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.
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.