Category Archives: My Story

Making Aliyah and Getting Engaged During a Pandemic

After getting all of my documents together and submitting my application for aliyah through Nefesh B’Nefesh, I had an interview with The Jewish Agency over Zoom. The meeting went smoothly, and the questions were very easy such as where do 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 good for a period of one year, after that you must reapply to make aliyah. My Zoom meeting took place on July 31, and I received my Mazal Tov email August 10. But because my parents’ (who also had their Zoom meeting 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 is having to prioritize approvals based on expected aliyah dates.

Due to COVID-19, Nefesh B’Nefesh was unable to meet us at the airport. So they sent us this care package in the mail for the flight

After receiving my Mazal Tov email, I had to send my documents to the Israeli Consulate in Houston to get an aliyah visa. The visa is your pass into Israel until you receive your Teudat Zehut (Israeli ID card). The visa is good for six months before you make aliyah. It is very difficult to contact the Houston office. No one answered any emails I had sent, and there was no ability to leave a message over the phone. I ended up having to call about every five minutes hoping someone would answer the phone, and eventually they did. I was really nervous about my documents and receiving my visa in time before my flight, because Hurricane Laura was slated to hit Houston. Luckily the hurricane’s path shifted eastward, and Houston came out unscathed. I received my visa in the mail on September 2, seven days before my flight. As of now the Consulate is not issuing any visas for students or tourists, so be sure to make clear you are seeking an aliyah visa (which are still being approved).

Typically after getting my aliyah visa, I would have had to get a letter from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs approving me to board a plane to Israel. This is a new requirement, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. The letter lists all of the people on your flight who are making aliyah, along with their passport numbers. It is valid for two weeks after being issued. But because my flight was leaving so soon and I still needed final approval, I received my letter on September 1 (the day before I received my aliyah visa). Once I was within 24 hours of my flight, I had to fill out a travel declaration form. This form states that I don’t have COVID-19 symptoms, and where I plan to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. Since I am single and don’t have any pets, I chose to stay in a hotel provided by the Israeli government.

Going to the airport was as exciting as it was heartbreaking. Finally, I was taking my first steps towards officially becoming Israeli and coming home. But I was leaving my family behind, in what will B”H only be a very short separation. They want to make aliyah just as badly as I did, and doing so without them was the single most difficult part of making aliyah. The airports were less crowded than usual, but there were still a lot of people travelling back and forth. I had to present my visa and letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the gate to be allowed to board the plane. Unfortunately because of the pandemic, Nefesh B’Nefesh had to book our flight through United Airlines instead of Israel’s national airline El Al. This was not how I imagined my aliyah starting out, but nonetheless the experience flying with United went very smoothly. People wore their masks except when eating and drinking. The food was kosher and wasn’t terrible haha. The stewardesses were polite and very helpful. After landing we were immediately welcomed by a person holding a sign for olim chadashim, and we travelled as a group to different kiosks getting processed into the country. We were eventually taken to a room, where we were provided water and sandwiches while waiting to get our official paperwork. I received my Teudat Oleh (immigration ID) here, it’s similar to a passport, and your Teudat Zehut number (citizenship ID number) is listed inside. This number is very important and is used for all sorts of things in Israel. It’s a good idea to memorize your Teudat Zehut number. After you are completely processed you are taken to collect your bags, and escorted by the army to your taxi (free of charge) to your quarantine location.

The two week stay at the Dan Panorama hotel in Tel Aviv (AKA the quarantine hotel) was actually pretty nice. Especially when you consider the room was free, and you are provided three meals a day. It is operated by the army, who calls every day to check up on you and ask if you are showing any symptoms. You are not allowed to leave your room, even to step out into the hallway. Hotel staff brought my meals and hung them on the door handle outside my room. You could also call down to the front desk to receive more water bottles, cups, and coffee at any time. Fresh linen were delivered twice a week, and they took my trash whenever I put the bags outside my room. The view of the beach from my balcony was spectacular, with watching the sunsets being my favorite part of the day. I would often pass the time by video chatting with loved ones, or reading books. Probably the only negative part of the experience was the amount of times people would throw extra bread (from their meals) from their balconies down to the pigeons below. They would be super aggressive and even kill each other over the bread. It was so bad the hotel had to send a mass text to everyone forbidding them to throw bread (though people still did it). It happened that while I was in bidud (quarantine) Rosh Hashana came and went. The hotel provided us with apples and honey, pomegranate seeds, and honey cake to celebrate the new year. We also got to hear the shofar from our balconies, courtesy of the IDF!

My boyfriend actually made aliyah on the same day, so we got out of quarantine at the same time on September 24. He is from The Netherlands, and because of the borders being closed we hadn’t seen each other in person since February. We rode in the free taxi together from Dan Panorama to Jerusalem. We had ten suitcases total, with two backpacks. The driver missed the turn onto our street, and rather than turning around he dropped us off 300 meters from our destination. We had to take turns with the luggage because there was so much haha. After all of the heavy lifting we decided to treat ourselves to some burgers outside of a nearby restaurant. We were enjoying being able to talk face-to-face again and being in each other’s presence when my brother ran into us with a group of his friends. I love Israel!

After getting a bite to eat we cleaned up a bit and went for a walk in the romantic Wohl Rose Garden. We arrived at a hill with a beautiful view overlooking Jerusalem just before sunset. My boyfriend got down on one knee, and suddenly we were engaged! We had waited so long to be together again, and now we’ll spend the rest of our lives with each other.

It’s eerie being back in Jerusalem during a pandemic, even more so during a seger (lockdown). We are not supposed to travel beyond one kilometer (with some exceptions), most businesses are closed, and you have to wear a mask. Grocery stores and pharmacies are open, restaurants are for take out and deliveries only. Most of Shuk Mahane Yehuda is closed. You have to have your temperature taken before entering some places such as the shuk, the bank, or government offices. There are fewer buses running, and they stop earlier in the day. Jerusalemites seem to be doing a lot better with wearing masks than Israelis in other cities such as Tel Aviv. It was even possible for us to go to shul during Shabbat and the chagim. Chabad of Rechavia has an outdoor shaded minyan, with everyone wearing masks and seating faced far enough apart to limit any spread of the virus. Despite all of the changes, life goes on here in Israel. People still take the buses and light rail. Musicians still play in the street and dogs are still being walked. It’s not the Jerusalem I expected to make aliyah to, but it is still the Jerusalem of my dreams. It became even more of a dream when we travelled to a grocery store on Emek Refaim to get this really good Dutch peanut butter, and the store was filled with American products! There is so much I love about Israel, but one thing I can’t stand are Israeli pickles. So when I saw these on the shelf, I responded with the appropriate amount of enthusiasm: running over to my fiancé and jumping up and down while dragging him over to the aisle showing him the miracle that is Vlasic pickles in Israel.

Following Yom Kippur on September 29, we went to the Misrad Hapanim (Ministry of Interior) office in Jerusalem. We were advised by Nefesh B’Nefesh not to schedule an appointment, because of the seger the office was officially “closed.” But they had worked out with the Misrad Hapanim that olim chadashim could come to get their temporary Teudat Zehut, which we are required to get as soon as possible after making aliyah. We pressed the button and a security guard asked us in Hebrew why we were there. We told him we were there to get our Teudat Zehut, and he said they were closed. Another couple came up behind us and rang the bell again. Again, the security guard said they were closed. By this time a large group of people were forming behind us, and finally a woman came out flanked by two security guards. She yelled to everyone that they were closed, then proceeded to ask a couple why they were there. Upon hearing their reason, she sent them away and told them to come back when they were open. We got her attention by desperately waving our Teudat Oleh in front of us, and said we are olim chadashim and need to get our Teudat Zehut. She let us through, and after going through security and having our temperature taken we made our way upstairs to the offices. This goes to show that in Israel you must be persistent to get things done, and no does not always mean no when it comes to Israelis. We presented our documents and passport photos, took another photo for our permanent Teudat Zehut (to be sent by mail), and walked out with our temporary Teudat Zehut (good for three months). The entire process took about an hour. Pre-corona times, we would have had to make an appointment and wait all day to be seen. It is not uncommon to have to devote an entire day to get anything done, Misrad Hapanim, Misrad HaKlita, bank appointments, each used to take hours and hours. In a weird way, COVID-19 streamlined the aliyah process making it a lot faster, smoother, and cheaper than ever before!

This was especially true at the bank. We knew we had to have a bank account before going to the Misrad HaKlita (Ministry of Immigrant Absorption) so that the Sal Klita payments could be deposited directly into our accounts. Being American, I had to find a bank that would take me as a customer, because the USA taxes it’s citizens even when they live abroad, making me a more complicated case. I had heard Bank HaPoalim was one of the biggest banks in Israel, so we decided my odds of being accepted were higher with them. We went to the bank, and discovered the next available appointments were 2.5 weeks later. We scheduled the appointments, but decided this was too long of a wait and looked for another bank in the meantime. We found that Discount Bank had an English website, and they had an appointment available the next day! So in the end we became customers of Discount. Because of the pandemic, they limited the amount of time we could be in the bank to 10 minutes/person (and everyone had their temperature taken). What would normally be a very long approval process took about 20 minutes (not including waiting about an hour). Not too shabby I’d say!

Immediately after opening a bank account we went to Misrad HaKlita. I had called to schedule an appointment while waiting at the bank, and they said no appointment was needed. Just come after opening a bank account so that they could set up the Sal Klita payments right away. We walked in, went through security (yet again having our temperature taken), and sat in Iyat’s office. She set up our Sal Klita payments, provided a list of ulpans for us to contact, and printed out a list of benefits we are entitled to as olim chadashim. We were in and out within twenty minutes! So to recap: We went to Misrad Hapanim, opened a bank account, and visited Misrad HaKlita all within a two-day period. Impossible to do before the pandemic.

On October 1 we travelled to Eli in the Shomron to view an apartment we found on yad2 (website only available in Israel). It’s beautiful, and extremely affordable- the rent per month is less than just one of our Sal Klita payments!!! It’s in a gorgeous area, so green and well-maintained. The community is mostly Dati Leumi, and very warm and friendly. After viewing the apartment, we met with a few friends of my fiancé who live there. One of them drove us around, showing off all that Yishuv Eli has to offer. It has a post office, two health clinics (Maccabi and Clalit), a supermarket, smaller shops, a couple of restaurants, lots of security, and good schools for children. There is even a mechina (pre-army preparatory yeshiva) for young men. After seeing everything, we decided to go back to the apartment and signed a contract with our landlord (who is also a rabbi and printed a 1 page contract with 10 lines we were able to understand with Google Translate). I normally wouldn’t sign a rental contract without hiring a lawyer to look it over (and still HIGHLY recommend using a lawyer on Israel), but between our landlord being a rabbi, my fiancé’s friend who understands Hebrew approving it, reading it ourselves using Google Translate, and it was such a simple and short contract, we felt safe enough signing it. Time will tell if this was a good decision or not, haha.

So this concludes my first three weeks as an Israeli! Needless to say a lot has happened. In the coming weeks I will need to change my address at Misrad Hapanim, sign up for supplemental insurance with my kupat cholim (I chose Maccabi), move into our apartment, find jobs, and plan a wedding! We will be getting married December 15. As you’ve probably figured out by now, we don’t waste any time haha. Looking forward to sharing endless adventures in Israel, and I’m so incredibly thankful to be home.

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.

In the beginning of the trip, we had stayed in and explored Israel’s northern part of the country. We took a bus to Jerusalem on a Friday, and immediately you could tell Jerusalem was different than any other place in the world. The air was crisper, almost sweet despite car fumes and plenty of cigarette smoking courtesy of the locals. It’s hard to describe the feeling. It wasn’t really a physical sweetness but a spiritual one. And I’ve only ever had this feeling in Jerusalem. We toured the Old City, and slowly arrived at the steps to the Kotel in the Jewish Quarter. As we got closer the sweetness intensified, as did my anticipation. The air became still and quiet, the only sounds coming from people’s conversations. I washed my hands and then eagerly made my way through to the women’s section of the wall.

I was in awe that I was actually here, I had finally returned after 16 years. I put my left hand on the stones and was immediately overcome with emotion. I thought about the thousands of years the Jews have been in exile: hoping, praying, and dying waiting to return to Jerusalem. About my family’s journey, and my own path to return. All of the struggle and hardships in the world, war, famine, and illness. I prayed for peace in Israel and the rest of the world. That Israel’s soldiers would be kept safe. That there would be no more sickness in the world, no more pain or suffering. That we would be free live Torah lives without fear. That we may all return to Israel soon. And I begged Him to not make me wait another 16 years to return.

It was then that I experienced something truly special. I felt a connection to the land, and I could feel the souls of every Jew: past, present, and future. And the land itself was calling all of us home. I cannot adequately describe this experience, and I may even sound crazy. All I can say is I’ve never felt anything like it and probably won’t experience it again. As for my prayers, I could feel that everything I had asked for is going to happen soon. At the time it had felt imminent, like it could happen the next day. But Hashem is infinite, and “soon” is relative to Him. Fast forward two years, and these things have yet to occur. But I believe we are close to the redemption era, and eagerly anticipate its arrival. For now, I will continue to visit as often as possible, until I can finally say “נס גדול היה פה– a great miracle happened HERE.”

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.

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.

Fast forward a few years, and I applied to go on a Birthright trip . For those of you who don’t know, Birthright Israel is an organization that sends young Jewish adults ages 18-32 on a 10-day trip to Israel FOR FREE. Seriously. Round-trip plane tickets, food, travel, attractions, and sleeping accommodations are all included. You are provided with a private tour bus, an amazing and knowledgeable tour guide, meet Israeli soldiers (who join you on the trip), and have a security guard/medic with you the entire time. They have a lot of different organizers, each with a lot of different types of trips. I chose Israel Free Spirit as my organizer and applied to go on the “modox” (modern orthodox) trip. Thankfully I was accepted, and started to prepare for what would be the most memorable trip of my life.

When I left Dallas for Israel, I thought I was already in love with Israel and the idea of making Aliyah. I thought I was prepared for this trip and while I was physically packed with everything I could possibly need, I was completely unprepared for the emotional onslaught that hit me when the plane landed at Ben Gurion Airport. I was finally here, a place that had become legendary in my mind as a child. A place that at one time I never imagined I would be able to return. And now, I was finally HOME. It’s amazing how before I went to Israel, I never noticed feeling as if something was missing in my life. Upon landing, I felt as if I was finally where I was supposed to be, and it was such a relief. I experienced all of this within the first five minutes of landing in Israel, and it is all thanks to Birthright Israel. For those who are eligible and haven’t gone yet, I cannot recommend it enough.

My trip was simply magical. The people on the trip were incredible, and we bonded so much so that by the end of the trip we felt like a family. Everyone in charge of planning and coordinating the trip did an amazing job. Our itinerary was jam-packed full of action, sight-seeing, fascinating historical lectures, lively discussions and debates, interaction with Israelis, opportunities for spiritual growth, and of course, delicious food. I created a video of my trip, which can be seen here.

For obvious reasons, this trip was a pivotal moment in my Aliyah story. It was my first time back in Israel, and I fell even more in love with the land and the people than I thought was possible. I learned a lot about myself, and had a better idea of what it’s like to live there. I am much more confident in my ability to make Aliyah. Now going to Israel is no longer an insurmountable feat. Six months after this trip, I returned to Israel to visit my brother (who had since made Aliyah himself) and to see the friends I made on Birthright. I am returning in two months to go to one of my best friend’s wedding. And I have every intention on coming back as often as possible before my Aliyah date.

Feel free to ask me any questions you may have about applying to and going on a Birthright trip, and let me know if you want me to make more in-depth posts about my trip!

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 risk and next to no support system in place. For these reasons I never even considered Aliyah until after my first year of college.

So what had made this night, in this year different from all other nights? A couple of months prior, my family had watched the JerusalemU documentary “Beneath the Helmet” (https://beneaththehelmet.jerusalemu.org/). After viewing it, my brother decided he wanted to join the IDF as a lone soldier or chayal boded. At first we thought he was just going through a phase, and he would decide to do something else after graduating high school. When we realized he was serious, we immediately started to panic about everything ranging from from his safety to where would he do his laundry. This prompted a lot of research online and reaching out to others who had also served in the IDF to hear about their experiences. With all of this going on, the natural progression then inevitably led to the realization that it’s not impossible nor is it crazy to move to Israel (well okay, you may have to be a little crazy).

Then my best friend from high school returned to Dallas after having spent a year in Israel studying in seminary. After catching up, she told me she had decided she wanted to make Aliyah. I couldn’t believe it, we were both coming to the same conclusion about where we wanted to live out our lives. She returned to Israel as soon as she was approved. I decided to wait until after I finished university, and as a result I was able to learn from her experience. So now I had someone living in Israel that I knew, a brother about to join the army, and familiarity with the Aliyah process. I decided it was also time for me to prepare to make Aliyah, to make the dream MY reality. The next step would be to visit Israel and see it for myself….