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Thursday, June 01, 2006

"It will come to you, this love of the land. There's no gettin' away from it"

I was asked by WestBankMama a few weeks ago to post my aliyah story and being the procrastinator that I am, I'm only doing this at the last minute.

So here goes....

I grew up in the Midwestern US and although my family was Zionistic, it was never really pressed on us. Israel was always the place I dreamt of and I still recall how I imagined the road to Jerusalem all those years ago. I had heard that on the road to J-town there were shells of tanks from the wars along the road. I imagined a road going thru a desert with tanks stuck in the sand along the way and in the distance was the city of gold, alone in the desert.

People would bring back souvenirs from Israel and I always thought it was a real exotic place and I couldn't wait until I'd be able to go. Friends of mine had their bar-mitzvah in Israel or visited over the summer with their families, but I never had those experiences. The first time that I came to Israel was on a 6-week summer tour in the summer of 1990.

In high school, I was very active in NCSY while most of my friends from school were only interested in Bnei Akiva (The irony is that up until 3 years ago, I was the only member of my graduating class who had made aliyah). During the beginning of 1990, I argued with my parents that I wanted to travel to Israel with NCSY, but my parents were adamant in not wanting me to go with NCSY, because the trip was geared more to non-observant teens. they wanted me to get a different kind of experience in Israel. they told me that if I wanted to spend the summer in Israel, I would have to go with Achva (which was the Young Israel summer tour group). I was told that the tour would involve lots of hikes and I reluctantly agreed eventhough I knew no one going on the tour. I wanted to go to Israel and if I had to do it with Achva, so be it.

I arrived in israel for teh first time on July 12th, 1990. We arrived in the airport and one of the first things we did was meet with some Ethiopian olim that had just arrived in Israel. We then got on the buses and went in the direction of Jerusalem. I tried listening to the madricha while she told us many facts about the road. I was glued to my window and couldn't believe how different the view was from what I had imagined. When we saw the tanks, I knew that anything I thought I knew about Israel was wrong and I eagerly waited finding out the true facts.

Once we entered Jerusalem itself, I saw that the city looked modern and "normal". We entered the old city and since the bus couldn't get in, we parked near Shaar Zion (Zion gate) and had to carry our stuff to the Sephardic center, where we would stay for over a week. By now, I was very anxious to get to the Kotel, but they held off. They wanted us to go get settled in first and they promised to take us after dinner. After dinner, we left the "center" and made our way towards the Kotel. Before we got within site of it, the madrich sat us all down and we had a discussion on what Jerusalem means to us and what the Kotel itself has meant to us as Jews over the years. I really wanted to get moving, but was also intrigue by the discussion. At the end of the discussion, we were all handed a piece of paper and asked to write down what we thought we would get out of our summer in Israel. they put our messages in a bottle and told us that we would get them back the last night of the trip.

I obviously don't recall what I wrote exactly, but it was something like "I hope to get a better understanding of Israel and what it means to me".

We then were led towards the steps leading to the Kotel. I was in awe. from this vantage point, I saw something I never even realized; the Kotel is not a lone wall standing by itself. It was connected to many other parts of the outer walls of the second Temple. It had never dawned on me that there was more to it than the "wall" you see in pictures. I must've seen pictures of the mosque, but just never put two and two together. It hit me emotionally like I never thought it could. I quickly went down the steps with everyone else and as I reached those ancient stones, I felt that I was touching a part of our history. (I know this sounds corny, but thats really how I felt).

The rest of the summer was somewhat of a blur. We traveled to so many places and I began to appreciate this country more and more. Every day we went on at least one hike and sometimes even two hikes. we visited touristy places, but also spend a week on a kibbutz {pruning trees for a week made me vow that I would never want to live on a kibbutz but the clincher was that if I brought a TV with me to the kibbutz someone there would get it instead of me. :)} We were here when Saddam invaded Kuwait and I even recall that there was a fire on that morning in a tree at the hostel where we were staying in Har Gilo.

All in all, those six weeks gave me such an overwhelming appreciation for the country, that by the end of August, I knew that I wanted to eventually live in Israel. I felt so at home here and that was something I had never felt in the US.

During the summer, I made a bunch of new friends, but my best friend that summer became a lifelong friend. We are still very close after almost 16 years, and I consider him to be one of my closest friends, if not the closest.

On the night we were to leave, we once again visited the Kotel. We broke open the bottle with our wishes and we were practically all surprised that we each in our own way got more than we expected out of our summer. Whether it had to do with Israel per se or friendships or who knows what.

I vowed (to myself) that I would be back one day to live here and bring up a family here.

This is not an advertisement, but I thought I should mention that about 4 years ago, I met the organizer of the trip and whole heartedly thanked him for creating a tour that really helped cultivate my love for Israel.

Fast forward 15 months to November 1991. I was offered to go on an NCSY solidarity mission for 6 days over Thanksgiving weekend for very cheap. I knew it was an opportunity not to be missed, but my class was having it's senior year class trip to Florida that week. I debated the issue with myself for a few seconds and rationally decided to take this once in a lifetime trip. I could go to Disneyworld whenever I wanted, but how often can I go to Israel for a solidarity mission. (BTW, I have yet to be in Florida since then).

I came on the trip with 10 other teens and because we were traveling light, we were able to help a family making aliyah with their excess luggage. The most vivid memory of the flight though was how I felt when the plane was about to land and the plane started playing Hatikva, I felt like I was coming back home.

The week was amazing, we spent it entirely in the old city and as we were told before we left, Israel was in a drought and it probably won't rain, it poured the entire time from when we stepped off the plane right up until we left. The streets of the Old City were constantly flooded and being on a hill, the water was always running.

One of the seminars was delivered by an organization called F.A.I.R. (Fighting Anti- Israel Rhetoric). I was amazed at the media bias and lies against Israel. It was a real eye opener and it influenced my eventual decision to study communications. I wanted to be on the front line of what FAIR was doing.

But I digress.....

This week in Israel, helped solidify my resolve once more that this was where I wanted to live....eventually.

Fast forward once again to August 28, 1992. I arrive in Israel to study for year in Yeshiva. Finally after two "tours" visiting Israel, I got the chance to "live" here for a while. Living in Israel gave me such an amazing rush. I truly felt that I was where I belonged and the more and more I thought about it, the more I realized that I would be making a terrible mistake if I went back to live and study in the states.
I realized that I was at the point in my life where I had nothing tying me down in America. I knew many people who said they wanted to make aliyah, but because of commitments to family, education, work or a thousand other important things in life, they never made it here to live.

At that moment, I decided that I wanted to join the IDF and live my life here in Israel. I had no excuses for not making aliyah and didn't want to wait until I would have some.

My year in Yeshiva was a totally different experience for me, because I knew within a month that I was gonna be staying here for the rest of my life.

...and the rest is history

Hope you all have a great Yom Tov.

Chag Shavuot Sameach


Quote is from Gone with the Wind (1939)

the full quote has nothing to do with Israel, the full quote is:"It will come to you, this love of the land. There's no gettin' away from it if you're Irish."

media manipulation can work both ways.


The possibility that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.
– Abraham Lincoln


At 1:53 PM, June 01, 2006, Blogger westbankmama said...

Really nice post J-Cop - I also was in NCSY...

I put an update on my post so yours is included at the end.

At 4:11 PM, June 01, 2006, Blogger Jerusalemcop said...

thanks for the inspiration WBM!

Chag Sameach.


At 4:24 PM, June 02, 2006, Blogger Stacey said...

What a great post. I loved hearing your story of aliyah.

I felt that I was touching a part of our history.

This was not corny at all. I felt exactly the same way when I touched the Wall.

At 8:55 PM, June 03, 2006, Blogger Jerusalemcop said...

thanks stacey

appreciate that.


At 10:07 PM, June 03, 2006, Blogger Dreams from a Parallel Life said...

Great post. I used to tell Israelis who would ask me "Beshvil ma batah ?" that I came here from the US and stayed because I fell in love with the economy. I would always get a good chuckle when they would respond "B'emet ?"

At 1:43 AM, June 04, 2006, Blogger JoeSettler said...

And I always thought meeting me was the reason you stayed in Israel. :(

At 2:37 AM, June 04, 2006, Blogger the only way i know said...


Your story was interesting and very inspiring - so beautiful that someone so young can make clear headed decisions like you did - to affect the rest of your life...
Enjoy - and many blessings to you and yours...
Every time I'm in Israel I just look around, take it in, breathe it in - I just can't get enough. I just don't want the exprience to end - it's so special. And my favourte part is making conversation with anyone and everyone there - all Jews from all walks of life - when i make a connection - my soul touches theirs - and it feels so beautiful to be part of this very warm and holy nation..

(disneyworld's good too - :) )

At 8:59 AM, June 04, 2006, Blogger aliyah06 said...

Loved it! Great story---and for the first time, it occurs to me that you're the same age as my oldest daughter! Oy! I feel old....[grin]

At 11:09 AM, June 04, 2006, Blogger Rafi G. said...

great story copper!


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