Category Archives: My Story

How to Get Married in Israel During COVID-19

My husband and I were matched online through sister sites Saw You At Sinai and See You in Israel (co-created by Nefesh B’Nefesh) on January 15, 2020. I was a critical care nurse from Texas, and Akiva was a policy officer for CIDI, a pro-Israel lobby group in the Netherlands. It was a perfect match. We had the same beliefs, values, religious observance, politics, and goals in life. After exchanging a few texts and calling a few times, it became clear that we had the exact same sense of humor as well! The only problem was we were living in two different countries, literally an ocean apart. Hearing I was planning a trip to Israel, Akiva decided to meet me there, and we met in person in Jerusalem. We went on two dates before returning to our respective countries. Then COVID-19 hit, and international travel was banned. We continued texting back and forth and making video calls that would last over 6 hours. Quite a feat considering a time difference of seven hours! We fell in love over our mutual love of Hashem, Israel, the Jewish people, and good memes. We met each other’s family over Zoom.

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Making Aliyah and Getting Engaged During a Pandemic

After gathering all of my documents and submitting my application for Aliyah through Nefesh B’Nefesh, I interviewed with The Jewish Agency over Zoom. The meeting went smoothly, and the questions were straightforward, such as where you think you’ll live, what kind of work you do, why you want to make Aliyah, and verifying your Jewish status. Depending on when your expected Aliyah date is, the Jewish Agency will then send you a “Mazal Tov” email approving your eligibility for Aliyah. This Mazal Tov email is valid for one year, after which you must reapply to make Aliyah. My Zoom meeting took place on July 31, and I received my Mazal Tov email on August 10. But because my parents’ (who also had their Zoom meeting on July 31) expected Aliyah date isn’t until November, they didn’t receive their Mazal Tov letter until September 10. A lot of people are making Aliyah now, and the Jewish Agency has to prioritize approvals based on expected Aliyah dates.

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My Experience at the Kotel

Technically my first time at the Kotel was in 2002. I was six years old and don’t remember much from the experience. I do remember it being very crowded, my mother had my brother and I wearing harnesses that resembled dog leashes so that we wouldn’t be separated. But this isn’t the topic of this post. No, my first true experience at the Kotel was during my Birthright trip in 2018.

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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 visit Israel before making Aliyah, and they needed to experience the country as it is now.

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Trip of a Lifetime

The first time I visited Israel, I was six years old. I don’t remember much of it, and the little I do remember is mostly from watching home videos. Growing up I went to a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school that heavily emphasized Zionism. We would have days where we learned about the history of Israel, Israeli culture, Israeli food, and Israeli current events. We would pray for the welfare of the State of Israel, the safety of IDF soldiers, and the return of then captured Gilad Shalit from Hamas. All of our Hebrew teachers were Israeli, and sometimes I would stay after class to learn more about this amazing country that eventually became almost mythical to me. A place that you hear about, and wish you could go visit, but somehow would always be out of reach.

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Why Make Aliyah?

With Pesach just around the corner, I remember having an epiphany four years ago that has forever changed the course of my life. At the end of the seder, we always say, “Next year in Jerusalem!” But on that night, I began to wonder why we often say this phrase without any real intent. Almost as if the chances of it happening are the same as opening the door and Eliyahu is standing there waiting to be invited inside. Is living in Israel really such a crazy idea? Before I would have answered this question with a resounding YES. It’s on the other side of the world. It’s in the Middle East. I could barely speak any Hebrew. It’s expensive to move. It’s expensive to live there. It’s a different culture. I didn’t have any family or even any friends living there. Then of course there’s the propensity of the media to portray Israel as being in a constant state of war with terror attacks happening left and right. In short, it was a great unknown, one with a lot of risks and next to no support system in place. For these reasons I never even considered Aliyah until after my first year of college.

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