Philly Olim Get a Proper Send-Off to New Home



Blue-and-white balloons lined the room as individuals from throughout the Philadelphia area prepared to take a momentous journey– not just traveling to the Jewish state, but making it their new home. To help them on their way, the Jewish Agency for Israel held a farewell reception that included giving these new olim an orientation on how to proceed on this all-encompassing transition in their lives.

The session covered everything that the new immigrants would need to know, from what to do after arriving in Israel to setting up bank accounts to navigating the various ministries of the Israeli bureaucracy.

The Israel Aliyah Center organized the reception, with the cooperation of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Consulate General of Israel in New York.

Many of the nearly 30 people talked of their eagerness to start their lives in Israel.

'Hard to Leave'

For Kelli Brown and her husband, Jeremy, their mood vacillated between excitement and, admittedly, a bit of nervousness. After the pair went on a Birthright Israel trip 41/2 years ago, they saw the choice of making aliyah as an obvious one, said Kelli. In fact, "we found it hard to leave," she said, referring to coming back home at the time.

"This is as good a time as any," added Jeremy.

He plans to continue his education at Tel Aviv University as a graduate student in Middle Eastern history, while Kelli aims to work as a journalist.

"We have jobs that allow us to move easily," he added, which contributed to their decision.

"You want to go some place where people understand," said Jeremy of Israel. "We've been talking about this for our entire lives."

The couple, both 28 years old, decided to make aliyah before they started thinking about children and all the added considerations for such a move.

But for Jonathan Huppert, his four children are very much part of the equation. The oldest one is 7 years old, and he felt that the time was right to go now.

"It was now or never — in terms of kids," said Huppert, who then quickly amended his comment. "It was now — or 20 years from now."

Huppert is making sacrifices to leave, as are other olim. The Bridgewater, N.J., resident loves his job as a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, but he believes that his skills will be a boon to the Jewish state.

He plans to be working at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he can use his knowledge of post-traumatic stress disorder — and its treatments — for the benefit of Israelis.

For him, the decision was one that he made 18 years ago.

"It's been a long path. In many ways, it's the place that's most comfortable," he noted.

For twin-sisters Neely and Tali Elisha, 24, making aliyah is something of a family affair: They're both leaving at the same time.

"I knew that my heart was in Israel," said Neely. "There's just a feeling I get that I've never been able to feel here."

The Cherry Hill, N.J. native spent seven months in Israel after college, and she noted that it had a profound effect on her. "It's the small things that make a difference," she said, such as the celebration of Jewish holidays. "I want to have that every year."

For her sister, the move appeared to be a more stressful experience. She's been buried under a mountain of tedious paperwork, and seemed a bit frazzled. Nevertheless, she remained firm in her convictions: "In spite of all the hardships, it's where I belong."

For their mother, Deborah Elisha, the fact that her daughters are both making aliyah seems like an event that was always in the cards. The twins were born on Nov. 29 — 35 years to the day that the United Nations voted to establish a Jewish state.

Several of the soon-to-be travelers commented that people often looked at them askance when they mentioned their impending plans.

In response, Rabbi David Gutterman, the executive director of Vaad: Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia, said: "Don't let people tell you you're crazy. The Jewish people returning to their mother — Israel — is heroic."


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