Becoming Israeli

 


We made Aliyah from Boca Raton, Florida, on the very first Nefesh B’Nefesh flight. That ground-breaking day has become the beginning of a revolution as many thousands more have since followed.

When people hear that I moved to Israel from beautiful Florida they are often surprised. And I never fail to be surprised that they’re surprised! I didn’t move to Israel because of a pros and cons list comparing Israel and Florida. Rather I moved because I believe that Israel is where Jews truly belong; and because I could. That’s not to say all Jews must make Aliyah tomorrow. Nor will I claim that I would have made the same decision to make Aliyah a hundred years ago. Or even fifty. Or twenty.

Let’s face it: Israel has, in a relatively short time, become a highly industrial, progressive, westernized nation. But it is NOT the West. In fact, check your map; we’re smack in the middle of the Middle East. Camels, desert and all. Despite this, the balance of ‘pros’ over ‘cons’ continues to go up dramatically. But those are not the reasons to come, just the perks. Frankly, it’s miraculous that this tiny nation has come as far as it has and is still moving forward at an incredibly rapid pace. But then again, Israel is a land built on a steady diet of miracles...


Miracles or not, we made a massive, life-changing move that we could never be fully prepared for; and it was the best move I ever made. Does that mean it was easy? That I always knew what to do? That I could just step out of my old life and into this new and different one, seamlessly, without pitfalls and mistakes? Hell no. But really, what life decisions of value truly come easy? It wasn’t easy, but oh so worth it.

Truth be told I’m not the type to be daunted by things that ‘aren’t easy’. In fact, when I made Aliyah at age 33 I had decided that I was going to go for the whole enchilada and really ‘become Israeli.’ I changed my first name to my Hebrew one. We moved to a community that, back then, was predominantly Hebrew speaking. I jumped into Hebrew classes and pushed myself to the highest level possible, even though I was clearly out of my league... What the heck was I thinking? Within weeks of our Aliyah I realized the name-change was a huge mistake. (I changed it back as soon as I could.) While my Hebrew grammar skills were good, my vocabulary was pathetically weak. Stringing a sentence together was challenging and understanding Israeli street Hebrew was almost impossible. Back then I found myself speaking in English 98% of the time, using Hebrew only when absolutely necessary.


In a very short period of time I realized that I was never going to be a true Israeli the way I’d thought. It bothered me at first. What did the Israelis have that I didn’t? My parents always told me I could be anything I wanted to be. A doctor, a lawyer... why not an Israeli? Was my brain really too ‘old’ to accept this new way of being? Yeah, I guess it was. After feeling bad for myself a bit, I realized that I was wrong all along; I had become a true Israeli; I became one on that Nefesh B’Nefesh flight when I made Aliyah. In fact, I became Israeli the same way most Israelis did—them, or their parents or grandparents.

Being Israeli is a badge of honor I wear with utter joy and pride. It did not confer upon me any special knowledge or skills, it certainly didn’t help me with the Hebrew language, and it did not help me understand Israeli culture, Israeli politics, or know how to shop in Israeli grocery stores. But that has all come in time; is still coming, in fact.

I may periodically complain and my Hebrew accent is pathetic. (Just ask my kids!) But hey, no one’s perfect and no one needs to be. I live in Israel and I love Israel; flaws and all. I have never regretted the move for even a moment. While I love coming back to Florida to visit, I’m not moving back. I accept Israel for all it has to offer, though I may try to change things here and there. And you know what? Israel accepts me.


Inspired by her Aliyah experience, Laura Ben-David began writing and never stopped. She is the author of the book “Moving Up: An Aliyah Journal,” a memoir of her move to Israel. She has spoken about Israel and Aliyah all over the United States and Israel. Formerly the head of social media at Nefesh B’Nefesh, Laura has her own consulting firm, LBD Creative.The Florida community can learn more about the Aliyah process at the Spring Aliyah Fair in Fort Lauderdale on March 9.

 

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