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No one makes aliya without thinking at least once, "I should write a book!"
Well, Laura Ben-David just did it.
Ben-David's book about her family's 2002 aliya experience, 'Moving Up: An Aliya Journal,' came out on December 1. But during the long months she spent writing and rewriting, her working title was "You Couldn't Make this Stuff Up."
"It's all true," she says, laughing. "Lots of authors start with a legal disclaimer: 'This book is fiction, the product of the author's imagination.' I did exactly the opposite. Every single thing in this book really happened. I couldn't possibly have made any of it up."
The working title changed to 'Moving Up' when the book was published. "That's what aliya is, after all - moving up," says the 37-year-old first time author. "Some people will recognize the phrase from an old TV show, The Jeffersons which is fine. The Jefferson family was 'movin' on up' to the good life, too. 'Moving Up' reflects my positive feeling about Israel - make aliya, and you're moving up in the world, improving your life."
Moving to Israel had always been the game plan for Laura and Lawrence Ben-David, who made aliya from a comfortable lifestyle in Boca Raton, Florida. "I was born in Monsey , NY, and trained as a registered nurse. Lawrence and I always had a two-year plan to make aliya - it just took us nine years. Finally, when the eldest of our four kids was about to become a teenager, we took stock of our lives. What was our commitment, anyway? We wanted to be good Jews. So why were we living outside Israel? From that moment, it took us eighteen months."
The Ben-David's were on Nefesh B'Nefesh's historic first flight to Israel , along with 360 other new North American olim, on July 10, 2002. "We were pretty well organized," she recalls. "Lawrence made a pilot trip a year before, and we decided to live in the Gush Etzion community of Neve Daniel. Two months before, I came and got everything ready."
Of course, not everything went smoothly, as she describes in a series of often funny, other times poignant anecdotes.
Writing a book wasn't part of Ben-David's original aliya plan, but the idea began to germinate within months. "The whole thing started with my e-mails - just e-mails, not a blog. When aliya preparations got serious, I started sending e-mails to a circle of close friends and family, telling them some of the more interesting things that were happening. It was very personal, intended only for people who knew us. But some of my friends started to pass my e-mails along to their friends, who in turn passed them along to others. Before long, I had hundreds of readers."
At that point, things started to change. "Before, I was writing for friends and family," says Ben-David. "I changed the style a little, because now I was writing for the public, Jews and non-Jews. But it's still a journal, a personal account of what it was like."
She sent her very first e-mail on "the insane day when aliya became real, the day the movers came."
After the Ben-Davids arrived and began to settle in, the idea of a book grew. "It dawned on me that maybe my account would be helpful to others. Maybe other families didn't think they had the courage or ability to make aliya. But if they could read about our experiences, maybe they'd be inspired. Maybe they'd see they could do it, too."
The Ben-Davids' experiences ran the full gamut. "Neither Lawrence nor I had family here, so that made it a little tougher," she says. "On the other hand, we came at the perfect time. It was the height of the intifada, so hardly anyone was making aliya. We were so unique that everyone in Gush Etzion really reached out to welcome us. They did everything for us, including filling our house with 'loaner' furniture and supplies, even a refrigerator full of food. No one had a warmer welcome than we did."
She is full of 'only in Israel' anecdotes, among them a mortgage saga many olim will recognize. Ben-David wrote:
'Now we're finalizing the mortgage. At this point the bank wants to see if you REALLY want the mortgage because they send you on a wild goose chase collecting and submitting documents, obtaining stamps and signatures. Of course, this is all made more difficult by receiving vague addresses or none at all, and by requiring intensive conversations with people in Hebrew to get the required information. Somehow my husband manages to get people to speak to him in Englishâ€¦"
Before the exhausting day was over, Ben-David finds herself scrubbing the bathroom in the mortgage building. While she and her husband signed documents, 16-month-old Ya'akov found a muddy spot in the atrium and amused himself by wallowing in the mud, getting himself filthy, and then tracking it over most of the first floor. 'I think I'll look into hiring a babysitter,' she concludes.
The whole family went through cultural adjustment. "My eldest was 13 when we came, a tough age to make aliya. They have to make all the adjustments without their regular support system - they left all their best friends behind."
When you make aliya, you need a sense of humor:
"Lexi started 6th grade here in a regular Hebrew class. The teacher was dictating, and all the girls were busy writing it all down. Just like 6th grade girls everywhere, they were full of pleas for the teacher - 'slow down', or 'repeat.' Then Lexi had a great idea. 'Why don't you just write it on the blackboard?' she asked the teacher. All the girls laughed. 'Lexi, this is a spelling test!' She didn't have a clue what was going on!"
Ben-David had her own adjustment issues. "Back in the States, I always believed that once I got here, I'd become fully Israeli. It didn't take long to realize that wasn't going to happen. No matter what I did, I couldn't get rid of the fact that I was born in the US, and that part of that culture will always be with me. It was hard for me to give up on that idea of becoming fully Israeli. I had to adjust my expectations. Now, I'm fine with it. I'm comfortable with who and what I am."
All the while she was writing life was going on. "I got a job. I had our first sabra baby, Ya'akov. We'd arrived in July, and by December, 2002, I was serious enough about a book to start hunting for a publisher. The first one I talked with was Haim Mazo, who ended up being the one I chose."
Even with the book officially placed, it took awhile. "The hardest thing about the whole project was the amount of time it took," Ben-David says. "I never added up the hours, but there were an awesome number of late nights. I wrote, rewrote, revised and edited. I'm an instant gratification kind of person, and doing the book took a lot of patience. I just kept telling myself I was doing it for the good of aliya and for the good of Israel."
One thing that comes across in Ben-David's writings is that no matter how difficult, annoying or frustrating any incident might have been, it never dented her love for Israel. "We've been here four-and-a-half years now, and still, I have those golden moments. Sometimes I'll be driving to Jerusalem, I'll see the city ahead of me, the Jerusalem stone glowing in the sunset, and all I can think is 'Wow.' I hope I'll never get past that stage of awe. And I hope I'll never forget what a privilege it is to live here," she says.