One Bite At A Time: What To Do When You Find Yourself Considering Aliyah
The old joke asks, “How do you eat an elephant?”
“One bite at a time.”
Planning aliyah, even thinking about the possibility of someday, maybe, planning aliyah, can be overwhelming. It’s such a huge undertaking. Where does one begin?
As the Coordinator of the Baltimore Chug Aliyah, I have the opportunity to coach people who are just beginning to think about making aliyah. Often, people are not ready to speak openly to friends and family about the subject, but would like to know what they can do to begin some preliminary research. What follows is a list of things you can do very early in the process, to make progress without making any open declaration or formal commitment.
There’s a lot to learn and it can be overwhelming. Take one bite at a time. Learn about one new resource, make one new contact or study one new website on a daily or weekly basis. In this way, you will eventually accumulate a great deal of information, one bite at a time.
Here are my suggestions for early steps. I’ve tried to present them from least to most complex, but of course, what one person finds complex, another finds easy. There is no magic to the order in which the steps are undertaken. The most important thing is to take that first bite.
And then the second.
Step – Say a prayer.
When a religious Jew considers aliyah, there is likely to be a spiritual reason behind it. On some level, many of us realize that the most complete expression of our Jewish identity is possible only in Israel. Before you begin, it helps to acknowledge your spiritual motivation with tefillah.
You may find something that speaks to you in our existing liturgy. Consider reciting the second paragraph of Shema or the bracha of mekabetz nidchei amo Yisrael (Who gathers the dispersed of His people Israel) with special kavana. Try noticing the number of references to Israel, Tzion and Jerusalem in Birkat HaMazon. You may wish to say Chapter of Tehillim.
Alternately, consider asking Hashem, in your own words, to guide you on your journey. Imagine the pleasure you are giving Hashem when you begin to explore the possibility of coming Home.
Step - Buy a notebook and a couple of file folders.
You are beginning a research project, and you are going to come upon many, many resources, ideas, websites, brochures, flyers and other ephemera. You’ll need a place to keep them all organized.
If you’re comfortable with a computer (there is a huge amount of information available online), you’ll also want to open a document folder. It’s a good idea to also begin a webography (sometimes called a webliography) - a document that lists links to website related to your search. In addition to saving the URL, you’ll want to write a brief comment about what you found useful about each link, just to jog your memory later.
Step – Open your notebook or a new document and begin to list all your questions, large and small. What will you need to know? Most working people with children are concerned about three big issues. What community will be right for them? What options are there for employment? Where can their kids go to school? These may be your areas of concern. Or you may need to know about retirement options, financial planning, healthcare services, etc. Do a brain dump. List whatever questions you want to find answers for, no matter how major or minor. Just get them out of your brain and into writing.
Step – Turn the page and begin to list all your concerns, large and small.
Nobody makes aliyah without worries. What are you worried about? What are your concerns? What are your potential stumbling blocks? Get all the stuff that’s rolling around in your head into writing
Step – Read Inspirational Blogs
People who long to make aliyah, are going through the process of making aliyah or who have recently made aliyah, are writing blogs (on-line diaries) to share their experiences with the world. Here are a few suggestions of aliyah-related blogs to get you started:
Adventures of Aliyah
Written by a retired couple who made aliyah from Baltimore without children, this blog includes detailed entries about their daily life in Israel. It’s best to start reading this one from the earliest entries forward.
Ki Yachol Nuchal!
Written by a former Baltimore resident now living in Neve Daniel, this blog is about all the wonderful little things that come with life in Israel.
Home of the Aliyah Revolution, this blog is full of aliyah inspiration and is written by regular bloggers and occasional guest bloggers.
What War Zone??? Because the Middle East is Funny
Written by Benji Lovitt, a -something single man now living in Jerusalem, this blog is a humorous look at the cultural differences Americans find in Israel.
Step – Join the Baltimore Chug Aliyah Discussion List
The Baltimore Chug Aliyah is a loose association of like-minded people considering aliyah in the long term or already planning aliyah from Baltimore. Any Jew from Baltimore with an interest in aliyah, no matter how tentative, is welcome. The Chug Aliyah is also open to people with an interest in buying a home in Israel as a step toward deepening their connection with Israel. There are open community meetings and an online discussion group where members share aliyah information and inspiration with one another. All services of the Baltimore Chug Aliyah are free of charge.
If you have email, this one is really easy. Just send a blank email to: email@example.com
Step – Read Inspirational Books
I’ve divided the suggested titles into two categories. Group One includes first-person accounts of the aliyah experience and the experience of life in Israel. Group Two includes more Torah-based content.
Moving Up: An Aliyah Journal
by Laura Ben-David
Moving Up is an easy-to-read, daily account of a family’s first year in Israel, from the packing up of their American house to the birth of their first child in Israel a year later.
To Dwell In The Palace: Perspectives on Eretz Yisroel
by Tzvia Ehrlich-Klein
A thought-provoking collection of articles, addressed to religious Jews in the West concerning the mitzvah of aliyah. Do not miss the section called, “Things My Shaliach Never Told Me.
Reasons to Visit Israel: And Perhaps Make Aliyah
By Estie Solomon
Written by a former Baltimore resident, this is a lighthearted list of pleasurable aspects of life in Israel, illustrated with full-color photos.
On Busdrivers, Dreidels and Orange Juice
On Cab Drivers, Shopkeepers and Strangers
On Bus Stops, Bakers, and Beggars
by Tzvia Ehrlich-Klein
Three little volumes of brief and inspiring stories of everyday life in Israel.
Eretz Yisrael in the Parashah: The Centrality of the Land of Israel in the Torah
by Moshe D. Lichtman
Why do so many Jews still choose to live in the Diaspora? To answer this question, the author analyzes every reference to Eretz Yisrael in the Torah portions, demonstrates the overriding importance of Eretz Yisrael and encourages Diaspora Jews to at least consider making aliyah.
Talking About Eretz Yisrael: The Profound And Essential Meaning Of Making Aliyah
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
This book is a forthright argument meant to encourage Torah-observant Jews to urgently consider making aliyah today.
Eretz Yisrael: The Teachings of HaRav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook (Lights on OROT)
by Rabbi David Samson and Tzvi Fishman
Torat Eretz Yisrael Publications
The rabbinic name most associated with Religious Zionism is HaRav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, better known as Rav Kook, who lived and taught in pre-State Palestine. This book is an accessible English commentary on Rav Kook's teachings about Eretz Yisrael.
Eim Habanim Semeichah: On Eretz Yisrael, Redemption, and Unity
by Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal
Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal was an Eastern European scholar living during the Holocaust. While hiding from the Nazis in Budapest in , he wrote this lengthy argument on behalf of the establishment of Jewish dominion over Israel, a position that he had previously opposed.
Step – Spend time on the Nefesh b’Nefesh website
You are probably already aware that Nefesh b’Nefesh is the place to turn for specific aliyah-related information. Indeed, the Nefesh b’Nefesh website is a major source of current information about all aspects of making aliyah. So much so that it can be overwhelming.
NBN advisors recommend that you make an appointment with yourself and spend an hour a week on their website – every Tuesday night from 7-8 PM, for example. I recommend that you start with the AliyahPedia section of their website. In this section alone, there are hundreds of articles on subjects such as housing, employment basics, financial planning, resources for disabilities, aliyah rights, obtaining an Israeli driver’s license and dozens of other topics.
Step – Request guidebooks
Nefesh b’Nefesh publishes the Nefesh B'Nefesh Aliyah Planner -- a workbook and guide designed to help you organize the details of the Aliyah process. Contact the New York office of NBN for your copy - 1-866-4-ALIYAH or 734-2111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Kehillot Tehilla publishes Bayit Neeman B’Yisrael, -- a booklet that includes research on Israeli communities where North Americans tend to settle. The 9th edition contains highlights of new communities with a special section called "Off the Beaten Track," which identifies upcoming communities and neighborhoods where prices are more affordable. Copies are available locally through the Baltimore Chug Aliyah (see Step ) or contact Paysi Golomb of Kehillot Tehilla - or email@example.com.
Step - Begin attending local programs
The Israel Aliyah and Programs Center, Nefesh b’Nefesh and the Baltimore Chug Aliyah all sponsor free, local programs about various aspects of making aliyah. Members of the Baltimore Chug Aliyah (see Step ) receive notices about all aliyah-related programs. Many are announced on luach.com, on the BaltimoreAchdus list (to subscribe, send a blank email to: BaltimoreAchdusfirstname.lastname@example.org)and in local shul bulletins. The larger programs are also advertised in the Where What When and other local publications.
Step - Get rid of stuff
Nobody takes every single possession from America with them to Israel. While there are large, beautiful private homes in Israel, most people in Israel live in smaller quarters than they did in America.
If you enter the term “decluttering” into a Goggle search, you will get over hits, full of tips on ways to declutter. There are businesses devoted to helping people declutter their homes. When you declutter with an eye toward making aliyah someday, your efforts will benefit you in the spiritual world as well as in the physical world.
Step – Learn some more Hebrew
I’ve saved this for last because it is often the toughest advice to take. You may think that you need to enroll in a class to learn Hebrew. While face-to-face classes do exist in Baltimore, the options locally are quite limited. But today, there are dozens of other options for improving one’s conversational Hebrew level: tapes and CDs, Internet sites, online classes, workbooks, easy-Hebrew newspapers and computer software, all designed for adult use. There are also private tutors. For a complete list of Hebrew learning options for adults, please contact the Baltimore Chug Aliyah (See Step 6).
Kol hatchalot kashot. All beginnings are difficult. But with the steps outlined here, you can take it one bite at a time. If you’ve read all the way to this point, you’re already one step closer to learning more about aliyah.
May Hashem reward all our efforts to return Home.