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(photo credit: YOCHEVED MIRIAM RUSSO)
Arie', 27 and Ruth, 27, Levy - From Montreal to Metar.
Everyone knows aliya can be tough, but not everyone takes the kind of action Arie' Levy did to ease the transition from Montreal to Israel. Together with several other young professionals, and with help from organizations including the Jewish Agency, the young Canadians created "Magshimim" (the realizers) and made aliya easier not only for themselves, but also for a steady stream of new immigrants who've followed.
"Magshimim is now in its third year, and we've recently expanded beyond Montreal to France," Levy says. "It's a comprehensive program designed for French-speaking professionals between the ages of 21 and 28. Members spend a year in pre-aliya preparation, and receive full support for five months after aliya."
Levy found an added bonus in Magshimim: he and his wife Ruth - who was also part of Magshimim - were married two months before they made aliya.
Both Arie' and Ruth's families are Moroccan. Arie' immigrated to Canada with his mother and father when he was just three, while Ruth's mother and father came to Canada as teenagers.
The couple met for the second time at a community Purim party in 2002.
"We didn't know it, but we'd actually met before when we were 16," Ruth says. "At our engagement, Arie''s mom brought out a family scrapbook. In looking through it, we found an old newspaper photo of a group of teens who'd all been in a medical training program. There was Arie', standing right behind me in the photo. He says he remembers me a little, but all I remember is a guy wearing a turtleneck. Just think! We could have saved all those years!"
Aliya was a priority for both.
"At the Purim party, Arie''s first question to me - even before he asked for my phone number - was, 'If there were a group of people making aliya, would you join?'" Ruth recalls. "I said yes - aliya was something I wanted for myself."
"I didn't always want to make aliya," Arie' says. "But in about 10th grade, I started to see the world beyond myself, and I thought then, 'One day I will go to Israel and see what it's like.' The Israel I knew was the Israel of the Torah, the land of milk and honey. But I knew it was a normal country, too. I wanted to see how those ideas worked together."
Arie' came to Israel for the first time when he was 18, and then became almost a commuter.
"I started working with several Jewish organizations as a madrich (counselor) so I came back eight or nine times fairly quickly - 2 or 3 trips a year - supervising different groups. I knew I wanted to stay."
After a June wedding, the newlyweds rented an apartment in a "trendy" Montreal area.
"We knew we'd only be there for two months, so we wanted something fun," Ruth says. "We didn't send a lift - all we had were wedding gifts. So every time someone comes to visit, they bring along a couple more gifts. Bit by bit, we're getting it all here."
"Both families came to the airport to see us off," Ruth says. "It was very, very hard, and there were a lot of tears. But the moment we passed though the security gate, I had this incredible feeling. Magshimim's motto is, 'Where friends become family.' And right at that moment, I knew that now Magshimim was my family, too. We were there for each other. It helped so much."
Few new immigrants have the smooth arrival the Magshimim group enjoyed. "Our own bus took us directly to Beersheba," Arie' says. "We already had fully-furnished apartments rented for us, so first they took us out to eat, then dropped us off at our apartments."
"Everything was there," Ruth adds. "There was even couscous in the refrigerator. The next day, we did paperwork, opened bank accounts, and unpacked our suitcases. That was it."
The Levys lived in Beersheba for six months and loved the Negev, but decided they wanted a larger home with a yard, so they bought a home in Metar, an elegant community of single family residences about 25 km. east.
"Living in Montreal, we were accustomed to a certain standard of living," Ruth says. "People think that if they make aliya, they can't have that same kind of home in Israel. But that's not true. You just have to know where to look."
Eighteen-month old Ayelet sets the routine.
"She gets us up whenever she feels like it," Ruth says, "usually about 6:30. I take her to a sitter at 7:30, and then I go to work. I pick her up at about 4:00. Then I cook and do everything else that needs doing."
Arie''s a road warrior. He prays in the morning and then either drives to his office in Ashkelon or hits the road.
"Some days I'm in four or five cities, as far north as Haifa and Netanya, but I'm usually home by 7:30. Some nights we swim, or go to classes."
"Being wealthy has nothing to do with the money in your bank account," Arie' says. "That said, we're doing fine."
Arie' recently moved from a position with the Or Foundation to working for the Jewish Agency as a Partnership Director, coordinating contact between cities in Israel and Jewish groups in North America. Ruth is a dietitian working at an assisted living center.
They also have supplemental income from an apartment.
"Our house has a separate bachelor apartment," Arie' says. "That helps pay the mortgage."
"We have mostly Israeli friends in Metar," Ruth says. "But we're very close to the Magshimim group, we're always in touch. We're together for Shabbat, holidays and birthdays."
"We're close to extended family members here, too," Arie' says. "Before we came, a host family was selected for us, no one we knew. We were surprised when our 'host' father turned out to be a second cousin."
"I served 3 months," Arie' says. "Actually it was a little less, because I was scheduled to report on the day Ayelet was born. But I'll serve in the reserves."
Arie': "I'm Israeli. I only keep my Canadian passport to make it easier to travel."
Ruth: "I'm an Israeli from Montreal."
"We're religious Zionists," Arie' says. "But I always say I'm a Hebrew. There's a difference between being a Jew and a Hebrew: a Jew lives in exile, while a Hebrew lives in Israel. The word 'Jew' is what the Romans called us."
French is the Levys' mother tongue, which means that Ayelet gets three languages.
"I speak to Ayelet in French, our babysitter speaks to her in Hebrew, and Arie', in English," Ruth says. "Her first word was 'Toda!' so she's not only a Hebrew speaker, she's also polite!"
Both Levys work everyday in fluent Hebrew.
"To stay here. To raise our family here in the best way possible. To be happy. A real goal is to have our whole family here with us," Ruth says.
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