Sunday, May 11, 2014

Aliyah Stories: Becky

Becky's journey of return is part of a greater legacy: returning to the land that sheltered her grandparents after they survived the Holocaust, fulfilling her grandmother's dream to return, and pursuing her own personal and professional dreams in the place where she feels she was meant to be.

Today's Aliyah story is that of Becky, a young woman from Fairfax, Virginia who officially made Aliyah in 2011, but has been living in Israel since 2008.

Becky moved to Israel right after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and has been living in Jerusalem ever since. She is currently single, earning her master's degree in clinical psychology at Hebrew University while working part time doing research at the IDC.

Becky is in a sense completing the journey her family began decades ago.

Her grandparents on her father's side met and married in Israel before eventually moving to the United States, and her parents met while visiting Israel. Becky describes herself as coming from a "Zionistic traditional home" and adds that it was very important to her parents that she and her sister have a close relationship with Israel and a strong Jewish identity. Around every other summer she and her family visited Israel, and she celebrated her Bat Mitzvah here as well.

What prompted her to make Aliyah?

“It was a process and a decision that became clearer to me the more time I spent here,” Becky says.

Perhaps it began when she was first brought to Israel to meet her great-grandparents at 6 weeks old. Israel always felt like a second home to her, as she visited family there every other summer and spent a semester of high school traveling in Israel and living on a Kibbutz doing gadna (a week-long intro to the IDF for high-schoolers). She initially considered Aliyah after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem for a year, but returned to America when she was unable to find a job. For Becky, life in Israel means progressing both personally and professionally, and she knew she would feel frustrated in Israel if she felt stuck in her career. But she didn't give up on her desire to return, continuing to seek out opportunities in Israel. Luckily, a professor at the IDC offered her the opportunity to be his teaching assistant in positive psychology.

For more information on ways to come to Israel to study, volunteer, or intern, you can see my blog post “Bored? Have I got a Boredom-Buster for you” (spoiler alert: it’s Israel).

After a year and a half as a teaching assistant at the IDC, studying Hebrew in ulpan (intensive Hebrew class), and working as a psychology research assistant at Hebrew University, Becky knew it was only a question of when to make Aliyah, not if. She was accepted to PhD programs in Clinical Psychology in the United States, and to a Master’s program in the same field at Hebrew University.

 It was decision time—and Becky decided to commit to building her life in Israel.

“I feel I can really contribute to the Jewish people here and that this is truly our home,” she says. “Although I get frustrated and disagree with Israel's policies a lot, I want to be part of the discussion here and try to make change. In the end, it felt right in my heart and I'm really glad I listened to my gut and decided to go for it.”

Her family was very supportive of her decision, both her cousins here in Israel and her parents, who visit often from America. Before accepting that initial teaching assistant position that brought her back to Israel, Becky recalls speaking with her grandmother, who was very ill. Her grandmother encouraged her to follow her heart, saying that it had always been her dream to return to Israel. Becky has carried this with her on her Aliyah journey. “I feel blessed that I'm able to fulfill something that she always hoped to achieve and feel connected to my heritage,” she says.

For Becky, already living in Israel, making Aliyah did not involve a dramatic flight or so many physical changes. Instead, she says, she felt a strong emotional difference. “I was making the conscious decision to build my life here. I started really investing in my friendships, learning the language and culture, and creating a home for myself in a different way than when I was here temporarily. And of course, there was a lot more bureaucracy to deal with!”

She spent the whole first month dealing with various government agencies, as her case was especially complicated due to her father renouncing Israeli citizenship, and her making Aliyah while possessing a temporary residency permit. However, Becky kept her sense of humor and even gained something from the frustrating experience of bureaucracy. “I felt I was truly becoming Israeli as I learned to be more assertive and make good friends and connections with those who could help. A lot of friends have sent their new olim friends to me because they consider me an expert in dealing with Israeli bureaucracy!”

If you don't have the same bureaucratic skills as Becky, the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption can help too. We have personal absorption counselors that can help you once you've made aliyah, to ease the absorption process. Click here for more information and links to contact information for Absorption Bureaus and Branches all over Israel.

 Becky's biggest challenge after making Aliyah was adjusting to a Master’s program in Hebrew. Although she spoke pretty good Hebrew, high-level statistics and conducting therapy in Hebrew was a new trial. Luckily, the support of her classmates and professors helped her through the difficulties of that period.

The Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption can help with this too.  The Student Authority was established in 1968 to help new olim students with their unique challenges in adjusting to life in Israel academically and in general through trips, social and psychological aid, tutoring, and financial assistance. You can find more information here.

Overall, Becky says she feels at home here in Israel and is grateful to be able to contribute to the Jewish state and grow personally and professionally while surrounded by friends and family here. She concedes that it is difficult sometimes to be so far from her immediate family and close friends in America, but between visits and modern technology they can keep in touch.

“There are things that I miss about American culture and values,” Becky says, “but some things I've tried to implement here while also accepting the differences and appreciating the things I love about being here. I love how people open up their homes and are truly there to help, that the holidays the country is celebrating are my holidays, and that I feel I'm making a difference to the Jewish people and our home.”

Looking to the future, Becky hopes to continue to build her life here in Israel, help people as a psychologist and get married and start a family.

Thank you for sharing your story, Becky! I wish you the best of luck here in Israel.

As always, feel free to comment with your impressions and let me know if you would like to have your Aliyah story featured on my blog!

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