Forty-Year Aliyah Joke Becomes a Reality


After 40 years of talking about making aliyah, a Jewish educator and her husband say goodbye to their interim Jewish community in Penn Valley and move to a new homeland.

Editor's note: The Kieffers arrived in Israel on Tuesday on a flight with more than 300 new immigrants from North America, including 125 recruits to the Israeli army.
Leaving one beloved homeland for another isn't easy, and it shouldn't be.
Our aliyah dream began 40 years ago, from the very day of our wedding. In our home, we constantly discussed with our children, relatives and friends the idea of living in Israel.  It almost became a joke, a 40-year joke: Why was it taking so long, would we ever make aliyah? Simple answer: “Life got in the way.” 
There were years of raising our three children, of taking a sabbatical in Israel, of growing our own careers as a pulpit rabbi and a Jewish educator. There were difficult years caring for parents as each of them descended into illnesses that eventually took their lives, slowly, over 25 years. At the end of the ritual mourning period for our last parent, three years ago, we began to make our aliyah dream a reality.
We have gone through two years of goodbyes.  Last year, we resigned our 20-year positions at our South Florida synagogue in preparation to move to Israel. Unexpectedly, my husband, Rabbi Sam Kieffer, was strongly encouraged to become the interim senior rabbi at Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley. Knowing this shul’s history, we both felt it would be an interesting experience and challenge.  
This wonderful year has quickly ended. Our “To Do” list is getting shorter as our aliyah date of Aug. 12 approaches.
Goodbyes began last month with the members and staff of Har Zion Temple. Hugs, tears and promises to keep in touch were the signs of how fragile and priceless relationships are. After a final, emotional Shabbat at Har Zion, we left town to visit siblings, relatives and friends in New York, Chicago and Orlando, Fla. We also will visit our parents’ graves for one more goodbye and to thank them for the lives they gave us.
Our home has been packed, the content of our lives reduced to one 40-foot-long truck bound for a loading dock in New York. As both of our cars are now sold, I’m staring at my empty key ring, once filled to capacity with a variety of important keys. I can’t remember ever having an empty key ring.
Soon, my key ring will be filled again, with keys for our Jerusalem apartment as well as for the homes of our children, who will be a 10-minute walk away. Finally, we will all live in the same city after 15 years of being apart. The icing on this aliyah cake is having our eight grandchildren nearby.  
Our parents would be proud of us. Our grandparents and great-grandparents could never imagine leaving these shores for those of the Mediterranean. We are excited to become Israelis, while retaining our dual citizenship from America. Theodore Herzl, the visionary of modern Zionism, was right: “If you will it, it’s not a legend.” We can’t wait for our 40-year dream to become reality.


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