By Eli Cohen
For more than 20 years, I never had any inclination to visit Israel. Yet during a Shabbat dinner at Temple University, the Chabad emissary on campus asked me, “Why don’t you give it a shot?”
Rabbi Baruch Kantor’s suggestion activated an idea that was already in the back of my mind from conversations with family and friends as well as others during my childhood. I went on to sign up for a Birthright Israel trip before graduating college and, eight days after completing my last exam in August 2019, I embarked on the tour.
Being in Israel for the first time helped me understand who I am on a much deeper level. I hadn’t felt a connection to Judaism until I connected with Israelis and their culture. At the time, I was certain I’d return to Israel, but I just didn’t know exactly when.
Finally, that moment arrived, following my immigration to Israel with Nefesh B’Nefesh on July 21. From starting a business to navigating a pandemic, the road to aliyah was paved with pivotal life events — and at each juncture, I gleaned lessons that I believe can help inform the journey for prospective olim (immigrants to Israel).
Understand that Israel is different
Before visiting Israel, I didn’t identify culturally or religiously as a Jewish person in the United States. I never had exposure to people who were Jewishly observant but were also culturally ingrained in their broader community.
Israel is different — it’s not America. It’s important to be open-minded and accepting about Israeli society if you’re going to make the move, and then you need to take responsibility for your own life once you land.
While growing up, I had exposure to the observant Jewish community in the U.S., but not much exposure to Israeli culture. My Birthright trip opened my eyes to that culture and helped me understand its differences with American society, and that knowledge is making my aliyah experience more comfortable today.
Identify your value
Some olim say they moved without a plan, and then lament how it didn’t work out. This pitfall can be averted by first identifying the value that you want to bring to Israel.
I co-founded my e-commerce business, Ageless Natural Beauty LLC, after graduating from business school at Temple. We work with Israeli companies (web advertising platforms like Taboola and Outbrain) and use Israeli advertising technology to effectively target and reach more potential customers over the internet. I made aliyah knowing exactly how I wanted to contribute to Israel and its economy: scaling my company by eventually hiring Israeli employees and building a team here.
This made aliyah a match made in heaven. Not only is Israel a hotspot for my professional specialty of internet marketing, but the Jewish state’s existing workforce is also a fertile ground for exactly the type of talent that’ll help me scale the business. This is a win-win scenario for my business and for Israel, as I arrived with a built-in way to contribute to the economy.
No entrepreneur grows a venture alone. There’s an entire team of people behind any successful brand. I moved to Israel knowing that it was the ideal place where I could share and spread opportunity and have other people succeed with me.
Let go of the notion of perfect timing
After my trip to Israel was canceled in the summer of 2020 due to the pandemic, I decided to double down and just focus on growing the company. I started the aliyah process in the fall of 2020 and now, in the summer of 2021, I’m here and the company is growing. At the moment, we don’t have Israeli employees (yet), but over time we’ll grow the team here.
With no clear end in sight to the pandemic, the choice surrounding aliyah was clear: now or never. I believe my decision resembles the story behind the state of Israel’s creation: If you’re going to do something, you do it now. You dive in headfirst and don’t look back.
There’s never a perfect time to move halfway around the world, but if you want something, you seize it. There are elements to life that’ll always be outside your control; don’t fixate on altering those circumstances. The pandemic is precisely the time to ask yourself: What can I do to get closer to who I am and what I want to do?
Aliyah makes complete sense for where I’m at in life right now. I’m bringing opportunity to Israel, but also benefiting from the various opportunities that this country, its economy and its culture have to offer. These are opportunities that I wouldn’t have anywhere else. I’m choosing to live life in the driver’s seat. I decided to make aliyah, and there was no looking back.
Eli Cohen, a native of Philadelphia and a graduate of Temple University’s Fox School of Business, made aliyah from Las Vegas on July 21.