Aliyah Is Not a Geographical Change – It’s a Personal Transformation
By Leah Kahalani
I firmly believe that I can choose to live anywhere on the planet and the choice is solely mine to make, except when moving to Israel. The land of Israel has a share in the process of my move and plays a part in determining if I am worthy to remain in the land.
Aliyah was my dream since I was a young girl because of my yeshiva education. I call myself FFE (“Frum From Education”). I wanted to really embrace my legacy. New York is my birth place. Israel is my home.
At 18 years of age, I contacted the Aliyah center (many years before Nefesh B’Nefesh existed). Then life (HaShem) had other plans for me. Aliyah was still going to happen in the near future. Then it did not. I do not know why. Seven years later, for one reason or another I had not yet visited the land.
Aliyah was on the back burner. The dream was a small flicker. The next phase of my life was 10 years of reflection, learning, expanding and internalizing the many lessons that life brought my way.
February 2000, my first visit to Israel
On the tarmac — pre-new Ben Gurion airport — looking up into the Israeli sky for the first time in my life I was home; an indescribable experience. My 17-day trip was exciting, thrilling, awesome and every other powerful adjective available. I traveled by bus. I was all over the country–the Kotel, Ma’arat Hamachpela, Tveria, Tsfat, Meron, Amuka, etc.
After a week into my trip, I was riding a Jerusalem bus and as I observed the people on the bus it suddenly struck me that the scene I was witnessing looked so identical to what I saw everyday as a NYC subway commuter, except most of the people on the bus were Jews.
My Aliyah dream was filled with fantasy and expectations that every Jew in the land of Israel would be Torah observant. Reality informed me otherwise. My “Ah ha!” moment — if I had made Aliyah decades earlier when I was 18, holding tight to my fantasy then my disillusionment may have crushed me. At 18 I would not have been emotionally and spiritually prepared to reconcile the dichotomy that I witnessed.
In that moment I understood that HaShem knew it was best to keep me waiting a bit longer before I my first visit. I had to grow up and learn to face life on life’s terms. Returning to NY, my Aliyah dream was alive and well. HaShem was not finished with me.
One of my tefillot during my trip was to find my husband. When I returned to New York my life underwent major upheavals in less than six months. Once the dust settled, my new life placed me where I needed to be to meet my husband in August 2000.
During our dates Aliyah was discussed at length. The topic was not “wouldn’t it be nice if…?” For me it was a high priority equal to any life-related matter one factors in when choosing a spouse.
From the chupah, I estimated Aliyah was a minimum of 8 years away. To my pleasant surprise we reached that bridge a few years sooner than planned.
HaShem would know I meant business
Seven years before Aliyah I attended Ulpan. Three years earlier I learned how to type Hebrew. A year before Aliyah I bought the Rosetta Stone program to continue practicing Hebrew. I suggested to my husband that we not buy a home because we want HaShem to see our greater investment is in the land of Israel. Every Shabbat when the Torah was returned to the Aron I prayed that my eyes be open to HaShem’s guidance for the right time to make Aliyah.
If you ask me how I knew it was time to make Aliyah the only way I can describe it was that all the tethers to my current life were coming undone. For me making Aliyah was not an event. It was an awakening that comes from doing the next right thing every day until an opening appears.
The Aliyah process begins
What are our income options? I gave NBN my resume. My 20-year career was as a NYC real estate title closer and paralegal. Within a week, a gentleman contacted me who saw my resume listed with NBN. He had a title abstract company in Westchester County, was making Aliyah at the same time as we and wanted to hire people in Israel with title experience. I’m a perfect candidate. We would resume our dialogue after we both settled into our homes. Exciting, right?
We were talking to another family who wanted to make Aliyah. One huge obstacle — they could not sell their property because the market price would not even pay off their mortgage! We made Aliyah on August 19, 2008. The real estate market dried up September 1st 2008. That title job in Westchester was gone!
So what’s a girl to do? I declared myself retired from my career. I knew my valuable skills were transferable. With a very modest limited savings and my husband’s job in Ariel it was not much money. We managed.
Year one: I spent many hours researching potential work opportunities for English speakers. One possibility I liked the most was grant writing.
Year two: An opportunity came to me to volunteer with the local keren to build up their financial resources through grant writing. For over a year I learned on the job all the ins and outs of grant writing from research through drafting grant proposals. This position gave me a new definition of location, location, location. Foundations were not interested in putting money into areas of Israel they believed the government will hand over to the Palestinians so money was just not flowing in our direction.
Year three: I learned about modest swimwear. After buying one I offered the owner to be her first agent selling in the Shomron. She agreed. For the next two years I sold modest swimwear, which helped my Hebrew speaking skills. At the same time I heard about a transcription company here. That’s closer to my former career. I signed up. Remember the story of the janitor who goes up the ranks to be head of the company? Well, I went from transcriber to part owner of the company in two years.
Year six: I researched work opportunities for my husband and now he sells sandwiches all over town.
We are about to celebrate our seventh year Aliyah anniversary this summer. It has been quite a journey. The lessons I have learned about earning a living in Israel are the following:
- If HaShem can provide for me in NY, of course, He can provide for me here.
- My shefa follows me wherever I go. I just have to get out of the way.
- Be flexible and open to new experiences. Who am I to say my income can only come through one industry?
- Have no expectations. They create limitations on what’s possible. When a door closes I might find something even better by the open window.
- Trust the process. It’s always more challenging to trust during the upheavals.