Step-by-Step: Making Aliyah to Israel

Documenting the very personal process of making Aliyah (immigration to Israel) by one very atypical Israeli-American girl. Aliyah on 17, August, 2005. Roadmap: What do you mean there's no roadmap?! Hang on, we're in for a bumpy ride! Ole!

Friday, March 25, 2005

How I started this journey

I promised myself, way back in my very first post, that I would one day sit down and write about (and try to figure out!) just how and why I decided to make Aliyah and why I’ve still decided (or maybe re-decided is a better word) to make Aliyah. The snap answer to that question is that it is something I’ve wanted to do since I was 12. But there were a lot of other things that I decided “I will definitely do” or that I wanted to do that -- sometimes even within a few months --I lost interest in pursuing over time. The idea of making Aliyah was always sort of “there” from that age forward but it has definitely waxed and waned over these many years in between then and now. And, at times, it disappeared off my horizon completely.

My reasons for wanting to do this now and my expectations have changed. And they haven’t. The expectations I have about what life will be like there have certainly changed far more so than the reasons. Nearly all of my expectations are now completely different –and I’d like to think are completely realistic and rational but I won’t go so far as to bet the house on it. Hmmm, maybe I’d better start with what and why Katie, aged 12, thought and dreamed about making a life in Israel to give (and get) some perspective.

At twelve I desperately wanted to fit in somewhere and to have a strong sense of identification. I was at that awkward stage where nothing in life really seems to fit together correctly, myself least of all. In the space of little more than two years I’d been shifted through five different schools and in the process I’d gone from being a popular little girl who led rather than followed to an insecure, shy, and lonely one. Looking back at pictures of myself from that time the nervous smile and shell-shocked look are all too evident. Reading back over my diary (I’ve kept one since I was 8), as I did a bit last night when I started really thinking about this, is an exercise in humiliation. I wanted to laugh at myself and cry at the same time. It is hard to believe that that kid was ever me and if I didn’t have the evidence preserved I’d prefer to believe I was never such an idiot!

I’m definitely going to put a big sticker on it with a sign saying no one is to read this book until 50 years after my death. Seriously. Ugh. I hope in a few years I don’t feel that way about this blog because, grin, it’d be wayyy too late to slap one of those stickers on it. I do not intend to read that diary again until the time when my child turns 12 and she or he is driving me up a tree: then hopefully I will get it out, read it, and the comparison will convince me to stay thankfully on the ground.

In my mind, in my memory, I always linked my initial identification with being a Jew and wanting to make Aliyah along with being a Jew and being religious (as I was trying to be at the time). I remembered the desire to make Aliyah as part and parcel of my entering a religious phase of my life. So I was a little surprised to discover that, at age 12, these two desires were actually a source of serious inner conflict. Conflict, that is, between them. I also laughed when I discovered why I had this strange idea that these two goals ran counter to one another. In a word (errr, two): Chaim Potok.

Now before everyone goes “huhhhh?” you have to remember that I came from a completely, totally, 100% secular home. The word G-d was not mentioned unless it was followed by damn. At age 10 or 11 when I decided that “finding religion” was an answer to my need to belong somewhere and to something I had originally decided to become a Mormon. This was thanks to a pair of cute missionaries who knocked on the door one afternoon and spent a good three hours proselytizing at me, coupled with the fact that my best friend –the last one I’d really had and who had moved away at the end of 4th grade -- had also been Mormon. When I made the Mormon announcement my mother suddenly became the Judaism cheerleader. As fate would have it, my mother had just taken a job working as the secretary at Chabad House while going to school. And so, in short order, I was given an unorthodox crash course into the world of Orthodox Judaism. Not that (heaven forbid) my mother wanted me to become an Orthodox Jew. She simply didn’t want me to become a Mormon or a Christian of any variety and Judaism a’ la Chabad was a tres convenient way to fend off the Mormon invaders. Well Mom it worked but just not quite as you hoped…

I found the rituals and traditions fascinating and beautiful (I still do) but I was still extremely clueless about the religious, historical (outside of the Shoah which I did know a good bit about), and cultural aspects. I picked up some from my visits to Chabad for services (though this was not done with any regularity), and some from the little booklets that the Rabbi sent home to me through my mother (since they catered to college kids they didn’t have much for kid kids and he didn’t send the others), and most from the local library. I read everything related to Judaism that I could get my hands on –again not a lot, being restricted to the children’s section of the library. With the hodge-podge of information I was picking up, I knew just about as much about Judaism as an alien would the planet earth from watching television commercials. Naturally, I thought I knew quite a lot.

I can laugh now and say that I don’t have an Exodus-novel fantasy about living in Israel but I can’t say the same for me at 12. Actually, it was an Exodus-movie fantasy. You got it, the summer I turned 12 Paul Newman in all his glory graced the late-night television screen. I was riveted. I was in love and not just with Newman. Ahh the epic romance of the fight and struggle, the tie to the land, the making of something from nothing and against all odds the underdog coming out the victor! Oh boy did this resonate with a lonely and intimidated child.

So then it was back to the library and, upon finding nothing much in the children’s section about Israel, I concocted a story for the librarian about doing a summer research project for history about the founding of the State of Israel and voila the doors to the adult section opened wide. I got a special pass to not only browse but to check out books from this most coveted place –and I used it for the next two years. Books on Kibbutzim became my favourites (and are probably responsible for my becoming a socialist at this age) but I must admit that I also checked out stacks of books that had nothing to do with Israel or Judaism and avidly devoured them. And a book on the life and stories about the Ba’al Shem Tov came in quite close. Strange, I must have checked it out 10 or 15 times that year but I can’t remember the name of it. I certainly wrote enough about him and his connection to animals in my diary (animal crazed even then).

Yow, I’m starting to see some major influences and threads of my life that really started around this age. For instance, my college honours thesis was about the rise and development of the Hasidic movement (following Weber’s – a socialist – theories about the rise and fall of movements) and the Ba’al Shem, of course, featured heavily. This was also when I decided to become an actress and started acting lessons (this same summer and at this same library)…ok, Mom, you’re off the hook, it is the library’s fault 

This was also the year that I read The Chosen. Chaim Potok. Yes, we’re back to him (and he is a fantastic author and this is still one of my favourite books!). Feeding my obsession my mother got me this book for Christmas (ok, kinda ironic) which we did and do celebrate as a totally non-religious holiday. (We also celebrated Mrs. Santa Claus day on January 5th, created totally by my mother to take advantage of the after-holiday sales, to rectify any major disappoints resulting from the “it wasn’t under the tree?” phenomenon, and because after New Years there was always a feeling of holiday let-down).

If you’ve read The Chosen you know that the biggest threat to Danny and Reuven’s friendship occurs when Palestine is on the brink of becoming the State of Israel. For two years Reuven’s father works tirelessly and through several heart-attacks to campaign for the ratification. Danny’s father, a tzadik, is so against this apikorosness that he forbids Danny to have any contact with Reuven whatsoever. Once Israel becomes Israel an uneasy acceptance is reached and the two are allowed, suddenly, to be friends again. After reading this book, the conflict forced on Danny and Reuven became the conflict between me and me. I was completely enamored with the idea of making Aliyah and also with becoming Hasidic. And lo, this book, albeit fiction, that gave me the best coherent idea I’d had yet about what being a Jew meant (a' la Chabad), suggested quite strongly that these two things don’t really go together. I didn’t dare seek clarification because I was afraid of the answer. I didn’t want to give up either. I would toy with the “I really want to be really religious” idea for another few years but the pull of the land, that indefinable sense of “that is really where I belong” was stronger even then in my diary-debates.

Argh and the need to go to bed is really strong! This will have to be continued later. Chag sameach! (I just have to say that Purim is my very favourite holiday!)

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