Moving to Israel too easy for this woman - she made aliyah twice

Risa Goldstein Shapiro moved to Israel twice. Now she looks forward to seeing the next generation grow up in Israel.

 WITH PARENTS Rosalie and Sandy Goldstein.  (photo credit: COURTESY RISA SHAPIRO)
WITH PARENTS Rosalie and Sandy Goldstein.

When Rosalie and Sandy Goldstein made aliyah in March at the ages of 97 and 101, respectively, their daughter Risa, her five children and 12 grandchildren greeted them at the airport before they went on to live with Risa in Netanya.

It was a triumphant, albeit very delayed, fulfillment of a dream. Sandy had tried to make aliyah in his 40s, but the New York Jewish Agency representative at the time told him he was too old. Sixty years later, he proved the aliyah emissary wrong.

Risa, their youngest daughter, didn’t wait that long. Influenced by her membership in the Orthodox Union’s NCSY youth movement, she transferred from public school to Central Brooklyn, Yeshiva University’s high school for girls. She then started Touro College as an early admissions student.

Having skipped seventh and 12th grades, she was only 17 when she arrived in Jerusalem for a year of study at Neve Yerushalayim in 1977. That is where her Zionist aspirations took root and flourished.

“Israel was not an easy place then; people didn’t even have telephones. But ‘the bug’ bit me. I wanted to spend my life here,” Shapiro says. “It took 15 years, but I never lost sight of the dream of raising my children here.”

 CELEBRATING HER birthday with grandchildren. (credit: COURTESY RISA SHAPIRO) CELEBRATING HER birthday with grandchildren. (credit: COURTESY RISA SHAPIRO)

Married at 19, she graduated from Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women and earned a master’s degree in social work because she reasoned that Israel would need social workers to help future olim. The couple had three children while living in northern New Jersey. They spent many summers in Israel instead of sending the kids to sleepaway camp.

Taking a break from social work, Shapiro started a home-based business – The Network magazine, a holiday shopping guide and professional directory for Jewish consumers in northern New Jersey.

“I knew nothing about publishing or computers or business. I went door to door to stores, and our first issue had 68 pages of pre-paid ads. The Network was a household name for 24 years,” she says.

Moving to Jerusalem

In 1995, the opportunity arose for the Shapiros to try Israeli life in Jerusalem – without yet becoming citizens. The oldest child was going into high school, and the youngest into first grade.

“My husband was commuting back and forth to America for business,” she explains, “so I was here with three kids and had two more in those five years. I was a newbie with no Hebrew skills or support. I don’t know how I did it. And then suddenly my husband’s business needed us to go back. So we put our lives in Israel in storage.”

Shapiro recalls feeling out of place when she returned to America. For the next five years, the family again set up home in New Jersey; first in Passaic, and then two years in Teaneck.

“But I was more in Israel than in Teaneck,” she says. “My oldest son got married and went back to Israel. We bought an apartment in Baka and renovated it. I was running back and forth. We came for the summer in 2007, and one morning I said, ‘Why are we going back to Teaneck?’ And my husband agreed that we would stay. I would joke that aliyah wasn’t hard enough the first time, so I had to do it twice.”

IN 2015, Shapiro and her husband divorced, and it was time for her to return to the job market and apply the many skills she had acquired over the years to a new working environment.

“I had just made our daughter a Cinderella wedding on a tight budget, which was not so easy to do in Israel. Her friends started asking me to help with their weddings, and I saw a real need to help olim make their dreams come true enjoyably and affordably.” So she decided to turn her skills into a business, drawing on her experience in social work and business.

During nine years of heading her company FAB Events Israel, Shapiro also decided to fulfill her lifelong dream of being a social worker in Israel.

“I hadn’t practiced social work in 30 years, but I plunged into it again, and suddenly I was doing home visits with the elderly – in Hebrew. When the company I was working for realized I was an English-speaking social worker, they asked me to teach the accreditation course for the caregivers, so I translated and rewrote the caregiver curriculum and started traveling around Israel teaching a course to foreign caregivers on elder care and Israeli culture,” she recounts.

 “Social work is a profession that prepared me for everything – how to actively listen and how to speak – and, most importantly, to always ‘go where the client is at.’”

Moving to Netanya

Two summers ago, she rented an Airbnb for a weekend in Netanya and ended up booking it for four more weekends.

“I loved seeing the sun rise and set over the sea,” she says. In the summer of 2022, she made the “crazy, gutsy decision” to move to Netanya’s Ir Yamim neighborhood.

“I don’t know what I was thinking; I was so embedded in Jerusalem, but I knew I needed a change,” she says, citing the Talmudic adage that when you change your locale, you change your luck.

“The communal welcome and hessed (kindness) that Ir Yamim gave my parents and myself has blown us away,” she says.

“As a certified social worker and die-hard Zionist, this job synthesizes many of my skills. Working with olim is what I always planned to do.”

Risa Goldstein Shapiro

A year ago, Shapiro started working as an aliyah consultant/coordinator for Olim Advisors, a business that provides pre- and post-aliyah assistance. “As a certified social worker and die-hard Zionist, this job synthesizes many of my skills. Working with olim is what I always planned to do,” she says.

Her greatest joy is watching the next generation grow up in Israel.

“Seeing my grandson play chess with my 101-year-old dad, or my granddaughter sitting on my 97-year-old mom’s lap is a true fulfillment of my dream,” Shapiro says.

“I feel truly blessed. I will always be a greenhorn, but when I hear my Israeli grandchildren speaking both languages, I say ‘Yesh, I succeeded in my aliyah to Israel.’” ■