We’re marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel with a year-long celebration! Keep an eye out for “Memphis Celebrates Israel at 70” branding at your synagogue, at events around town, and online. In this My Israel Story series, we’re asking Memphians to tell their personal Israel stories. Do you have a story to tell?
Planting the Seeds of Aliyah
My Israel story is different from most that you have read and will read.
I hope it will enlighten some of you who are shocked when I tell you proudly that all four of my children live in Israel! When I tell most people, the astonishment is usually followed by one of following responses: “How wonderful! When are you joining them?” or “How did that happen? Are you worried about them? When are they moving back to America?” My answers: “Yes, it is wonderful. We feel very blessed and we hope to join them soon,” or “No, I’m not worried about them; they aren’t planning to move back.”
This is how I think it happened—the long version:
My first trip to Israel was an eleven-month visit, from September 1982 to July 1983. Fresh out of college my plan was to spend the first half of the year learning in a seminary and the second half working on a kibbutz and studying Hebrew. Seminary didn’t work out so well for me but the Kibbutz/Ulpan program was exactly what I needed to strengthen my connection to the land, people, culture, and language of Israel.
Each morning I sorted and bagged carrots or babysat toddlers in the kibbutz nursery; every afternoon I advanced my conversational Hebrew skills and every evening I socialized with my new eclectic group of friends from throughout the world. Nestled in the Beit Shean Valley of Israel, my virtually carefree life on Kibbutz Sde Eliahu made me fall in love with Israel (and a charming, stunning Parisian volunteer, but that’s another story).
It wasn’t the type of epiphanic love that would make me desperate to start planning my aliyah as soon as I returned home; it was more of a growth spurt of a seed or feeling that had been planted within me at around the age of 10 when I first joined the Young Judea youth group and spent a summer at Camp Judea. The seed had been sprouting gradually as I matured and it was nurtured by my experiences in Jewish youth groups and summer camps. I knew that one day Israel would be part of my destiny; I just wasn’t sure when or how that would happen.
When I returned to America, I had my heart set on working for a big advertising or public relations firm in New York, but as fate would have it, I ended up as the public relations coordinator and magazine editor for the North American Aliyah Movement! That job increased my understanding of the details and challenges of moving to and living in Israel and my desire to return, which I did, after a year in my position, to chaperone a group of senior citizens contemplating aliyah.
My next job, in the communications department at B’nai B’rith International’s headquarters, took me to Washington, DC, where I met my husband, David, whose parents, of blessed memory, were Israeli and who had spent a significant amount of his childhood and teenage years living in Israel. David yearned to move to Israel to be close to his grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins and he felt that it was his duty to bring his family back to Israel since his parents were anchored in North Carolina and had no plans to return to their roots.
After our wedding in Memphis and honeymoon in Israel we settled in Washington, DC, and began raising a family and trying to save money to make aliyah, quickly learning that it was almost impossible to do both concurrently, especially once Jewish day school tuition entered our financial scenario. Time passed, the children grew, expenses soared, job opportunities presented and we became further immersed in our comfortable American lives.
We wanted our children to develop close relationships with our families so frequent road trips to Chapel Hill and Memphis and semi-frequent expeditions to Israel were an integral part of their upbringing. In fact, despite the economic challenge, we considered visits to Israel almost as essential to our children’s development and education as sending them to Jewish day school.
Unconsciously, David and I had planted the seeds of aliyah within our children, similar to the seeds that were planted in us, and we were sowing them with each visit to Israel, supplemented by Zionist Jewish schools, youth group programs, and summer camps.
Thirty-six years after my first visit and 20+ visits since, I finally see aliyah in my near future. We have an apartment in Israel and visit frequently. I am grateful to my children who were wise, courageous, committed and connected enough to their Jewish identity, heritage, and Israeli roots to take their seeds and actually plant them in the soil of the Holy Land while they were young and single!
Hang in there kids, Abba and I will be there soon!