Making aliyah is never easy, let alone in the age of coronavirus.
However much someone dreams of moving to Israel and tries to plan it out to the last detail, things never quite go as expected. My husband and I have been planning our aliyah since we were dating. We picked careers we thought would transfer easily. We took an online ulpan (intensive Hebrew-language course) to prepare us to network for jobs. We took a pilot trip to explore communities and school systems. We met a realtor and looked into apartments. We thought we had figured it all out.
Man plans, G-d laughs.
Making aliyah during a pandemic was never part of the plan. Heading straight into self-quarantine with two little kids for two weeks was certainly not part of the plan. Throw in that it all came three weeks before Pesach, and you may as well forget there was ever a plan in the first place.
The Nefesh B’Nefesh organization gave us the choice to push off our move and wait for a better time. But they assured us that if we decided to proceed, they would be there to assist in any way they could. My husband and I determined that there is never a perfect time to make aliyah, and if we were serious about it, we should go now.
I turned to the “Our Modi’in” Facebook group with a simple request: Given that we would be in quarantine when we arrived, how could we order supplies and have them delivered when we needed them?
The immediate response was overwhelming. Strangers who had never met us literally were lining up to help us out. A meal train was started for our first two weeks in Israel. A grocery order was placed to ensure that we had all the necessary staples for our pantry. Offers of toys and books for our two kids poured in. Neighbors we had never met set up our apartment. A service called “Olim Advisors” set up our Internet so my husband could start his job immediately.
Then came the big day. Waiting to check in at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey was unnerving. The terminal was mostly empty besides the couple hundred people checking in for the aliyah flight via El Al Airlines. Most people were wearing masks and gloves. I began to wonder if this was the safest choice for my family.
Yet as we walked onto the plane, my 5-year-old son turned to me and said, “Mommy, how lucky are we! We are the people in our family who get to live the dream of moving to Israel. You know some rabbis even say this is a mitzvah!” As our flight had some anxious moments, including a passenger needing medical attention, I kept trying to remind myself of my son’s words. We were so lucky in the midst of everything happening in the world today to be fulfilling our dream of moving to Israel.
Soon enough, the 24 new olim (immigrants) had arrived home. Although we have only lived in Israel for a few days now and have not moved beyond our front yard, we feel at home. In the midst of their own chaos, our new community cannot find enough ways to help us through ours. Our doorbell keeps ringing over and over, as packages are left with food and supplies at our door—often, without a name, so we don’t even know who to thank. We have received emails and calls from people all over Israel who have heard our story, and just want to welcome us. While we miss our family and friends back in the United States and Canada, we truly feel adopted by the people here in Israel and cannot wait to meet them all.
We may be riding the adrenaline rush of the experience, and more bumps along the way are surely ahead of us. However, I can say without reservation that while this may not have gone as planned, we are thrilled that we made it to where we are today and grateful to everyone who has helped us on our journey. We are hopeful that Israel and the world overcome this virus, and that future olim will be able to arrive without this added stress.
Regardless, we stand ready to assist other new immigrants just as we have been helped during our time of need.
Aviva Karoly made aliyah with her husband and two children on March 19, 2020, with Nefesh B’Nefesh, in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemet LeIsrael and JNF-USA.