Some in Community Are Heeding the Call of Aliyah

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A look at some of the many reasons driving people to move to Israel and why some say they don’t have a choice.

It takes a lot of effort to crate everything you own and move to another country. But for those who feel the inexorable pull of another homeland, it has to be done.
That is why a group of local individuals will be packing up their belongings and getting on a one-way flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Israel as they prepare to make aliyah with the assistance of the Nefesh B’Nefesh organization on July 13.
“It’s almost like I don’t have a choice,” said Ariella Siegal, an Allentown native. “I feel like it’s what I need to do right now.”
Siegal, 30, is one of almost 230 olim, which is what those who, like her, have hopped onto a charter flight to make aliyah, are called in the Jewish state.
She went to Israel as part of an educator’s program last year and “fell in love.” While she said she is not overly religious, she feels a strong connection to Israel and her Jewish identity, which is what prompted her to make the move.
She said she felt more at home there than any place she’d lived before, so in February she decided she wanted to make aliyah.
“There’s something about the energy in Israel — and Jerusalem in particular — that’s very different,” she explained, adding the conversations are deeper and everyone is more spiritual. She will be living in Jerusalem after staying with a friend for a few days when she gets there.
Making this move is not without its challenges, she said. It’s getting used to a different way of living, possibly being away from family and adapting to cultural norms.
Siegal does have family in Israel, which she said should help with the transition. Her sister is studying at the University of Haifa for a year and she is looking forward to being in Israel with her.
For Adam Wachs, 23, this move was a few years in the making.
In 11th grade, he spent a semester in Israel while attending Akiba Hebrew Academy — now the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy — and started thinking about moving to Israel.
After going to Jewish day school all his life and completing a gap year in Israel before studying at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, he knew he wanted to make aliyah.
“I spent a year at the yeshiva, and that put all that over the edge,” he said. “I knew that year I wanted to live there and do aliyah. I’ve held that dream for the past few years.”
Wachs, who grew up in Penn Valley and now lives in Merion Station, said Israel affords the experiential opportunity and chance to find a community and sense of belonging many others his age are searching for.
He will be living in an apartment with two friends in the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem before beginning a 12-month stint in the Israel Defense Forces in November.
Come Monday, he’ll have packed his “two duffel bags of clothes, books and electronics, and my bicycle and guitar” and set off to experience what it is to truly be an Israeli citizen.
“I’m looking forward to finally being there as a resident and being looked at as a resident so I can really dive into and fully experience the true life of being a Jew living in Israel and all that comes with that,” he said.
Lauren Somers is moving with her husband and five young children.
The family will be leaving their Merion Station home to plant roots in Ramat Beit Shemesh after spending a few days with friends in Karmiel and getting used to their new surroundings.
Moving to the largely religious — but English-friendly — neighborhood on the southern side of Beit Shemesh was a “no-brainer” for her family, she said, as they have friends there and it is a very Anglicized environment.
Somers, 35, said making aliyah was something her husband had been talking about for a while, and they decided last summer that they wanted to make the move.
She previously spent 10 months in Israel when she was 22 as part of a religious studies program. Her husband, Ira, 44, was also in Israel at the time for six months, but they didn’t know each other yet.
They’ve never moved from the Merion Station area, so getting used to a new environment will be a challenge, she said, and the feeling hasn’t sunk in yet.
“I really don’t believe we’re going. It’s really, really weird,” she exclaimed. “I think it’s going to feel like we’re going on vacation.”
She said despite — or maybe even because of — the conflicts that flared up last summer in Gaza, now is the time to move.
“We felt like it was time to go to Israel,” she said. “It’s a better place for our family. Ultimately, it’s where all the Jews are going to end up. We just feel like that’s where our children’s future is and we want to get them integrated into the community while they’re young.”
To prepare — in between packing up everything they need and determining what to sell and leave behind — Somers has been getting her children, Moshe, 8, Riva, 7, Asher, 5, Yoel, 2, and her newborn, Uriel, excited about things that are “typically Israeli,” such as chocolate milk in a bag (shoko b’sakit) and stocking up on candy from a stall at the local shuk.
The charter flight will provide a way for the new olim to meet each other — in person, at least.
There was a Facebook group that they’ve been using to connect and communicate with each other. Somers said the Facebook group helped her prepare for the trip as everyone was going through the same range of emotions, which she said is “validating.”
She said she’s excited to meet the people she connected with online.
“I feel like the charter flight is going to be like a bus to camp,” she said.
Making the move is not without its logistical difficulties, however. Finding a job or a school for children is a large component of a successful new life in Israel. She said Nefesh B’Nefesh made the process much easier by providing resources and streamlining the steps and checklists as they prepared to move.
Somers said she is thankful for the friends she has in Israel who have been able to give her family connections as her husband looks for a marketing job and they find schools for their children, which are different for boys and girls.
She used to run SHINE Dance Studio for Jewish girls, which she says she will not rule out starting up again in Israel, but she wants to get her feet on the ground first.
Taylor McEwing, 25, is originally from Doylestown and studied dance at Temple University. She used to teach dance courses at Somers’ studio. Now, she is joining her former boss as they make aliyah together.
McEwing is “stoked” about making the trip to the country she has visited five times before — she went to Israel on Birthright when she was 20 and has been back every year since.
“There’s so many emotions but no words to put to my excitement,” she said. “My pulse is different when I talk about Israel. My heart beats faster, and I can feel myself glowing when I talk about Israel.”
The charter flight on which she will be joining the others will be an “instant community,” and is comforting to her, as she knows they are all going through the same thing. “Seeing all these Jews come together and take over a whole plane to get there, I knew I wanted to be a part of that.”
She is currently searching for a teaching job, a newfound passion she discovered this year as she began teaching at a Jewish preschool. She plans on learning Hebrew at an ulpan when she gets there and hopes to get her masters degree in teaching.
“It’s not so easy, but I’m doing my best effort,” she said, crediting God for the success she’s had so far as she gets ready to move. “He’s got me this far in the process.”
Leaving home is a common challenge among the olim, even if they have family waiting to greet them when they land in Israel.
Like Siegal, McEwing has family in Israel already. Her sister, brother-in-law and nephew are living in Jerusalem, which will help McEwing transition from being further away from the rest of her family.
Both Siegal and McEwing said their families are supportive of their decision. Siegal called it “happy disappointment,” but emphasized that her parents know it’s where she wants to be.
“They’re sad I’m leaving, I’m super sad that I’m leaving,” she said, “but they trust me that I know what’s best for me.”
Siegal is excited to become more proficient in Hebrew and find her own community in Israel. She is working on building her career as a love and relationship coach, which she hopes to expand once she’s in Israel. She hasn’t second-guessed herself despite warring internal opinions.
“My brain is telling me I’m crazy, but my heart is telling me to give it a shot,” she said.
McEwing has experienced similar feelings, but knows it’s the best thing for her.
“It’s difficult going to a country where you don’t speak a language, don’t know what you’re going to do, you’re leaving everything behind,” she said. “But it’s the most rewarding thing I could ever do.”
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