2,870 years after King David ruled over the first Jewish state, 790 years after 300 rabbis from England and France journeyed to eretz yisrael (the land of Israel) to live, 224 years after the students of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of Hasidism) immigrated to Israel, 84 years after the British recognized the Jewish people's right to a homeland in the land of Israel, and 53 years after the State of Israel declared its independence, Michael Israel and Ruchama Benarroch became a part of Jewish history. Their families made aliyah (immigration to Israel, or literally, "going up"), joining nearly three million immigrants who have come to Israel since 1948. "When we landed at the airport," Michael recalls, "I was really excited. It felt so special to be in Israel for the first time." His parents took pictures of him the moment they stepped off the plane. "His eyes were as big as saucers," laughs Michael's mother as she describes the emotional scene.
Most olim (immigrants) experience powerful emotions when they arrive in Israel. Some are grateful to be alive, having arrived on the shores of the Jewish state after fleeing persecution in their native lands. Others, equally thankful, were rescued from life-threatening situations and brought to safety by Israeli forces with the help of world Jewry. And then there are those, like Michael's and Ruchama's families, who turned their backs on a comfortable lifestyle in order to fulfill the dream of living richer, more Jewish lives in the Land of Israel. "I feel much more Jewish because everyone around me is Jewish," explains Ruchama. "It's wonderful to feel part of am yisrael, the people of Israel."
Regardless of the circumstances that bring them to Israel, all olim must get used to a new way of life. The change isn't always easy. Ruchama admits that she had mixed feelings about the move. "I was sad to leave Canada and angry at my parents for taking me away from my friends." After a moment to think, she continues, "I guess I was frightened about starting over in Efrat and about making new friends."
Michael says he felt the same way. "The first day of school in Modi'in was like Harry Potter's first day at Hogwarts. It was exciting and a little frightening, because I didn't have any friends." Then he met Yakir, an oleh hadash (new immigrant) from Australia. Now they spend a lot of time playing Gameboy together. "We also help each other with our homework," says Michael. "Doing homework in Hebrew is especially tough because you have to use words that you don't use every day." Even though he studied Hebrew at Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison, New Jersey, Michael says it felt strange to hear it on the soccer field or on TV. "At first I was afraid everything would be in Hebrew, even the Pokemon cards," he admits. But as time went by, he discovered that watching Pokemon on Israeli TV was "a good way to learn new Hebrew words."
Ruchama also struggled with the language. "I spoke a bit of Hebrew but not enough," she explains, "and that prevented me from fitting in with the other kids right away." Ruchama recalls that it took about four months before she "began to make some very good friends."
Fortunately, Ruchama and Michael's early struggles with Hebrew didn't prevent important changes from taking place in their lives. Seeing how Michael's life changed after aliyah is as easy as looking out his window. He traded the streets of Highland Park, New Jersey, for a view of a very special mountain.
"That's where the Maccabees used to live," he says, pointing to it. "It was pretty cool celebrating Hanukkah so close to where it all happened."
For Ruchama, aliyah has made it easier and more comfortable to lead a religious life. "In Efrat almost everyone is religious and that has made it easier for me," she says. "I don't feel like I stand out or anything. It's also cool that everything in town is kosher."
Making a new home in Israel has been a gradual and steady process for both of them. There are, however, a few things they miss from the old days. Baseball was an important part of Michael's life in America. While it's not as popular in Israel as soccer, there is a baseball league that plays at a field near his home. "League games are on Friday afternoon," he explains, "and since they have to be over in time for Shabbat, we often have ties." Even though he still plays baseball, his new life "is missing one important thing...the Mets," he groans. He couldn't bear to leave his favorite team behind, so he brought Mike Piazza along. A poster of the slugger hangs in Michael's new bedroom.
Even after living in Efrat for two years, Ruchama sometimes feels an ache in her heart for old friends. "After all, I was with them for eight years." She sighs. The tension caused by the continuing violence near her home also worries her. "You hear about everything that is going on and it can be very scary at times," she explains. "I've attended funerals of people killed by terrorist attacks here. A person my age shouldn't have to go to funerals."
All in all, Michael and Ruchama think the benefits of living in Israel far outweigh the drawbacks. Though there may be some days when he wishes he could be in Shea Stadium, cheering on his favorite team, Michael gives his new life in Israel "a 9.5 out of 10. Overall," he says, "I'm happy here." Ruchama agrees. "In spite of everything that is going on," she says proudly, "I wouldn't want to be living anywhere else. By living in Israel, I'm supporting my people and my country."
Roni Tessler, a student at the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, Maryland, spent last year in Israel with his family. Here are some of his favorite Hebrew expressions:
Your friend says: “We’re
going to the movies later!”
You say, “sababah!”
come on, get going (This is really an Arabic word, but everyoneuses it now.)
Your friend is still hanging around school and you say, “yalah, let’s go home now!”
What’s the situation? What’s up?
Bugs Bunny’s favorite saying: “Mah ha-matsey , doc?”
It doesn’t matter.
“Which of these do you want?”
“The Visions CD is tutah!”