Aliyah story: ‘This is our country and this is where we need to be’

Toronto native Yehudit Shier moved to Israel in 1973, in the middle of the Yom Kippur War. She was only 18.

ON HER first Tu Bishvat after making aliyah.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
ON HER first Tu Bishvat after making aliyah.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Toronto native Yehudit Shier moved to Israel in 1973, in the middle of the Yom Kippur War. She was only 18.
It’s not hard to understand her fervor. Both her parents were ardent Zionists. Her father, Milton Shier, now 102, was an active supporter of the Jewish National Fund and the Israel Tennis Center. “But it was mainly my mom’s love of Jewish education and Israel that influenced me,” Yehudit says.
She spent eight years in Haifa, studying sociology at the University of Haifa and behavioral sciences and management at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, but eventually went back to Canada.
“Things were very different in Israel then and I really had no community. It just didn’t work out,” she explains.
In Toronto, she shifted gears. She went back to university and got a degree in music history, taught music and then went into Jewish education, also becoming a professional ventriloquist storyteller.
“Through my teaching and my interest in Israel – and a lecture by a non-Jewish international lawyer, Jacques Gautier – I learned things about our history that I was never taught in Hebrew day school,” Yehudit says.
For example, she learned about the San Remo Conference in April 1920 that laid the foundation for the creation of the 22 Arab League states and the Jewish State of Israel, formally incorporating the 1917 Balfour Declaration as legally binding.
“I started doing Israel advocacy presentations at shuls and homes,” she says. This passionate pro bono sideline continues. Recently, Hasbara Fellowship Canada asked her to do a webinar, and she is writing lesson plans for the book The Jewish People’s Rights to the Land of Israel, by the late Salomon Benzimra, for the organization Canadians for Israel’s Legal Rights.
At the end of 1996, Yehudit met Aryeh Weisberg, a native kibbutznik living in Canada. “We got married in 2002 in Jerusalem, at the time of the ‘Oslo War’ [the Second Intifada]. We thought, why spend the money in Toronto when we can do it in Israel?”
By that time, she knew she wanted to make another go at life in Israel. After the terrorist attacks that shook the United States on September 11, 2001, “I heard Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien say basically that the US deserved it, and I thought, ‘This is no longer my country.’ Anywhere you live outside Israel, you are dependent on who’s running the government,” says Yehudit. “In 2001, we decided we needed to move to Israel, not because of antisemitism but because this is our country and this is where we need to be.”
Unfortunately, various complications delayed their return to Israel until September 2017.
Meanwhile, Aryeh founded and ran Teatron Toronto Jewish Theatre. He directed 38 plays over the course of 12 years, including two after making aliyah. That endeavor is still going strong under new leadership.
IN 2019, the Weisbergs together founded Theatre Zion ( in Jerusalem to produce Jewish-themed plays focusing on both historical and current themes from Israel and around the world.
Their first production, The Trial of Uncle Charlie: What Really Happened on Board the Exodus 1947, opened January 21 at the Khan Theatre in Jerusalem and runs through February 1. The play was written by Yehudit and is directed by Aryeh.
“I always thought the Leon Uris version of what happened on the Exodus was the correct version,” she explains. “Then, a few years ago, a friend of mine lent me a high school book in Hebrew and that’s where I read the truth about what really happened.”
Yehudit learned that the cruelty of the British toward the Holocaust survivors and the American and Haganah volunteers on the illegal immigrant ship Exodus was much more extreme than Uris’s novel had portrayed.
“I was shocked. I started reading everything I could about it. I had no intention of writing a play. Over the years these characters just emerged.”
She wove a fictional story around the historical facts, centering the action around Yehuda, a 52-year-old Israeli in 1976 who is trying to banish his nightmares stemming from the murder of his friend, a Holocaust survivor, by a British soldier on that ill-fated ship.
“Yehuda became so alive to me that one day I met a single woman and I thought in my mind, ‘I know someone for her!’ Only later did I realize he was the character in my play,” she relates with a laugh.
Her life is filled with many pursuits. Every weekday morning, Yehudit spends three hours teaching English through the Speak Now online program.
She takes classes in Israeli dancing, accordion, Krav Maga, and the literature of S.Y. Agnon once a week, and whenever possible, she goes up to the Temple Mount.
“I also am writing and translating as a volunteer for the Legal Forum for Israel and the International Legal Forum,” she says. “My Hebrew is good because of the years I lived in Haifa. And ever since we decided to make aliyah, my husband and I have been speaking to one another in Hebrew.”
The Weisbergs have three sons between them. The eldest lives in Toronto with his family, another lives in Thailand, and the youngest lives with them in Jerusalem.
“I love living in our own country, and living in Jerusalem is very special,” Yehudit says. “Every day we are so thankful.”
Because she is a firm believer in not complaining unless you’re willing to do something about it, she recently stepped into Derech Hebron to direct traffic when she saw that cars were not getting out of the way of an ambulance. That failure on the part of Israeli drivers is one of the “minor irritants” she has noted, along with litter and a tendency to park on sidewalks to the detriment of people with wheelchairs and baby strollers.
“But so many things have improved since I last lived here,” she adds.
“I remember being in school as a kid, learning about Ezra and Nehemiah and wondering why more Jews didn’t go back to Israel from Babylon. I never realized I was doing the same thing sitting in Canada.”