Making aliyah in their children’s footsteps

Three Anglo couples who followed their hearts – and their adult children – to Israel.

BETH AND Paul White and family. (Amir White) (photo credit: AMIR WHITE)
BETH AND Paul White and family. (Amir White)
(photo credit: AMIR WHITE)
The centrally located Israeli city of Modi’in is home to many English-speaking immigrants of all ages.
Here we talk to three couples – one from the New York suburb of New Rochelle, one from Toronto and one from London – who made aliyah recently in the footsteps of their adult children.
They chose Modi’in for its Anglo community and its quality of life, and above all for its geographic convenience to their children and grandchildren.
All of them had strong Zionist leanings for many years, but it was a combination of their children’s move and their current stage of life that encouraged and enabled them to pursue the dream now.
Beth and Paul White
“I always had an inkling of making aliyah since my junior year abroad at Hebrew University in 1977 to 1978,” says Beth White. “Reality set in and I went back to the States and life moved forward. When Paul and I got married 37 years ago, he was on the track of medical school and residency. Then one child came, and another child came, and aliyah went onto the back burner.”
In a sort of reverse process, aliyah moved closer to the front burner as one White child after another left home in New Rochelle to live in Israel. Today, five of the Whites’ six children are Israeli residents. Beth and Paul followed on July 4, 2019, the day of the brit milah of their newest grandson.
“I often said to the children, ‘You are living my dream.’ I know some people come here regardless of where their children are. Their being here just made it so much easier,” Beth says.
The children all are products of Jewish day schools and the Bnei Akiva movement’s Camp Moshava in Canada. The family visited Israel whenever possible.
Eytan, 35, sandwiched his American college education around IDF service in the Mahal foreign volunteers’ program, before settling into an entrepreneurial life in Tel Aviv in 2010.
Yaron, 33, came after high school for a gap year and a half, did army service and then studied electrical engineering at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.
Amir, 31, is a partner in a video production company.
“Amir was the first of the kids who said, ‘I’m moving to Israel and will do the army,’ but he had a medical issue and that didn’t happen,” says his mother. “But officially he made aliyah before Eytan and studied biotechnology at Bar-Ilan.”
Eliana, 30, attended midrasha and some college years in Israel. She lives in Brooklyn and generally visits during Passover and Sukkot. Noam, 29, a Bar-Ilan graduate and IDF veteran now studying toward rabbinical ordination, teaches at Yeshivat Lev Hatorah’s hesder program in Beit Shemesh. He and his wife, Elisheva, are house parents there.
Michal, 20, after finishing a gap year and a half at Stella K. Abraham Beit Midrash for Women (Migdal Oz), entered the IDF in March and is taking a medic course.
In early 2019, Paul received an offer to work with a company that provides telemedicine and critical care services for the United States.
“This was an opportunity that wouldn’t come around again,” he says. “I’d been talking to these guys for several years, and then they told me that they really, really needed me in July.”
Beth and Paul took that as a sign that the time was right. They packed up and sold their seven-bedroom New Rochelle house and rented a four-bedroom apartment in Modi’in, where Yaron lives. They can drive to all their Israeli children and grandchildren within 30 minutes.
“When the grandchildren started arriving, our trips to Israel became more frequent, and it became more difficult to be far away,” Beth says. “They would Skype me, ‘Savta [Grandma], can you read me a book?’ Now I do it almost nightly for Amir’s and Noam’s children. To see those kids when they stop by... it’s everything. Especially for Paul because when our own kids were little, he was working, working, working. This is the first time in our lives we’re together every holiday and Shabbat.”
“I love being close to the grandchildren,” says Paul. “It’s been a total change in my life. I haven’t been this relaxed in 35 years. I love the pace of life here. I love everything about it. We came here having heard horror stories about the bureaucracy, and so far our experiences have been pretty universally good.”
An extra bonus for Beth was having two sisters already living here, and the aliyah of her longtime friend, Michele Herrmann from Toronto, less than a year earlier. She and Michele met during their year abroad at the Hebrew University.
“Michele gave us incredibly helpful hints. And now we’re keeping a list for friends in America who hope to make aliyah,” she says.
Michele and Nathan Herrmann
Echoing Beth White, Michele Herrmann says she’d always intended to make aliyah and thought it would happen when her husband finished his medical training.
MICHELE AND Nathan Herrmann.  (Yehonathan Elozory)MICHELE AND Nathan Herrmann. (Yehonathan Elozory)
“And then life got away from us,” she says. “Aliyah was never on the back burner, though. It was always there. We are both children of European parents, and that played a role in how we feel about Israel as the place Jews ultimately belong.”
The Herrmanns settled in Nathan’s native Toronto after marrying in 1984. “We have a strong Modern Orthodox Zionist community in Toronto and the only Bnei Akiva schools outside of Israel. Our children went there and to Camp Moshava in Canada, so they had subliminal ‘brainwashing’ that there is only one homeland for the Jewish people – and that is Israel.”
Their oldest child, Marnina, now the 34-year-old married mother of two in Modi’in, announced after her elementary school graduation that she was ready to make aliyah.
“We forced her to stay home with us for high school,” says Michele.
Marnina came to Jerusalem for her gap year, attended university in Toronto and completed her master’s and PhD in design thinking at the Technion.
Avriel, 32, followed his sister two years later for a gap year, went back to Toronto for a degree in engineering sciences, and then to the Technion for a master’s degree. He’s an aerospace engineer and lives with his wife and two children in Yokne’am.
Gil, 30, arrived three years after Avriel. He earned an undergraduate degree in business in Toronto and a master’s in emergency disaster management in Israel. He works in product management for an Israeli start-up and lives in Modi’in with his wife and son.
Ori, 27, lives in Jerusalem and works in marketing for a start-up. He earned an undergraduate degree in graphic communications management in Toronto followed by a coding boot camp in Israel.
Two years after Ori’s arrival, in December 2018, Michele and Nathan made aliyah. They already owned an apartment in Modi’in, whose large Anglo community makes them feel comfortable.
“Nathan had the good fortune of working in a job he is passionate about, so I never thought we’d come until he retired,” says Michele. “But one day he came home and said, ‘We are not going to make it to January 2019 in Toronto.’ We called Nefesh B’Nefesh, where we’d already opened a file, and started getting our paperwork together.”
“For the last few years before aliyah we traveled here four to six times a year, and it was getting ridiculous,” adds Nathan. “Our kids were settled here and starting to have children, and I didn’t want to miss out on that. It was inevitable; it was just a matter of the timing. And I decided sooner rather than later.”
Nathan, a geriatric psychiatrist, is director of psychopharmacology services at Be’er Yaacov Mental Health Center. He still runs an Alzheimer’s disease research lab in Toronto with a partner.
“I spend a lot of evenings on Zoom meetings,” he says.
Michele taught English and history in a Jewish day school in Toronto. Here, she was teaching at Burlington English until the pandemic and hopes to continue.
“I decided I was not going to go into a classroom here. I wanted to enjoy my grandchildren, and this gave me a chance to teach adults who are really motivated,” she explains.
The Herrmanns’ advice to others contemplating aliyah is to “come because you want to be here, and if you choose to come, bring patience and a sense of humor, and make sure you have appropriate career expectations and aspirations.”
“It has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, and we’re not sorry for a minute that we made the move,” says Michele.
Rebecca and Jack Samad
The newest arrivals to Modi’in from this group are Rebecca and Jack Samad, who came in August 2019 from London. Rebecca and Beth White became good friends at ulpan.
REBECCA AND Jack Samad and family. (Israel Weill)REBECCA AND Jack Samad and family. (Israel Weill)
“Aliyah was a lifetime dream,” says Jack. “We used to come with our kids for vacations and holidays. The girls came to seminary and our son spent two years in yeshiva here. They all made aliyah before us. And we finally reached a stage in our lives when it was a good time for us to come.”
Still, he reflects, “If our kids had stayed in London, I’m not sure we would have made aliyah. Having all our kids and grandkids here made it a no-brainer.”
They bought their Modi’in apartment on paper 14 years ago, when their daughter Leora, now 38, was planning aliyah. The apartment was finished in time for Leora to move into temporarily, after arriving 11½ years ago with her husband and two kids. They had two more children in Israel and now live nearby.
“Leora’s husband, Doron, was the motivating force. He didn’t want to bring up the children in London,” says Rebecca. “But all our children went to schools that really promoted a love of Israel.”
Josh, 36, made aliyah on the day that Ben-Gurion Airport closed in the midst of Operation Protective Edge in July 2014. Fortunately, El Al flights were permitted to land. Like his sister, he arrived with a wife and two children, and has had another two since. He lives in Ra’anana.
Shira, 32, came about four years ago. She and her husband and three children live in Modi’in also.
“I loved my life in London, and my mother was there also,” says Rebecca. “Those are big factors as to why we delayed aliyah. But once Shira left, it got difficult not having any children there, and it [aliyah] became more of a need.”
Rebecca’s mom bravely decided to come along, and is living at a new Azrieli retirement village in Modi’in, where she is quite happy. Some red tape was involved in her move because the family had lived in Israel briefly when Rebecca was a child. As a returning resident, the 82-year-old woman was denied national health insurance for the first six months. Rebecca was left frustrated by the bureaucracy.
“If they want to encourage people to come, it shouldn’t be so difficult for those of us returning. There was nobody to talk to about our situation,” she says.
Fortunately, they’ve also had pleasant experiences. On Independence Day, for example, students from a local high school baked cakes and sent them over to each new immigrant with a message of welcome.
“You’d only ever get that in Israel,” says Rebecca.
The Samads have been working hard on their Hebrew. Aside from the five-month ulpan, the Modi’in branch of ESRA – Israel’s largest English-speaking volunteering organization – matched Jack with an Israeli man who wants to improve his English, while Jack improves his Hebrew.
“We ‘meet’ twice a week. I also go to the English Kollel in Modi’in that normally meets at the Meir Harel hesder yeshiva once a week. I go to an Israeli shul – not an Anglo shul – and attend classes there in Hebrew,” says Jack. “It’s a challenge, but I persevere and enjoy them.”
Jack is semiretired from a family business selling Oriental carpets and rugs, established by his Iranian-born father. Rebecca, who formerly handled admissions at a Jewish school in London, wants to get more involved in charitable endeavors. And she helps with her daughter Shira’s English after-school program as needed.
Though they miss Sundays, the Samads are enjoying Israel – including the weather, which is decidedly cheerier than in London.
“We wake up to sunshine and not gray,” notes Rebecca with a smile.