Aliyah (to go up, ascend) is the term used for Jews of the Diaspora that choose to move to Israel (to make Aliyah). I come from a uniquely American/Israeli family in that I am the 3rd generation in a row to make Aliyah. I took the plunge on August 10th, 2006. My older sister made Aliyah in 1997 to enlist in the Israeli army. My parents moved to Israel in the 1970’s and stayed for 13 years. My 2 older siblings and I were all born in Israel. My Grandparents Aliyah was in 1950, when my mother was just 4 years old. This is the story of us.
Last month, on April 24th, I stepped under the huppah with my Israeli fiancé (now husband) to exchange vows and start our life together as a family after 5+ years of dating. As a wedding gift (and possibly a thank you for writing the Milestones blog) the wonderful Erez Strasburg of Milestones Israel offered to give my family a free day trip exploring our roots in Israel.
2 days before the wedding, my mother, sister, 6 month old nephew, Erez, and I piled into an SUV and began our journey to the north of Israel. The inspiration for this trip? Following in my grandparents footsteps. Our destination? Bustan HaGalil.
In 1950, when Israel was just 2 years old, my grandparents, devoted Zionists, packed up their family with 5 kids between the ages of 2-12 and made Aliyah. They spent their entire life savings on a family home in Bustan HaGalil, a small moshav along Israel’s northern coast. After weeks on a boat, they arrived in the Haifa port only to discover that the home they had purchased was not ready. The Sachnut (Jewish Agency for Israel) gave them a hotel room in Haifa and said they could stay there till their home was ready. Not being the rich Americans that the sachnut had pinned my family as, they demanded another option as money was running out. They moved ever so briefly to a German community in the north called Ein Sarah (now incorporated into Nahariya). Neither of my grandparents, an orthodox American from Michigan and a Russian immigrant, were happy with this arrangement. Fortunately, after 6 long months, their home was ready.
They moved into their new home, with a leaky roof and an array of problems that all required immediate attention. My grandmother, having contracted Scarlet Fever as a child, was often ill. My aunt, as a 12 year old, ran home after being chased by some Arab boys from a nearby village. After 8 months, my grandfather was called upon to join the Israel Defense Forces. The thought of leaving a sick wife home with 5 children was too much for him to bare. He immediately wrote home to his brothers who wired money over so that they could all return to the US. Their Aliyah lasted one year.
Coming back to 2013, Erez pulled into Bustan HaGalil in search of anyone that would remember my family. Our first move was to find the moshav administrator to see if there was a record of our family or someone who was around back then. The office was closed so Erez walked into the small grocery to ask the owner if he had any ideas. Pulling out a list of residents, he proceeded to telephone all of the older residents of the moshav. No one answered so we decided to drive around and see if we could find people walking around that could help us.
At this point, we came across Debbie, a boisterous character originally from North Carolina with an accent that hinted she had spent the past 28 years in the southern US as opposed to a small agricultural community in northern Israel. Debbie immediately started shouting the name of a neighbor, Varda, and knocking on her door but there was no answer. She called up her friend who told her that she didn’t remember a family of American immigrants with 5 children but maybe the other Varda would…Varda David. She lived on the other side of the moshav, near the grocer.
We drove back over but couldn’t find the home. As we rested in the bus stop, Erez walked around tirelessly asking everyone he came across if they knew where Varda David lived. The result? Varda’s son-in-law approached us at the bus stop asking if we were the ones looking for her. We said yes so he called up his wife to find out when she would be home. She was returning from Tai Chi in a couple of minutes. We were in luck.
When Varda arrived, she invited us into her home. She had been the moshav nurse for many years and sure enough remembered the short-statured power house that was my grandpa Morris. Not only that but she remembered who had bought the house from my family and told us where we needed to go. We drove to the other side of the moshav and located the home we thought had been ours. A neighbor drove by asking if we needed help and we explained what we were looking for. A short phone call later and a woman was on her way, the daughter of the man that purchased the house from my grandfather and had consequently grown up there. In the back of the house was the barn my grandfather built. She welcomed us, told us what it had been like growing up in the moshav and about how much her father loved this home.
As we drove away, my mom looked at my sister and I and said: “It’s strange. Had we stayed, all these people who have helped us today would probably be some of my best friends. Life would have turned out so differently.”
My sister and I looked at each other and thought the same thing. Had we all stayed in Israel as kids, we would have led very different lives. I’ve been in Israel nearly 7 years. I’m not sure where my future will lead me but I have a feeling that my children will find their way here…probably with my nephew.
To Erez, thank you for giving my family the trip of a lifetime. I know that this is one day my family will never forget.