cigal shene 88 298.
(photo credit: Yocheved Miriam Russo)
Cigal Shene, 34 - From Vancouver, BC to Jerusalem
When someone in North America picks up the phone and calls Nefesh B'Nefesh's "Aliya Hotline" looking for help, one of the counselors who answers the phone is Cigal Shene.
"I love Israel, and I'm so happy here," she says. "I wanted to help other people come home, too."
Shene arrived in Jerusalem on August 10, 2004. Back in Vancouver with a Master's in educational psychology, Shene worked as a counselor at three inner-city schools.
"I'd been trained in the 'cognitive education' system of Dr. Reuven Feuerstein," she says, noting that Dr. Feuerstein's methods had been developed in his work with children who'd survived the Holocaust.
"Dr. Feuerstein is one of my heroes, and my first job in Israel was with his Institute - a dream come true. But promoting aliya is another of my passions, and I wanted to do that, too.
"The key to successful aliya is flexibility - which is another good thing about aliya: It gives you the opportunity to completely reinvent yourself, if you want."
Shene's Israeli mother met her French father while vacationing in France. The two became pen pals, eventually married and settled in Canada.
"My father is another one of my heroes," Shene says. "He was a 'hidden child' in France, during the war. My grandfather had watched neighbors being taken away, and went to a Christian family who lived next door. 'If they come for me, please take care of my children,' he said. Not long after, he was taken away, and the neighbors hid my father - he was just six - in their attic. After the war, he came to Israel and served as a paratrooper with the IDF. He's remarkable.
"My mother was an intelligence officer in the IDF. Her father left Poland and came alone to Israel in 1933 with the Shomer Hatzair. He saved everything he earned to help get the rest of his family out, but it was too late. They didn't make it.
"My maternal grandfather is one of the reasons I have this tremendously strong connection to the land of Israel. When I look around, I see what he and his generation built with their own hands. I admire him so much. When he passed away, it was really the beginning of my own aliya."
"Every summer we'd come to Israel, and every year, when we went back to Canada, I remember my mother, sitting on the airplane, crying the whole way back.
"It wasn't until after my grandfather was gone that I started to think seriously about aliya. I started by coming to study at Pardes. They suggested I also attend a Discovery Seminar, and on the last day - it was August 10, 2003 - Discovery had us write a self-addressed letter, telling about what we were thinking and feeling. The idea was, they'd mail the letter back to us later. I wrote it and forgot about it.
"My visit was over, and I was leaving Israel, when news of two horrible terrorist attacks came on - it was terrible. This time, I was the one who cried all the way back to Vancouver. 'What am I doing in Canada?' I kept thinking. 'I belong with my people in Israel.' So what if I had a good job, made lots of money? It didn't seem important anymore.
"I filed my application with NBN and was accepted. I got rid of almost everything I owned.
"I went home, and in my mailbox that same day was the Discovery letter I'd written a year before. 'Don't forget where you belong,' was what I'd told myself. It was more affirmation I was doing the right thing."
"I didn't know anyone else on the NBN flight when we left," Shene says, "But by the time we arrived, I'd met the people who are now my best friends."
Shene was well prepared: She already had a job and she'd found a shared apartment through an Internet site.
Shene shares a three-bedroom apartment in Old Katamon with two roommates - "But we're friends, too."
Being on the 7th floor means having a great view from lots of big windows - the kitchen looks over the Knesset. "But the stairs are tough on Shabbat," Shene admits.
"I have more energy here than I did in Vancouver. For a while, I had a part time job, a full time job, plus I was learning at Midreshet Rachel."
Now she's cut back a bit.
"I work 'American hours' for NBN - 3 p.m. to midnight."
In the mornings, Shene rides a bus to Midreshet Rachel, then walks to the nearby NBN office. After work, she has a regular pre-arranged ride home with a cab driver who's a special friend.
"I'd left my wallet in his cab a year ago, and he made an extraordinary effort to return it. Now we're pals."
"We had a great community in Vancouver," Shene says. "I was sad to leave them. But now, several of them have made aliya, too, so we're friends here."
The three roommates also share friends.
"When one of us is entertaining for Shabbat, we always invite the other roommates. You meet a lot of new people that way."
"I always said I'd be happy doing anything here - I'd work at any job that would pay the bills. But I've been very fortunate. I've been able to work with two organizations I love. That's quite a blessing, to love your work, and earn enough to live nicely, too."
Shene speaks mother-tongue English.
"But when I was growing up, at home, we spoke either Hebrew or French, because of my parents. I didn't learn English until I went to school."
"I'm Orthodox. My family wasn't, but I was always attracted. I remember Yom Kippur when I was just eight. I went to services all by myself and cried all the way through it. Judaism is my essence, it always has been.
"One of the best things about living here is that on Shabbat morning, I can pick whatever kind of service appeals to me - I can go to a Carlebach minyan, or decide to go to one that starts later, Ashkenazi or Sephardi. There are synagogues all over this neighborhood."
"I want to meet a man who's as madly in love with Israel as I am. I want to raise my family here. And I want to watch Israel blossom and grow - even beyond what it is today."
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