More than 2,500 people from North America and the UK moved to Israel this summer. The Singers left a plane behind, but brought along its snake. Jamie McIntyre found love, and a new home, following her Birthright trip.
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Mitchell Singer has always loved a good adrenaline rush—motorcycle riding, hang gliding, racecar driving, scuba diving, flying his plane. But these daredevil activities pale in comparison to the ultimate rush, which he says he found making aliyah with his family last month.
In just six months, Singer, now known as Isser Baruch, and his wife Jeanette, now Yonit, planned their big move from West Bloomfield, Mich., packed up their three kids, sold their businesses and moved to Mitzpe Netofa, a 750-member Orthodox community in northern Israel.
The plane? Singer sold it, with no regrets.
“That was my wife’s true test of whether I was going to make a successful aliyah,” Singer, 51, says. “That’s gashmis [material], that’s crap. I’d give it all up. Let’s go where it’s real.”
The Singers, like all North Americans making aliyah these days, came through Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization founded in 2002 in partnership with the Jewish Agency to facilitate and streamline the aliyah process. This summer, NBN reports that 2,500 from North America and the United Kingdom made aliyah. On the Singers’ Aug. 15 NBN charter flight, the 360 passengers on board included 52 families, 120 children, 133 singles, 104 new IDF soldiers, 10 dogs, one cat and one snake—belonging to the Singers.
A snapshot of aliyah
Yael Katsman, NBN’s director of marketing and communications, says 65-70 percent of their families making aliyah are Orthodox, while 20-25 percent are Conservative and 5 percent are Reform. When it comes to the singles that make aliyah, most describe themselves as secular, Katsman says, with 45 percent being Orthodox.
Katsman says factors that have made aliyah a more attractive option could include Israel’s healthy job market in contrast to the global slump (the unemployment rate hit a record of 5.7 percent in July), success of the Taglit-Birthright program, and financial assistance the Israeli government provides to students and young professionals.
Every new immigrant receives a sal klitah, a financial “absorption basket,” for the first eight months living in Israel. One’s marital and employment status, and how many children one has, determine the size of the basket. A single person receives a total of NIS 17,368 ($4,718), a married couple 33,110 ($8,995), and a couple within 44 months of retirement age 40,710 ($11,059). Families receive an additional NIS 10,272 ($2,790) and 6,823 ($1,853) for children 4-17. Since January 2011, the government has raised the sal klitah by 10 percent. Outside of this funding, the government largely or completely helps students pay for university education and gives subsidies for rent.
There’s also a ripple effect that encourages aliyah, Katsman says.
“What’s making it more attractive for young people is the fact that they’re seeing a lot of their friends and family making aliyah,” she says. “Israel basically makes it as easy as possible for young professionals to come over.”
‘My soul cried out to be here’
Why the Singers chose the close-knit, largely Hebrew-speaking Mitzpe Netofa to be their new home was exemplified when 30 members of the community showed up to Ben-Gurion Airport to greet them.
“They got up at 3:45 in the morning to be at the airport by 7 with banners,” Isser Baruch Singer recalls. His 10-year-old son David turned to him at that moment and said, “Dad, thank you for working so hard to get us here.” Long hours of research, as well as networking with Israelis from afar and via a pilot trip, helped Isser Baruch narrow the choice down from 100 cities to the one, he says. For his children, who have been homeschooled and are starting to learn Hebrew, he sought a nurturing community with plenty of fresh air that would make the transition as smooth and non-threatening as possible. With certainty, he says, from the minute they landed, they have felt welcomed by their yishuv’s warmth.
The desire to make aliyah first came to Singer when he visited Israel in 2001 while the country was in the throes of the second intifada. He says he simply felt at home. “My soul cried out to be here,” he says.
Still, it wasn’t the right time. Last year when he and his wife took their daughter Anna to Israel for her bat mitzvah, his wife came on board. “It felt to my wife like it did to me 10 years previously. It touched her heart and her soul. That started the journey. When we returned February 4 from the trip, she gave me the green light to really start looking into making aliyah.”
As a family, he says the main motivation for aliyah was to give his children an accessible observant life. Leading a modern Orthodox lifestyle in America is becoming increasingly difficult, he says, in terms of being able to seamlessly combine an obligation to mitzvot (finding kosher food, for example) with work and other secular aspects of life. Combined with troublingly high assimilation and intermarriage rates, that made aliyah the answer, Singer says.
A complicated decision
Jamie McIntyre, a Las Vegas transplant to Ra'anana, did not expect to fall in love when she visited Israel on a Taglit-Birthright trip in May 2010. But following her 10-day excursion, she ended up extending her stay until December, meanwhile falling in love with Ishai, a high-tech student in Tel Aviv. The 26-year-old made aliyah on Nefesh B’Nefesh’s July 11 flight.
While she was sure of her decision to make aliyah, it was also a complicated one, as she had taken time off from school to care for her mother who was undergoing chemotherapy, and is still ill.
“I wanted time with her…as much time as possible,” says McIntyre. “I keep questioning why I’m here when I should be spending all the time I have left with her.” But aside from the guilt she feels, she says aliyah was something she needed to do for herself. Her mother strongly encouraged her go on Taglit, and is even thinking of joining her daughter in Israel.
“I’m a spiritual person and Israel is the most spiritual place that I’ve been,” McIntyre says. “It’s definitely where I belong. I just need to figure out where I belong here. I’m sure it will be something important because I want to help people and make a difference.”
While she figures out her next steps academically, McIntyre is preparing to begin Ulpan classes. She is considering working with various populations, perhaps new olim or the elderly, and possibly incorporating her passion for art into her career.
“I want to find a place and I know that I can find it out here,” she says confidently.
Language and other barriers
Singer says the biggest change since moving to Israel, as a parent, is “learning how to relax and not be so uptight.” The freedom children are granted on a yishuv to run around and spend time with friends not under parental supervision has taken some getting used to for the Singers, who like many American parents always want to know their children’s whereabouts.
“Here it’s like a camp. Kids can go out and have fun and be with their friends and it’s safe, which is huge,” Singer says of the community whose gates are secure. “Our neighbors keep reminding us ‘Chill out, relax. They’re having fun.’”
Now they’re taking the time to adjust to their new lives one step at a time, traveling the country and working on building their Hebrew language skills. Singer says he would like to see his children transition in a year into the Israeli school system, in order to help them socialize into the culture and even prepare for the military.
“Going to school is a big part of that,” he says of preparing for the IDF. “I would be honored and proud to have my kids serve.”
McIntyre is progressing in her Hebrew with Ishai’s help, but that, along with social integration, does not come easily.
“I’m still shy about it. I don’t really use [Hebrew] yet,” she says. “I really want to get the language down. I think that’s a huge barrier. “Sometimes it feels uncomfortable, like I’m out of place. People have to translate for me.”
Despite the challenges of language, integration, and feeling a sense of loss over leaving loved ones behind—universal experiences olim face—McIntyre is excited to start her new life in Israel, and looks forward to building it with Ishai.
“I want me and my boyfriend to eventually buy a house and get married, have kids, and raise my children here,” she says.