(July 25, 2018 / JNS) When we started dating, my “wife to be” said that she was only interested in dating someone who would want to make aliyah. To me, moving to Israel was important, but it was never a priority. At the time, I was studying in Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in New York and preparing for a career as a pulpit rabbi.
As spiritual and meaningful as living in the land of our forefathers sounded, it didn’t match the religious impact I could have in America by serving the larger community. To me, it was a cost-benefit analysis in which aliyah took second place to the American rabbinate.
As the years went by (and our family grew), we maintained a two-year plan for making aliyah. This plan kept getting a renewed end date. Having served as a congregational rabbi for more than a decade, both in New York and Oregon, I didn’t know what life after the rabbinate would look like—and frankly, it scared me. Due to the cultural differences (and my American Hebrew), I felt the rabbinate was not a viable employment option in Israel, where there are already so many qualified ones already.
Around three years ago, I made the decision to go into IT work (or “high-tech,” as it’s called in Israel). I began reading books and taking online courses, and attending conferences and networking events. My goal was to gain the experience necessary to get a job in Israel. During any free moment, I studied for the next stage of my professional life.
We got in touch with Nefesh B’Nefesh to discuss the details of making aliyah and for help with my career change. The organization provided contacts for me to call and job-board information, and was able to answer the many questions I had. Finally, we set a date: the summer of 2018, on Nefesh B’Nefesh’s July 24 charter flight.
I knew that I would have to find a job to gain some experience, so that I wouldn’t sound completely lost when we arrived in Israel. There’s a difference between learning the theory of how something is supposed to operate and actually configuring it, and then troubleshooting it when it fails. I sent out dozens of résumés each week with almost no response.
A position eventually came up that was perfect. I applied and got a call back. After a few more calls and interviews with the company, I was told they would have an answer for me the next day; it was between me and one other candidate. They chose the other guy. I was devastated. With nothing to lose, I decided to make them the following offer: I’ll work for free. I needed the experience, and I was looking at my time there as an investment. Two weeks later, they said I should come in on Monday. After a short time as an intern, they offered me a salary, and eventually, I was working as a network engineer and sharing an office with the “other guy” who got the job and became my mentor. All the pieces were finally falling into place.
The time came to find a job in Israel, and again, the résumés went out with little response. I was told that the turnover rate in Israel works differently than in the U.S. In Israel, things move much faster, and nobody is interested in hiring someone who isn’t in the country yet. I had many offers from people looking to put in a good word for me, but it would have to wait until I arrived. Scared of the prospect of not finding a job, I continued to apply for positions.
Eventually, I found a New York-based company that was looking for someone to work remotely in Israel. This position happened to align perfectly with the experience I gained while working in Oregon, and I was hired.
The road to aliyah can be a bumpy one, filled with curves and detours. But nothing comes without effort. Now, I’m able to clearly see how everything fit together. While I was going through the steps, it was a different story. There were many sleepless nights. The only thing that got me through was knowing it was being done for a good cause—aliyah and the faith that G-d would support me.
Now, finally, after a wonderful career in the American rabbinate, I’m ready for the next stage of life in the Israeli high-tech world. It won’t be the same, and I’ll have to use a different scale to measure success. But it will be worth it in order to live in the Holy Land, where we belong.
I wanted to share my story with anyone who is in a similar situation; for anyone who is contemplating living in Israel but isn’t sure how to practically go about it. There are so many unknowns and uncertainties that sometimes paralyze us. We push off the decision, hoping that “next year” will be different. I wanted to send the message that it can be done. No matter what stage of life you are at, with the proper planning and drive you can make it happen!
Michael Kaplan of Portland, Ore., made aliyah as part of the Nefesh B’Nefesh Charter Aliyah flight on July 24.