The art of making aliyah during the COVID-19 pandemic

Immigrating to Israel isn't easy at the best of times — The coronavirus pandemic didn't make things any easier for Rebecca Kerzner.

 REBECCA KERZNER, 25 FROM NEW YORK TO JERUSALEM, 2021 (photo credit: REBECCA KERZNER)
REBECCA KERZNER, 25 FROM NEW YORK TO JERUSALEM, 2021
(photo credit: REBECCA KERZNER)

Rebecca Kerzner’s aliyah plans were slow and took their sweet time getting built up – and then COVID happened. But that didn’t stop her. With a heart full of depth and an impressive trail of illustrations and graphic design background, she has arrived and is ready to take on the Holy Land. 

“I actually felt it for the first time on my Birthright trip in summer 2016 while we were exploring a gravesite” – the “it” being the connection to Israel and the notion of building a future here. 

“It is hard to pinpoint exactly when I knew I wanted to move, but I did have a meaningful trip to Tekoa that left me feeling very inspired,” she said. 

Kerzner grew up in the Modern Orthodox community in Houston, Texas, to Russian parents. After high school, she attended Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women, where she studied graphic design and English. 

She had hoped to pursue law or history, but “after a year and a half of taking various pre-reqs to figure out what I wanted, I realized I wanted to pursue graphic design and go down a path of creative career.”

The creative bug wasn’t a new notion for her as much as the decision to craft a career out of it. 

“I’ve been ‘crafty’ since I was a child, always coming up with new projects and creative ideas. I drew all the time growing up,” she said. Kerzner took art classes in middle school.

This manifested, in her last year of college, in a magazine which “I started – a big passion project of mine. I gathered writers and artists to put together this positive and bright magazine to bring more good spirit to Stern College and open dialogue about our lives.”

The passion fueled into the magazine carried her to a marketing job at Westchester Day School, the Modern Orthodox day school for the Westchester, NY, community. 

“I learned how much I loved working in Jewish environments, and I also felt reignited in appreciation for Jewish education.”

El Al Boeing 777 258 ER (credit: Wikimedia Commons)El Al Boeing 777 258 ER (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

YU offers a variety of summer programs for students between semesters. One of them is Counterpoint, a program that spreads students out into different low socio-economic areas throughout Israel to create and run meaningful programming for the local kids during the summer – a program Kerzner was a part of in 2017. 

“I felt very spiritual and at peace on the program, connecting with students in YU and the campers in Arad,” she said. 

“After that trip and upon returning to America, I began learning more Torah and felt like Israel had an impact on my Jewish practices and identity. I really resonated with Israeli culture and the history of the land.” 

In the summer of 2019, Kerzner returned to Israel for two weeks, studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. She also used the time to get to know the city more intimately – a pilot trip of sorts. 

“Now, I am excited to be moving to Baka in Jerusalem. It feels exciting to be able to fulfill a desire that has been a part of me for a long time and I am very grateful,” she said.

“I am most excited to be able to explore Jewish communities and spend time with friends in the Holy Land. I am also excited to immerse myself in Israel and experience all that the land has to offer.”

Though the Delta variant has taken the world – including Israel – by storm, government officials said Sunday that they are hopeful of the downward trend in serious cases, looking toward the beginning of the end of the fourth wave. 

“I am concerned about COVID, naturally, but have faith in the Israeli government and feel prepared to some extent, now that we are well into the pandemic,” she said. 

Kerzner planned to make aliyah a year ago, but circumstances, including the challenges presented by the pandemic, pushed the move off by a year. 

“I worked hard to set up a comfortable moving process for myself and feel especially grateful that with the changing landscape of the world, I am able to continue my job remotely, which made me more confident in my decision,” she said.

Kerzner arrived in Israel this past week. She works for the Hadar Institute, running their social media and graphic design, a position she will continue in Israel.