My Parents’ Pilot Trip

I recently took my parents to Israel to visit my brother. It was the only time all three of us would be able to come. It was also the first time my parents had been to Israel since 2002. Needless to say, a lot has changed since then. There are many more stores with a wider variety of goods, traffic has skyrocketed, and thankfully, there are no more bus bombings. We were there to see my brother, but we also made it their pilot trip. This would probably be their only chance to see Israel before making Aliyah, and it was vital that they experience the country as it is now.

Our journey began with just my mother and I. My father had to work the day before Thanksgiving, so we went ahead to get settled before Shabbat. We landed on Thanksgiving Day, and schlepped our luggage with us to Givat Shmuel. We would be staying at the hotel Lev Yerushalayim, but check in was not until 3 pm. My friend was gracious enough to let us stop by her home and take us out for a delicious lunch. On our way back to her place, we were surprised by my brother, who had been let off early by the army that day. You can watch my mother and brother’s tearful reunion here:

Lone soldier and mom reunite

Once we arrived in Jerusalem, we took the light rail to our hotel. This proved to be quite the undertaking as it was a Thursday evening, and every Thursday evening the light rail is PACKED. In Israel, the weekend starts Thursday evening until Sunday morning. Everyone is getting off work and heading into Jerusalem to go out for fun. We just barely fit all 3 of us on the train, and I’m still not even sure how we brought our luggage.

We woke up early the next morning and rushed to the airport to pick up my father from the airport. We made it back to the hotel just in time for Shabbat. We spent Shabbat at the hotel, and went to the Kotel for maariv and shacharit services. Motzei Shabbat we went out to eat and shop around on Ben Yehuda street.

All together in Jerusalem

On Sunday, my brother needed to return to the army. I took my parents to Chevron for the first time. They absolutely loved it. They saw Maarat Hamachpela (my mother was overcome with tears at Rachel Imeinu’s conspicuous absence), we visited the Chevron Heritage Center, and we ran into the famous Ben Goldstein. Ben is a huge advocate for Israel and provides equipment for IDF soldiers such as winter gear that the army does not provide. You can check out his YouTube channel here, and please consider donating so he can provide more needed supplies!

Meeting Ben Goldstein at the Cave of the Patriarchs

On Monday we visited Givat Shmuel again, and met with a friend of mine for lunch and to speak about my dad’s employment prospects post Aliyah. One tip they gave was to take advantage of the connections you have- it’s all about who you know. Afterwards we went to the Jerusalem beach in Tel Aviv, where the sand is so incredibly soft it feels like powder! After we saw the sunset we headed over to Petach Tikvah and met with another friend of mine about employment opportunities and living in the Tel Aviv area.

My parents at the City of David

The next day, my parents took a tour of the City of David. In 2002, the City of David had not yet been discovered and excavated. But today, actual historic locations mentioned in the Tanach from more than 3000 years ago can be explored. Artifacts from King David’s palace were being discovered before their eyes. While this was happening I met with a friend and we listened to a couple of inspiring lectures at the Aish HaTorah World Center. After their tour ended, we returned to the Kotel and took pictures together.

Placing notes in the wall on behalf of people from Dallas

Wednesday morning we set out for Modiin. We met with a realtor who took us around the city and showed us a few apartments. He talked about the community, the cost of living, and local employment opportunities. We ate lunch at the mall, and returned to Jerusalem. Once there, my parents decided to see how well they could explore around on their own. They did pretty well, but they still have a lot to learn when it comes to interacting with Israelis!

We woke up the next morning and packed for our evening flight. It was our last day for activities. Once everything was packed we went on a tour of The Temple Institute. This experience was absolutely incredible! You aren’t allowed to take photos, or I would have shared some here. But the things we saw there were absolutely breathtaking. So many of the vessels are built and ready to go for the next Beit Hamikdash. Kohanim are being trained for all of their duties serving in the Temple. All that’s really needed is the construction, which will be soon B”H.

After this, we visited the Kotel one last time. There was a bar mitzvah celebration with lots of singing and dancing. Everyone who wasn’t part of the group was participating and celebrating, because we are all one big family. We exited the quarter and waited for our bus. Outside of the security entrance you could still hear the singing, the voices of our people united in absolute joy. I was overcome with emotion. I usually cry every time I leave Israel, but this time was especially difficult. How was I supposed to leave this place, my home? My home where I’ve never actually lived, where my brother is currently serving in the army, risking his life for it’s defense? When my parents are finally here with me, and we can all be together again? And I know in my heart, no in my soul, that I am meant to be here. My future is here, my family is here, my people are here, how can I possibly leave? I was sobbing under an olive tree when a woman from a Christian tour group came over to me. She hugged me and told me that Hashem has a plan for me, that right now I can’t be here because I still have a mission to fulfill. That my love for Israel is beautiful. And when the time is right, I’ll be able to finally come home. She followed this by showing me this video on her phone, and it was exactly what I needed in that moment. It’s amazing how we are all interconnected, and feel the same light that exists in Jerusalem.

Leaving this time was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But I know I’ll be back, and one day it will be forever. But for now I will get ready, and fulfill my mission from Texas. My parents now have a better understanding of what it will be like to live in Israel, and are more prepared for their own journey. They too can’t wait until it’s their time to make Aliyah. May we all merit to live in Israel and see the Beit Hamikdash rebuilt speedily in our days.

Your Story: Natan Bessner

My name’s Natan Bessner. I’m 23 and I made aliyah in August 2015 from Montreal after spending a year at a yeshiva in Jerusalem. That summer Operation Protective Edge broke out, and the disconnect upset me so I decided to return to Israel ASAP. Growing up I went to a Zionist school, took part in Bnei Akiva, and my parents always fostered the importance of the Jewish State. All of these reinforced my need to get back.

After a year of college, I made aliyah to Jerusalem to be back in yeshiva while dealing with my draft. Being a Type 1 Diabetic, I was initially given the profile of 21 which means exemption from service. After submitting loads of medical documents and many visits to the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv draft offices, my profile was raised to 25. This allowed me to volunteer in a non-combat position. I drafted in November 2016, and served with an elite combat unit in the West Bank for my entire enlisted service, after which I signed on for an additional year in the Artillery Corps. My proudest moment would be when I got the award for being one of the top soldiers in my platoon. If I were able to serve in any unit it’s really a toss up between Yahalom (the elite engineers), Duvdevan (counter-terror and under-cover operations in the West Bank), or Shayetet 13 (similar to the Navy Seals).

I’ve been living in Jerusalem since I’ve made aliyah. It’s rather central to everything and I have family members who live in the city. Having made aliyah and only having worked odd jobs there wasn’t really any career transition, the army being my longest term job. The army does provide a pension plan for career soldiers, which I am now considered so I do receive that for the time I have remaining in the army. Not really the longest term plan, but it’s a start!

A couple of tips I’d give to people considering aliyah: thoroughly research the rights that come with aliyah and be open to people correcting your Hebrew. It cracks me up how far I was from getting words right.

Overall I’m very happy with my aliyah. I’ve met people from all over the world and experienced things I don’t think I’d experience anywhere else!

How To Start Your Aliyah Story

Make sure you are eligible for Aliyah:

All Jews are eligible to make Aliyah under the Law of Return. You will need to provide documentation proving your status to both Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency. This is usually just a letter from your rabbi attesting to your Jewishness. If you converted to Judaism, you are eligible for Aliyah whether you had a Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox conversion. You will need to provide proof of your conversion as well, so be sure to have your original conversion documents. Note that this means you are eligible for Aliyah, not that you will necessarily be considered Jewish in Israel. The Israeli Rabbinate only recognizes Orthodox conversions from a select number of Diaspora rabbis. If you had a non-orthodox conversion, or your Orthodox rabbi is not on the approved list, you may have to go through another conversion process in Israel if you want to live as part of a religious community or marry another Jew within Israel. In addition to this, a non-Jew may make Aliyah if they have a Jewish spouse, parent, or grandparent.

Complete your Aliyah Application through Nefesh B’Nefesh (if you live in the US, Canada, or the UK):

This is actually a fairly quick and easy step to finish. Make an account with Nefesh B’Nefesh and browse through some of the questions on the application. The more family members on the application the longer the process will take, but all in all the website is very user friendly and simple to complete.

Speak with Nefesh B’Nefesh advisers through online meetings, and attend the informative webinars offered on the site for free:

Nefesh B’Nefesh advisers are extremely knowledgeable and experienced in helping people make Aliyah. As your Aliyah date approaches, they increasingly reach out to see where you are in the process and are available for any assistance you’ll need. There’s also an archive on their website filled with several hours of recorded webinars. These range over all kinds of topics, from finding a place to live and budgeting to healthcare and leasing a car.

Make a pilot trip (or several) to Israel. Get a feel of the different communities to help you figure out where you want to live:

I cannot stress enough the importance of making a pilot trip to Israel. If you are financially able to make a pilot trip before Aliyah- do it. If you cannot afford a pilot trip, reach out to Nefesh B’Nefesh and they MAY be able to help you find a way to get a subsidized trip. This is not a guarantee though. Pilot trips are essential for understanding where you are moving to, the culture, researching job opportunities, and schools for your children. I recently took my parents on their first pilot trip to Israel. More on that trip in another post. But making Aliyah without a pilot trip is like moving blind and should be avoided if at all possible.

Meet with the Jewish Agency:

You will need to bring your original documents in order for them to verify you are eligible for Aliyah. If you don’t live in the US, Canada, or the UK you will start your Aliyah process by contacting the Jewish Agency. Once you are approved by the Jewish Agency, you are in effect approved for Aliyah.

Set a date for Aliyah, and start packing!