But the Anglo community here is just beyond comment. They've made us feel completely at home."
"We are Israelis."
"We're Orthodox. In the morning, I usually daven at a large Mizrachi Congregation," Jeff says. "It's about a hundred yards from our apartment. But on Shabbat, we generally to go Moledet, an Orthodox congregation that's a little farther away."
"There's a big Anglo population there, and many more women who come," Jane says.
"Let me put it this way: When I had to go to the dentist, I went to the Hebrew dictionary and looked up 'Ouch,'" Jeff says, but then he laughs and admits, "It's not quite that bad."
"I get along fine in day to day activities, but the TV news is beyond me," Jane says. "We're planning on more ulpan as soon as we find the time."
"To carry on as we are, to enjoy our retirement," says Jane.
"I see myself as an informal shaliah," says Jeff. "I want to encourage more Jews to come home, but with realistic expectations. When we came the first time, we weren't ready. Like most Westerners, we had all kinds of expectations - about income, lifestyle. But Israel isn't like that. There's a whole new wonderful existence possible here, but you have to be ready for it, you have to be open to it. That makes all the difference."
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