Why I (already) made aliya

When we made aliya with four children eight years ago we arrived with many dreams and expectations.

Nefesh B'Nefesh aliya Aug 2013 370 (photo credit: Sasson Tiram)
Nefesh B'Nefesh aliya Aug 2013 370
(photo credit: Sasson Tiram)
A response to Leah Bieler’s ‘Why I (still) haven’t made aliya’ (The Jerusalem Post, August 15)
When we made aliya with four children eight years ago we arrived with many dreams and expectations. It is true that we were unprepared for the differences in behavior and attitude that Israeli culture had to offer. We noticed that people drove in head-on traffic on a one-line highway and only switched back to the appropriate lane when the game of chicken was almost up. We noticed that unlike in America where at any given gathering people seem pre-programmed to queue up, aggressive wiggling and sidestepping got you to the front of the line.
We learned from the building of a house to the installation of a phone line that the stated rules (if they are stated) are not always the rules. And of course we noticed the bullying. Our oldest son started third grade in Israel in a school with a stellar reputation, but within the first few weeks of being welcomed to his new class and country he was being picked on and then bullied on a regular basis.
Full of anger and disappointment, I called the teacher, the principal and even the parents of the worst offender.
Although receptive, no one was particularly surprised or bothered. So I finally gave my son the advice I never imagined myself giving: “Push back.”
“But,” my son answered, “I don’t want to be that kind of person.”
I thought about all the sentences I had heard his teacher repeat in America, such as “use your words, not your hands,” etc.
I told him, “You are not the kind of person who pushes. You are the kind who pushes back.”
Several months later we visited a park. From afar I saw a boy start bullying my seven-year-old son. My oldest son, the sweet non-pusher, went straight up to the bully, said something very softly as he stood close to him and then walked away. The bully left them alone. To this day I don’t know what he said, but I know that he learned to stand up for himself (and for his brother).
Those were hard days of adjustment but today my oldest son is a 16-year-old counselor in Bnei Akiva, the national religious youth movement. Every week and on many Shabbatot he and another counselor travel to a settlement where they are the advisers and friends to a group of 14-year-olds.
When there were some disputes among the youth that became physical the counselors developed a program to address violence and discussed alternative methods of resolving conflicts with the kids.
In this way he is helping to shape and mold the next generation and after spending so much time with the kids, he sees the return on his investment.
Only because he lives here, can he function as an insider who can make a difference.
The education in Israeli schools is different than American education, but that does not make it less valuable or even pluralistic, depending on where you live or choose to send your children to school. Often education here is figured as a lived experience, an empirical enterprise and hence the numerous school trips to see the land or visit the actual places learned about in the Tanach and history books.
In my sons’ high schools students choose from a mandatory volunteering program where they can work with the elderly, disabled children, olim, or in agriculture.
One son even had a leadership program where a head of a yeshiva, CEO of a company, a prize-winning wrestler, and Druse Knesset Member spoke to the students on various occasions about becoming leaders in Israel.
There are ongoing programs where the eighth-grade students are paired with kids in younger grades as mentors and tutors. Although the system is unfamiliar to me, I am no less impressed with both the education and the values that such programs teach.
In addition, parent-teacher conferences are the opportunity to hear about your child as an individual, a friend, or a work in progress. I even had a teacher once make a play-date for one of my children who was struggling socially and then call me to ask if I had given permission for him to go! Another teacher who taught my son and his friends for two-straight years of pre-adolescent anguish told me he prays for them every day.
For me that was real culture shock, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Of course there are Jews in Israel from many various countries and cultures which often makes for a crosscurrent of difference. Where I live we have Jews from France, Russia, India and Argentina. From Brazil, America and England. Each comes with something to offer that will change and mold this country into the great nation that it is meant to be. I have watched my children grow and transform, be shaped by and in turn shape the society around them, and it is this chance to be part of the future that is Jewish history that is inestimable.
It is true that change and difference present a jarring challenge, but I am sure that my children would not be the people they are now, with a deep sense of purpose and identity, if we had remained in our comfortable life in New Jersey.
Here my children learned how to stand up for themselves in the schoolyard, how to stand up for the values they believe in and the history that they own, and ultimately how to stand up for their country and the Jewish nation.
Although potential olim fear serving in the army (what normal person wouldn’t?), it represents the moment when your child becomes, in your eyes and in the eyes of his people, the greatest hero; it is the ultimate giving back, a sacred responsibility.
It is true that none of these challenges are easy or simple, each experience electrifies with its culture shock, but ultimately it builds us and gives us the unparalleled chance to build. I can think of no better educational and character forming enterprise than that.
A friend once remarked to me that she admires the sacrifices we have made to live in Israel but at this point, I only feel lucky to have been able to raise my children here as proud Jews who find connection in every person, tree and place.
For that reason my husband and I are invested in living and raising our seven children in the only Jewish country, Israel.