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Making Aliya
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

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3/15/07
Recommended reading for this column – “When American Families Move to Eretz Yisroel” by Rabbi Yair Spolter of Kiryat Sefer.

My wife and I have always had a deep love for Eretz Yisroel since we both studied there in our post high school years. Over the years, we have been discussing the idea of making aliya (moving there) with our family, but somehow we never got to actually doing it.

Now, we feel that we are ready, but we are concerned about relocating our children. We have four children; the eldest is thirteen, and we would appreciate your guidance with this potential move.

I'm not sure how important this information is, but my wife is not as gung-ho about this as I am.

Dovid

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Imagine that you decided to go on a one-day camping trip and then prepared a backpack with your provisions. Please bear with me Dovid while I carry this one out, but in the analogy, you are the sandwich, your wife is the bottle of orange juice and your kids are the dozen eggs.

I say that because generally speaking the men/fathers find relocation to be less stressful than do the wives/mothers. Why? Because the mothers are the ones who need to take care of the 'stuff' – the details that will make or break the success of your aliya.

Dovid don't make the all-to-common mistake of underestimating the importance of getting the 'stuff' right. Please don’t trivialize or dismiss your wife’s concerns with the pragmatics of the move. Don’t think, “Here we are thinking of the incredible mitzvah of spending the rest of our lives in Eretz Yisroel and my wife is worried about jobs and schools for the kids.” If you need an example of what things look like when one is inspired by a big idea and neglects the details, just analyze the horrific train wreck that the war in Iraq has become. That also began with two big ideas – free the Iraqi people and spread democracy. But President Bush was so inspired by his vision that he forgot to ask or inquire if the troops will have bulletproof vests or who will make sure that the Iraqi people have electricity.

All things considered, I am most concerned about your thirteen year old. If you are the sandwich (easy to move), and your wife is the bottle of orange juice (much more likely not to handle the adjustment well), your children are the dozen eggs (far more likely to crack during the transition). And moving your adolescent child is like taking the eggs out of the container and stuffing all of them into your pants pockets.

I am always reluctant to give detailed advice to people whom I do not know well, but I can tell you with near certainty that you should not make the move at this point in your life. Let’s face it. Your children – especially the older ones – are Americans and making the adjustment to the Israeli culture is quite complicated. And although the benefit of making aliya is great, the risks are simply too high in your case. I suggest that you keep this dream of yours on hold until, with the help of Hashem, your children are married, or at least settled in the last year or two of High School. I would be far more likely to encourage you to make the move if you had written that you had either: 1) spent a great deal of time planning the move, 2) spent a summer in Eretz Yisroel with your children, 3) taught your children Hebrew and they took to the language well, and 4) your wife and children all 'on board' with your aliya plans. But from your question, it does not seem that this is the case. Should you decide to go ahead with your plans, please spend lots of time and effort properly planning for the move. The people I know who have made successful aliya -- including and especially those who had teen children -- all spent many months or years preparing for the transition.

For readers who are contemplating aliya, here are my suggestions:

  • Do as much homework as possible. Speak to as many American olim as you can to pick up tips and suggestions to make the transition easier.
  • Please read an outstanding article by my dear chaver, Rabbi Yair Spolter of Kiryat Sefer. While we respectfully agree-to-disagree on other topics (Click here and here), I concur with his column completely. (In fact, I first got to know Yair when I cold-called him to compliment him for his clarity of thought – and courage – when this article was first published in The Jewish Observer.)
  • An excellent resource is Nefesh B’nefesh. (www.nbn.org.il) They have successfully facilitated the aliya of hundreds of families due to their methodical approach to guiding families – and their understanding of the importance of getting the ‘stuff’ right for the families who are making the move.
  • If you are making the move, do so while your children are younger. The earlier in their lives the better.
  • Look into the schools in prospective communities – even if your children are toddlers. Most Israeli schools are very different than American ones, and it is critically important that your family is in sync with the mosdos that your children will attend. Generally speaking, there is far more ‘gray’ in America than in charedi society in Eretz Yisroel. Make sure that your views on kollel, sports-playing-for-children, tzniyus for girls (and mothers) are at least close to that of the community in which you live.

I know many people who have successfully made aliya and I commend you for having the commitment to consider the move. My response is not ‘no’ – it is just, “Not yet” or “Not now.”

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved



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