Tuesday, May 23, 2006

From Woodmere to Beit Shemesh Where??? Part Two (Article#4) 5/19/2006

Chashmonaim? Are you sure about that?


So we had spent a couple of days on an emotional rollercoaster, eventually changing our plans to live in Beit Shemesh in favor of Chashmomaim, the Yishuv my brother’s family calls home. Saturday night we went to bed full of plans for Goldie to spend the next day touring the area with our sister in law as well as look at some rental homes. I, of course, had my first face to face meeting scheduled with my prospective employers at Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi in the old Katamon section of Yerushalayim.

If you remember, I had been stricken with allergies from the moment we landed in Israel, and had been sick each day of the trip so far. I am not sure if it was nerves, my allergies or a combination of both, but I simply did not sleep at all that entire night. Every 2 hours or so I would go online to check my email (getting the initial “hey – I saw your article” emails from the first article I had written which had run 2 days earlier) and check out the sports scores from America. By 6 AM I gave up trying to sleep and got up to daven and start to prepare for my drive to Yerushalayim.


As you may recall, Goldie and I had made having a job a prerequisite of our making Aliyah. With 8 mouths to feed, and a host of expected issues to come up regarding the move to a different country, we felt that the uncertainty of Abba not having a job would be too much for them to handle. Plus, you cannot eat air, even the air of Eretz Yisrael.

I remind you that in this our Aliyah is atypical. The overwhelming majority of people do not have jobs waiting when they make Aliyah. We even consider the fact that we managed to arrange a job to be literally siyata dishmaya.

Having networked with various contacts referred to me by Nefesh Bnefesh (I know I have said it before, but this is truly an amazing organization whose work assisting all of us in Galus is a true brocha from Hashem), in mid March I had gotten an email from Rav Benni Pflanzer, the Director of a relatively new Yeshiva in Yerushalayim, Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi. Located in the old Katamon section of Yerushalyim, the Yeshiva is currently completing its second year of operation, servicing english speaking boys who have recently graduated high school.

Rabbi Pflanzer and I had an hour long telephone interview within the week; we both agreed at the conclusion of the conversation that this might actually be a shidduch and that we would both begin the process of checking each other out. Interestingly enough, I discovered that both Rav Pflanzer and one of the Roshei Yeshiva, Rav Yehuda Sussman had been in the Chicago branch of Kollel Torah Mitzion (Rav Sussman having been the Rosh Kollel) and that some of the Yeshiva’s supporters were people I have known since childhood.

Over the next few weeks, which included several extensive conversations between Rav Pflanzer, Rav Sussman, some of the Yeshiva’s benefactors and myself, we agreed that I was indeed a likely candidate for the position. We negotiated the particulars of the employment agreement, and both sides were almost ready to sign on the dotted line. The only thing holding us back was the fact that we had not met face to face, and felt that it would be appropriate for the Yeshiva’s staff to have a chance to meet me as well as for me to see the Yeshiva, before we made a commitment. Hence, the trip I was on that very moment.

From approximately 8:30 to almost 1:00 that afternoon, I met and/or interviewed with a significant portion of the educational staff of the Yeshiva. I had a chance to meet some of the boys, tour the facility (the Yeshiva is contained within one rented apartment building which houses the Beis Medrash, dorms, kitchen, etc.) and have a real meeting of the minds with the administration. Of course, with all the emotional turmoil we had gone through the prior 2 days, as well as having had absolutely no sleep the night before, I was wiped out after 4 ½ hours of non-stop meetings.

We agreed to be in contact that evening, after we each had a chance to reflect on the meetings. So I headed back to Chashmonaim, where I hoped to meet with some builders to tour their new construction sites and see what they had to offer to us long term.

While I had been interviewing, Goldie had spent the bulk of her morning checking out the Chashmonaim/Modiin/Kiryat Sefer area. Our sister in law took her to see where the bank was, the Kupat Cholim (Dr.’s offices), supermarkets, butcher stores, schools, etc. They literally had almost everything you might need within a 15 minute drive of the Yishuv.

One of the nicest things about Chashmonaim is the friendliness that everyone there displayed to us. Initially, even though they knew we had our hearts set on Beit Shemesh, they were so nice and encouraging to us. The entire community went out of their way to welcome us and compliment us for our decision, which made us feel terrific. Of course, when word began to get out that we were seriously considering Chashmonaim as a home, their welcome was even warmer.

On my drive to Chashmonaim, I spoke with some of my friends/contacts at Nefesh Bnefesh about the previous few days; our concerns about the Beit Shemesh houses as well as our delight in the opportunities available in Chashmonaim. In that discussion, one person mentioned to me that Chashmonaim is a great community, but that they were surprised that we were so serious about it, because it didn’t seem somewhere that we would fit in. While I initially laughed it off, that comment started me thinking about the issue.

When I got to Chashmonaim, Goldie was full of excitement about the tour she had taken. Together with my brother, we both headed out to see a couple of rental houses as well as some new construction with the main contractors of the Yishuv. I can only say that the houses in Chashmonaim are beautiful. They are spacious, and the builders clearly take great care to cater to the needs and desires of their customers.

We definitely felt more comfortable about the housing situation. We made plans to spend the next day checking out different schools that were more convenient to the Yishuv, yet still appropriate for our kids. We started to talk to our family about our plans, and went off to Ramat Gan to have dinner with my sister. At dinner, I got a call from the Yeshiva asking me to come in the next day for 1 more meeting.

On our drive back to Chashmonaim, we talked about the conversation I had had with my friend at NBN. I had thought about the point all day, and I realized that it had some validity. Ten or fifteen years ago, I would have fit right into the Yishuv. But, the way that we had grown and raised our family had led us down a different path.

Chashmonaim is a wonderful Yishuv. My brother and his family are very happy there, as well they should be. We know a few people that have settled there, and they are all extremely happy there. I expressed to Goldie (on that drive but much more so in private in my brother’s house later that night) my worry that we needed our kids, who had been raised in separate schools for boys and girls, especially the girls who had been raised in a Bais Yaakov style environment to have a soft landing in a place where they could be comfortable adjusting to their new environment.

I was also concerned that we had gotten caught up in our excitement about the size of the houses as compared to what we had seen in Beit Shemesh. Of course we felt welcome there, we were after all not only about to be new olim, we were also related to their good friend and neighbor. We had selected Beit Shemesh because we wanted to be in a place where we had close friends nearby, not just for us but the kids as well.

I felt that we might have been too hasty to just give up on the entire Beit Shemesh area. It helped that we had gotten a call earlier in the day from a real estate agent informing us about a house that might be available in a neighborhood adjacent to the one we has looked at the prior week. So, we decided to take one last look in Beit Shemesh before committing 100% to Chashmonaim, which was still an option.

By the time we went to sleep on Sunday night, we had scheduled a few meetings to see more Beit Shemesh houses after my morning meeting in the Yeshiva. Instead of staying in the area to look at schools, we decided that Goldie (and the baby) would come with me to Yerushalayim so that we could immediately head to Beit Shemesh to see some houses.


We headed off to Yerushalayim for my morning meeting, stopping in the Emek Refaim neighborhood for a quick breakfast. I left Goldie there to window shop and relax, planning to pick her up after my meeting.

I was actually a little surprised to be called for additional meetings. In our conversations, I had gotten the impression that they were as ready to hire me as I was to work with them, and that the face to face meeting was the final step. I was surprised that they still had things to think over, and was thinking to myself that if we didn’t close the deal then, I might have returned to America without a job and possibly called the whole thing off.

Of course, after all my worrying, when I got to the Yeshiva for the meeting, I was offered the job. We spent the next 2 hours negotiating particulars, and I was about ready to leave when Goldie surprised me by walking in the front door of the Yeshiva’s offices. She had memorized my driving route to the Yeshiva, and realizing after she finished shopping that it was only a moderate walk, she decided to walk to meet me.

We sat down for a pizza lunch across from the Yeshiva, and I could feel how happy she was. She had not only really enjoyed the walk through Yerushalayim (and I invite each and every one of you to experience this joy for yourselves – there is truly nothing like taking an hour to walk through the streets of Yerushalayim), she had also surprised herself by purchasing a skirt for one of our daughters in a local store and conducting the entire transaction in Hebrew. It didn’t hurt that she also knew that the same brand of skirt is sold in a local 5 towns store for literally 4 times the price she paid in Emek Refaim.

We headed off to Beit Shemesh in a last-ditch effort to find a house in the area we had originally chosen. The house we were shown was absolutely terrific. It was HUGE. There was space for everyone, even a small guest wing for visiting relatives and friends. An indoor pool. Lots of bathrooms. Really, more than we had come to expect.

Of course there were 2 main drawbacks (aren’t there always). First off, we were really outside the “Anglo” or English speaking areas. If you can imagine the “Anglo” neighborhoods as semi closed communities, with one or two main access roads leading into them and branching off into the rest of the streets, you have a picture of how the neighborhoods are structured. This area of Givat Sharet (a region of Beit Shemesh) is centrally located in the middle of the “Anglo” neighborhoods, but there are only 3 or 4 other English speakers in the area. Our concern with this was that our kids would need either to import or export friends from the other areas – which would limit their making and developing friendships.

The other drawback was that this area is not 100% dati (religious). Initially, our reaction was, “So what? We live among non-frum jews and goyim in America, what is the big deal?” Apparently, it is a big deal. We learned that for the non religious parts of Israeli society, Friday night is a big social night, with parties, barbeques and get togethers lasting till the wee hours of the morning. With that comes noise, not what we would be looking for on a Shabbos night.

While we were there, one of the neighbors drove by and stopped to greet us. He had recognized me from the Yeshiva of South Shore’s Father/Son learning program and took 20 minutes to talk to us about why he had purchased a neighboring home and that more and more English speakers were coming to that area. Additionally, he pointed to a couple of houses that we could see from where we stood and told us that the neighboring “Anglo” communities were a 10 minute walk away.

Although we took a look at a couple of other Beit Shemesh houses, we essentially made a decision that afternoon that we would rent that specific home and once again go “From Woodmere to Beit Shemesh” instead of Chashmonaim.

That night was Yom Hazikaron. As we entered Yerushalayim to spend the night in my uncle’s apartment in Rachavia so we could be close to Beit Shemesh (we planned on returning to Beit Shemesh in the morning to register the kids for school), the clock struck 8 PM. About 5 seconds before 8, literally everyone either pulled over to the side of the road or simply stopped their cars and stood beside their vehicles. At 8 PM sharp the air raid sirens sounded throughout the entire country, as we all stood in silence for a minute in memory of the thousands who have lost their lives in defense of our homeland.

Having never experienced this before, I was struck by the contrast from Memorial Day that we celebrate here. Yom Hazikaron is a very somber day. All the restaurants, grocery stores, retailers, etc. close early (we had to buy a couple of felafels for dinner before we left Beit Shemesh). Nearly everyone has either a relative or knows someone who was killed in action. It is more a national day of memorial than a national holiday.

Goldie cried the entire minute. She also pointed out how interesting it is that Yom Hazikaron comes before Yom Haatzmaut. It is as if we are saying, “We cannot celebrate Yom Haatzmaut until we have properly paid our respect to you – those who have literally paid the ultimate price so that there can be a Yom Haatzmaut.”

That night, as we prepared to finally get a full night’s sleep for the first time all week, Goldie’s cellphone rang. The caller was a woman we knew from the 5 Towns who had relocated to the Beit Shemesh area a couple of years ago. She knew we were in Israel and wanted to see if we needed any help/advice.

Goldie spent the next hour+ on the phone with her, reviewing all we had gone through and our concerns about housing, friends, location, etc. Having lived in a tiny (to us) Beit Shemesh house, she had just moved to a new home in Ramat Beit Shemesh. She understood exactly what we were going through, and agreed that there was no reason we had to lower our expectations.

In fact, she mentioned that the house immediately next door to her was in the final stages of construction and gave us the name and number of the contractor to find out more. She talked with Goldie about Ramat Beit Shemesh and assured her that while the neighborhood was certainly very “Yeshivish” (for wont of a better word); we would still feel comfortable there with computers, DVD and the like and having kids not destined to learn in kollel (not that there is anything wrong with that).

After the conversation, Goldie turned to me and said that she wanted to see the house in Ramat Beit Shemesh and that we might also consider looking at 2 or 3 other rental homes there as well, just to see what our options would be. In addition to registering the kids for school.

TUESDAY – Yom Hazikaron

We spent the morning trying to register our kids for schools. Since I plan on talking about school choices at a later time, I will just say that we applied for admission in various schools and that we hope to hear that they were accepted shortly. Otherwise, we will have an interesting September.

In the morning, we waited outside one of the schools as they had their outdoor “Tekes” or assembly in honor of Yom Hazikaron. The morning air raid sirens run for 2 minutes, and the most moving part of the ceremony came when the Yeshiva immediately sang the Hatikva after the sirens had silenced. Goldie was again moved to tears and we were both impressed by the seriousness with which all the schools were treating the solemnity of the day.

In the afternoon we went to look at the house under construction. While it certainly would suffice for our family, the second floor was totally unfinished and there were no doors or windows anywhere in the house. Goldie couldn’t even climb in, so I climbed into the house and went from room to room – shouting out a brief description of each room through its open window.

We looked at a couple of other houses, but none of them were significantly larger in size than the Beit Shemesh houses we had already declined. Yet, this unfinished house was a possibility, and the contractor thought he could have it finished by July. If we believed him.

We also met a builder who was building a new project in Beit Shemesh adjacent to the existing anglo neighborhoods. The homes he is building are larger and designed to appeal to people like us who want to maintain similar homes/lifestyles to what we are accustomed to in America. This project appealed to us as an option down the road, since the homes would not be built for over 2 years.

Essentially we had two options. The house in Beit Shemesh or the house in Ramat Beit Shemesh. We headed back to Yerushalayim to think it over.

That night, after discussing it between ourselves and speaking it through with some friends, we decided that the house in Ramat Beit Shemesh would be our first choice, only if we could assure ourselves that the house would be completed in time for us to move in by August, so that we would have time to settle in and get into a family routine before school started. Otherwise, we would have to choose the Beit Shemesh home, which would be available even before we arrived in Israel.

That night we enjoyed watching the Yerushalayim Yom Haatzmaut fireworks from my uncle’s mirpeset in Rechavia. There were several different organizations that made individual celebrations, so we got to watch the fireworks twice that evening.

WEDNESDAY – Yom Haatzmaut

This was our last day in Yerushalayim. One of my best friends made a bris in Efrat that morning and it was a real treat to attend. We had the opportunity to see some old friends from Chicago, and enjoy a real Israeli Yom Haatzmaut davening, complete with a very melodious Hallel and a special Haftorah read without a Brocha.

We made our way north to Chashmonaim to pick up our luggage from my brother and inform them that we had chosen to stick with the Beit Shemesh region. Then we headed to my sister for a family Yom Haatzmaut BBQ. This is apparently a big deal in Israel. Everyone makes a BBQ on Yom Haatzmaut.

That night we made our way to the airport, where we heard the familiar, “Who packed your bags?”, etc. and made our way back to America. B”H, the return flight was only 70% full, so we had an extra seat for the baby and his carseat, making the trip much more comfortable for us. We slept on the plane and returned home still full of questions about where we would live and what we would do if the kids didn’t get into school, yet we continued to believe (as we have throughout the entire process) that since this is what Hashem wants from us, that something will work out.

In the past two weeks, we have continued to work on housing issues. We have chased down some leads on other available houses, but we are very close to signing a deal on the “unfinished” house in Ramat Beit Shemesh. There are still many details to arrange for, but the job is there, we have confirmed reservations on Nefesh Bnefesh’s July 5 flight and we continue to go full steam ahead. Next week: You haven’t started packing yet?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

From Woodmere to Beit Shemesh Where??? Part One (Article#3) 5/12/2006



Goldie and I traveled to Israel last week. I had to meet with my (prospective) new employers and finalize the details of my job. We had to register the kids for school. But, what really occupied the focus of this trip was our need to find a home in Beit Shemesh.

The excitement level in our household is heightening. The kids (well, at least the younger five) are all excited about our upcoming move. We are certainly nervous and scared about the thought of uprooting ourselves and making such a major change, but right now we all seem to be looking forward rather than backward.

We have heard that the rental market in Beit Shemesh is extremely tight, and we may have trouble finding a house to rent. We have decided to rent rather than buy so that we could be certain that Beit Shemesh (as opposed to Ramat Beit Shemesh or Efrat or Modiin or Chashmonaim or any other community) is the place we want to commit to long term. We will rent for at least a year and only buy a house once we are comfortable that we have made the right choice.

I am a little nervous about renting a car this trip. I have no problems with buses and taxis (safetywise), but am concerned that I may make a wrong turn or something and end up in a place I definitely want to avoid. Also, the last time I rented a car in Israel (13 years ago) I got a parking ticket because I didn’t understand the signs. It was OK though, because I didn’t understand the ticket either – so I just crumpled it up and threw it out the window.
Here are some of our thoughts and feelings as we experienced them on the trip.


Some quick thoughts from 35,000 feet. EL AL flight security seems to be much tighter than Continental’s. We came to the airport expecting the whole interrogation (even looking forward to it in some ways).

You know the questions…. Who packed your luggage? Did you get any gifts from people you did not know? Was your luggage in your possession the whole time since you finished packing? For what purpose are you traveling to Israel?

The Continental staff was mostly courteous and helpful – but it felt like we were going to Milwaukee, not Israel. ‘Till we got to the plane.

We could open a Gan on this flight. The plane is totally full and half the adults seem to have kids in their laps without buying seats for them (we have our 14 month old Moshe ourselves). Thankfully, Moshe fell asleep 10 minutes before takeoff and has been sleeping well for the first two hours or so (in the end he slept until about 2 hours before landing).

All the mothers will relate to this. We were about to board when Goldie turned to me and said, “Let’s go home. I miss the kids too much.”

We chose Continental for this trip because we ended up saving $400. It might not be worth it. If I offered you $400 to sit in traffic and shlep to Jersey with all your bags and a screaming 1 year old, you might accept the offer. Once.


Pre-Shachris I spent an hour talking with a fellow former Chicagoan who is now living in Ramat Beit Shemesh about the benefits of traveling via El Al or Continental. I will be traveling for work (hopefully) and need to figure out which mileage program and upgrades are the best. According to the people I’ve spoken with, El AL upgrades more and gives faster rewards, but has no US domestic service, so you cannot be upgraded w/in the US on domestic flights.

All in all an average flight. Which is pretty good considering that there was not a single empty seat in the plane.

I kind of miss the old Ben Gurion. I miss that daredevil drive from the airplane to the passport control center you would take on the bus after walking down the stairs to the tarmac. There was always one set of seniors who would stake out a position at the front door to make sure they got a “good” spot in line so they could hurry up to wait for their bags. They of course ended up losing their bags (and sometimes their balance) as the bus would go flying in all directions so the driver could beat a fuel truck for the right-of-way at the next interchange.

This new airport is boring. With a lot of walking. The rent a car guy was waiting for us as we exited the terminal and walked us over to the car in the short term parking lot. He then proceeded to pull our rental papers out of his fanny pack, processed everything on the hood of the car, gave us the keys and drove off. They might not have a rental counter – but the rates were great!

We are spending the night by my sister’s home in Tel Hashomer (yes- near the hospital). She came to Israel on Bnei Akiva’s Hachsharah program after 12th grade, and essentially never returned. My brother in law owns and runs his own business as an auto parts/auto paint equipment and supplies distributor. He is an Israeli (Sefardi even, of Tunisian descent) and has 11 brothers and sisters.

My sister had no close relatives of her own in Israel until my brother’s family made Aliyah to Chashmonaim in the summer of 2000. I am closer to her than my other siblings, although I believe I have a special relationship with each one in their own way. I think this move of ours will impact her more than any other member of my family, because we will see each other more.


Apparently, this is one of the worst weeks for allergy sufferers to visit Israel. I woke up feeling awful, and need to take 3 Advils and an anti histamine pill in order to get moving in the morning. My throat is killing me and I feel like I have the flu.

After a very brief overnight visit with my sister we were off to Beit Shemesh for a 8:30 AM appointment to see a prospective house in the Nofei Aviv section of Beit Shemesh.

Why Beit Shemesh? Goldie is concerned that her Hebrew skills are not the best, and she wanted to be in what they call an “Anglo” (English speaking) community. We know quite a few people who have made Aliyah to Beit Shemesh over the years, and we felt that this city would be a place where we could have a “soft landing” of the family; a place where the kids and Goldie could make friends easily and have support networks in place quickly.

Toward that end, I took a day in January (my nephew’s bar mitzvah in Netanya) to visit the schools in Beit Shemesh and see which were the ones we would prefer for our children.
Of course, we are not the only Olim with similar needs, and the Beit Shemesh area is very tight regarding rental properties. Within Beit Shemesh there are 3 main neighborhoods the Anglo’s have settled in. The Nofei Aviv area, the Sheinfeld area and more recently the Givat Savion area. These are all tight knit communities with broad welcoming and support organizations. We were prepared to settle into either Sheinfeld or Aviv, but after months of discussion with various real estate agents, we had found very little in the way of rentals.

We know that many of our contemporaries will be making their move to the Ramat Beit Shemesh area. Ramat Beit Shemesh is really 2 communities about a 5 minute drive (uphill) from the main “anglo” Beit Shemesh communities. However, we are not really considering Ramat Beit Shemesh at this time because we have heard that it is essentially a Charedi neighborhood, and that people like us who have televisions and don’t have their daughters wearing stockings through the hot summer might not be comfortable there.

We are excited to have the opportunity to see this particular home. It has just come on the market after changing ownership; with the new owners looking to make Aliyah sometime in the future, we have a chance to swoop in and get a nice rental in the area we want to live. Additionally, this house is not a duplex and has additional yardspace – providing even more room for the family.

However, our excitement quickly dissipates once we actually see the house. We hear the agents telling us how spacious the house is and how much room there is on the grounds because it is a stand alone villa. We walk through the house and try to mentally imagine where our furniture and belongings will go. But it just won’t work.

The house is tiny by our standards. Slightly under 2,000 square feet in living space. Five teeny bedrooms upstairs. A combined living/dining room. A “sealed room” that either doubles as a bedroom or family room. A kitchen that has a laundry room right off it, with no room for a kitchen table. That’s it. No basement or play room. No closets. Storage? Go buy a shed and put it out in the lawn.

Now, there are many people who are quite comfortable living in these homes. In no way do I mean to insult or belittle them, but I cannot imagine how they do it. I guess that some of them have fewer children living at home. Others may have adjusted to the smaller home size before their families expanded to our size. Yet others may simply have made the mental commitment that they will adapt to the circumstances and figure out a way to make these smaller living spaces work. Which is great for them.

I guess we are spoiled. We really had a certain standard that we expected to live within, and these homes simply do not satisfy that standard.

It isn’t like we are living in a mansion here on Long Island. We have an average sized 4 bedroom home, with a guest room in the basement. We have made minimal changes to the house since we bought it, essentially just periodic painting and the replacement of things when they break. Like many other people in the neighborhood, the house has probably more than doubled in value since we bought it, and there is no way we could afford to live here if we had to buy a home today. But we think we have a nice house with room for our kids to grow and play.

So we decide to go see some other homes in the area; surely there must be other homes that have more space. Of course that is where we are wrong. All of the homes in the neighborhood are essentially the same size. The layouts might be different from home to home, but the sizes are all the same. Not only in the Aviv neighborhood, but the Sheinfeld neighborhood as well (the Sheinfeld houses are actually a bit larger – say 10%, but we cannot imagine living there either when we see the houses there). Of course, the only house available for rental in the Sheinfeld neighborhood is fully furnished and only 4 bedrooms, and we cannot figure out how we would sleep all the kids there either.

We then went to visit some friends who live 2 blocks away from the house we were looking to rent. They have been living in Israel for 4 years and have been helpful in lining up another house for us to see as well. We have known them for almost our entire married life, with one of us knowing them from childhood (I am specifically deleting identifying information to protect their anonymity – they did not ask nor were they asked to be in the paper).

We end up spending the balance of the day with them as they take us on a tour of Beit Shemesh and Ramat Beit Shemesh. We discuss our concerns with them and they laugh at our naiveté. Surely we cannot be serious. Things are different in Israel, they tell us. The kids are never home, always outside playing with their friends. “Well of course they are all outside,” I respond, “there isn’t enough room for all of them to be inside at the same time!”


We spent Thursday night in Yerushalayim in my uncle’s apartment in Rechavia. It is a beautiful apartment and we are terrified that Moshe is going to break something valuable. But we are all tired and I am feeling incredibly sick, so we get to bed early.

That night, Goldie and I spend at least 2 hours in the dark talking about the houses we have seen. Both of us are experiencing incredible panic and fear that we will not be able to settle our family into this situation. I cannot describe the intensity of our panic. We both agree that we simply do not know what we will do.

It is at this moment that the inevitable second thoughts creep into our minds. Are we making a mistake? Is this really how we want to live? We also discuss the fact that we have already given notice at both jobs, and that the first article about our Aliyah is being read that very moment throughout the 5 Towns. How embarrassing would it be if we came back and said, “never mind.”

At the end of the conversation I reassure Goldie that I am surprised that it took so long for the second guessing to begin. This is very normal, I tell her (hoping that it is so) and I am sure that after we have gotten some sleep we will have a different outlook. Of course, if we don’t we will have to figure out what we want to do.


We had planned on going to the Vasikin Shachris minyan at the Kotel on Friday morning. When we wake up, I realize that there is no way I will make it. I definitely had a fever overnight, and my throat and ears are in tremendous pain. Anyone I speak to who has allergies assures me that they are also suffering, which is of course no comfort to me. We eventually visit the Kotel for Mincha and walk around the old city - which is of course beautiful as always.

We both agree that the panic has subsided somewhat. While we are definitely concerned about how we will make this work, we agree that we are still 100% committed to what we are doing and that we will have to figure something out.

I have a brother who made Aliyah 6 years ago. His family lives in a Yishuv called Chashmonaim. Chashmonaim is very close to the city of Modi’in. It is also right next door to a community many of you will be familiar with. Kiryat Sefer.

Chashmonaim is a very nice community, filled with only religious residents. It is currently (according to my brother) about 50% “anglo”, and has become a very “hot” location for Americans to settle in. If I had to specify its religious alignment, I would say that it is a very “Bnei Akiva” settlement.

Some of our friends in Beit Shemesh expressed concern that Chashmonaim may be handed back as part of the next step in the Kadima plan for “Border Definition” since Chashmonaim is technically over the green line. However, my brother is quick to point out that not only is Chashmonaim within the borders of the “Security Fence” (you can actually see where the fence is being built atop the mountain between Chashmonaim and the neighboring arab village), it is also closer to the green line than is Kiryat Sefer and its 50,000 residents. Charedi residents. He cannot imagine how the government would be successful in kicking the Charedim out of their homes, and therefore considers himself safe from this latest danger to Israel.

Although I have prepared her for the fact that the houses will be larger than what she has seen, Goldie is floored by the amount of living space in each and every house within the Yishuv. The duplex homes are much bigger than what we have seen, with some of them definitely at least double the size of the Beit Shemesh homes. The houses have full basements, and all seem to have at least 5 or 6 bedrooms or more. To compare, the Chashmonaim houses can be anywhere from 3,500 square feet and up. There is simply no comparison to the house we had seen the day before in Beit Shemesh.


Friday night I saw many people that I know from Chicago in shul. For those who know me, you know how much I enjoyed the Carlbach style davening and the singing and dancing in Shule during Lecha Dodi. One thing I am struck by (and will be amazed by the entire trip); whenever someone hears I am there to make arrangements for my family’s forthcoming Aliyah they become so excited for us. An announcement is made in shul welcoming us to Israel and many people come over to wish us a Mazal Tov and welcome to Israel.

We are exhausted, and go to sleep immediately after the seudah. I take a bunch of pills to help clear my allergies, and get about 8 hours of sleep.

Shabbos morning I enjoy another melodious davening (with Hallel – it is Rosh Chodesh), and meet Goldie and the extended family outside shul afterwards. She has been speaking with many of the women and feels very welcomed and also very flattered by the obvious good feelings being demonstrated to us as soon to be new Olim. However, I can clearly tell that something is bothering her and that she doesn’t want to talk about it. When I ask her about it, she begins to get choked up and tells me to speak with her later.

After a nice lunch during which we are joined by ex-Chicagoans I have known almost my entire life, we hear to the basement “suite” to put the baby to sleep and possibly nap. Over the next 2 hours we talk about our concerns with Beit Shemesh and the fact that we cannot imagine being happy in any of the houses we have looked at. Although I assure her that I was an equal 50% partner in all the decision making (maybe even more than 50% even), Goldie is literally crying as she discusses it with me and blames herself for the fact that we didn’t even consider anything outside of Beit Shemesh. I am just happy that we are having the discussion now, instead of 6 months later, after having lived miserably in a tiny house after making Aliyah.

The people in Chashmonaim have made a great impression upon us and we discuss the possibility of living there instead of Beit Shemesh. That afternoon, we walk to the park and speak with my brother about rental/purchase opportunities in the Yishuv. By Motzei Shabbos, the entire Yishuv knows we are considering living in the Yishuv, and we go to meet with the primary contractor in the Yishuv about buying a home to be constructed within the year.

So, by Motzei Shabbos when we go to sleep we have essentially changed “from Woodmere to Beit Shemesh”; it has now become “from Woodmere to Chashmonaim”. On Sunday, I have a morning interview with my (prospective) employers. Goldie will spend the day with our sister in law, looking at houses and finding out more details about the Yishuv and surrounding communities. We go to bed a lot more comfortable with what we are doing. Next week: Chashmonaim? Are you sure about that?

Monday, May 15, 2006

What Has Happened till now (Article#2) 5/5/2006


Part 2: What has happened till now…..our Aliyah Chronicle

So we decided to try to make Aliyah. With six kids in school and a very settled life here in the 5 Towns, this was a very formidable task. I should say upfront that our Aliyah is probably atypical in its evolution. You usually hear about the years of planning and calculations that went into the decision. We essentially made our decision to try and make it happen sometime in October/November and made the final commitment to actually do it only 4 months later.

We had a ton of concerns. Could we pull it off with teenagers? What about the Army? How would I find a job? What would it cost us to maintain a standard of living that we have become accustomed to (and where are we prepared to make sacrifices)? What about our families – how will they handle it? Where should we live? What about schools? Have we lost our minds?

The truth is, by the time we get on the plane, we will probably have answered only half of our questions. And these are only a drop of the various things we had to tackle.

If you read last week’s article, you know that Goldie and I had been considering Aliyah as an option beginning June 2005, but became serious about pursuing it in late October. We needed some guidance and help in getting ourselves organized and in understanding what we needed to do to get all the legal stuff in order.

In late October, we started visiting the Nefesh Bnefesh website (http://www.nbn.co.il/); we had heard some great things about them and the services they offer. We discovered that they were holding a public Aliyah seminar in the NY region in December.

For those who have never heard of them, Nefesh Bnefesh is a non profit organization that was formed about 5 years ago to foster North American Aliyah. Their sole purpose of existence is to make it easier for more people to make Aliyah. They even provide financial assistance to those who cannot afford the cost of Aliyah – all done in order to encourage and foster North American Aliyah which had dwindled in the late 80’s and through the 90’s.

We all can see the results of their work. Is there anyone in our community that can honestly say they don’t know of at least three families who have made Aliyah in the past 5 years?

The Nefesh Bnefesh seminars are conducted throughout the country on a regular basis. Nefesh Bnefesh (or NBN as they refer to themselves) has professional advisors on hand to work with potential olim on various social, technical and employment issues.

Of course, there are those (like Goldie and myself) who for various reasons may not want to attend a public seminar. For those people, NBN conducts private meetings and consultations in their offices.

So, on a windy December morning, Goldie and I took the LIRR to the city for our private NBN meetings. If we were confused when we walked in, we were dizzy when we left from the amount of information and guidance they gave. They were unbelievable. We felt as if we finally found people who understood what we were going through and had practical advice for us.

Their social services people are great. “Got a 15 year old boy who doesn’t want to move? Let’s talk about the things we can do to prepare him and help him adjust. Need to talk through which communities might be best for you? Sure – and don’t forget to check our website. Want a pen pal for your kids to email and get friendly with in your new community? No problem”. Nothing was too difficult for them to discuss, work through or at least refer us to someone else who may be able to help us.

They also have a tremendous Aliyah department with brochures, charts and checklists detailing exactly what you need to do in order to make Aliyah. They have people who really understand all the various laws and regulations whose sole purpose is to make the process easier for the average Oleh. In our case we needed to find out about not making our oldest son a citizen and how to square that with the army (more on that in a few weeks).

However, the people who we have dealt with the most is the employment department. With six kids, Goldie and I made a conscious decision that the only way our Aliyah would work was if I had a job lined up. We felt that the radical changes and adjustments the kids would be forced to cope with would be too much to bear if there was an additional tension in the house about Abba not having a job/income.

These are not hard statistics, but we have been told that over 90% of olim come to Israel without jobs lined up. NBN forecasts a job search of up to 7 months before some people find work, and in some cases it is even longer. Clearly, we were swimming against the tide. However, we felt that this was an absolute requirement if Aliyah was to work for our family.

The NBN employment services department (it was really Kim Ephrat of NBN, who deserves a lot of recognition from us for all she has done for us) worked with me on tailoring my resume (or CV as it is referred to by academics and/or Israelis as well) to the Israeli job market. They gave me half a dozen networking referrals; people in my industry (non profit management and fundraising) who they thought might be able to advise me on who was looking for help. No more than 2 weeks went by from December to March where I did not get an email from NBN about a job they had found out about in my field.

In mid December, we returned to midtown, to go to the Jewish Agency and apply to become Olim (immigrants). The Jewish Agency opens a file for each prospective Oleh called a “Tik” or folder. There are a million forms to fill out in duplicate and you need to come with uncountable amounts of letters and documents to essentially submit proof to the Jewish agency that we were indeed of Jewish parentage and entitled to citizenship under the Law of Return.

We also had to clear up some issues regarding our oldest son (Chaim – age 15) and his status as a non-Oleh (more on this in my column on the kids in a future issue). Through it all, our shaliach aliyah was helpful and just plain nice. We thought this would be a difficult process, but since Goldie is extremely organized, we had all the paperwork put together within a few weeks.

In January, I went to Israel for my nephew’s Bar Mitzva and what might also be considered a “pilot” trip, where I investigated schools (thanks to information provided by Avi Silverman of NBN whose expert advice has been a source of strength to us) in the community we chose to settle in (Beit Shemesh) as well as continued to job network and interview. I spent the entire week following up leads and then following up on the leads that came from the leads.

There isn’t enough room in the paper to describe the excitement I felt during that trip. From the Yerushalmi Yid who came up to me on Erev Shabbos after I had missed the bus to Netanya and miraculously arranged a ride for me (just because he thought I looked distraught), to the guy in Alon Shvut who drove me into Yerushalayim when I asked him for directions to the bus stop, to the feeling I had walking from Rechavia to the Tachana Merkazit (Central Bus Station) and especially the thrill when all the minyanim reach Shemoneh Esreh at the Vassikin minyanim at the Kotel on Erev Shabbos and you can literally hear the birds chirp as you daven – there is truly no place like Israel and Yerushalayim to make a Jew feel like a Jew.

Of course, it was Nefesh Bnefesh’s Yerushalayim office that referred me during that trip to a fundraiser for a well known Israeli Yeshiva who, after a discussion of my qualifications and capabilities, promised to keep my “CV” on file “in case he heard about something. It was just one of perhaps twenty similar discussions that week, but it would eventually bear fruit.

After I returned to America we continued the job search. At some points along the way, we were discouraged. We felt that things just didn’t seem to be coming together, and our dream of Aliyah would never become a reality.

Some time in late February, we got a letter from the Jewish Agency that out Tik Aliyah was approved and that we should come to the Israeli consulate in Manhattan to get Aliyah visas put in our passports. Since we weren’t yet sure about the job issue, we put that on hold and still need to actually go to get our visas.

I was still sending out resumes, and meeting with Israeli Yeshiva representatives in America, but there was still nothing promising on the job front. I realized that part of the problem is also the same reason that the overwhelming majority of Olim come to Israel without jobs. Israeli employers want a new hire to start work immediately. I had at least 10 organizations/yeshivos say to me, “too bad you are not yet in Israel – so we won’t interview you.”

There were several jobs that I was offered that for a variety of reasons I did not take. I have a specific vision of what my talents and abilities are, and I did not want to take a job where I thought I honestly had little potential for long term success. Additionally, I didn’t want to take several part time jobs. I wanted to work full time for only one place.

In mid February, two of the networking contacts scored hits. I interviewed on the telephone with two separate Yeshivos and I felt that both positions were viable options; both also seemed as interested in me as I was in possibly working for them. We began the investigative part of the process. Checking references. Talking to Board Members/major donors about each Yeshiva. Discussing outlooks, expectations, responsibilities and goals.

After much discussion and negotiation, in late March I made a decision of which job I felt would be the best fit for me, and we set up to meet face to face for the first time in order for both sides to make sure they feel comfortable that this job is for me and close the deal.

We made the mental commitment to make Aliyah.

Since the last week in March we have literally been overwhelmed with all the things we need to do to get things going. We have planned a trip for the week after Pesach to close the job deal and make living arrangements. We’ve met with shipping companies about arranging for our lift. We check the NBN and Beit Shemesh Yahoo lists daily, in search of new information that may be useful to us.

We need to pack up our lives, and set up our new lives and we have about 8 weeks in which to get it all done.

Next week……….from Woodmere to Beit Shemesh WHERE?????

Why We are making Aliyah (Article#1) 4/28/2006


“You’re making Aliyah? But…you’re not the type…”

In the last few weeks, as the news of our impending move has gotten out, my wife Goldie and I have heard that same comment over and over. The truth is, we have no idea what “the type” of person is who chooses to move to Israel. We only know who we are and what brought us to this point in our lives.

Looking back, we both came from families that are pro Aliyah. Our parents raised us both with an understanding of the kedusha of Eretz Yisroel and the zchus that people have in living there. We both spent our first year after high school learning there.

I have an older sister who went to Israel right after high school and essentially never came back, and a younger brother who made Aliyah almost 6 years ago; my youngest brother plans to make Aliyah in the next couple of years when he finishes his MBA. Goldie’s father lived in Israel for a year in the 50’s in an attempt to move there before returning to America to marry and start a family, and her older brother has planned to make Aliyah ever since I have known him, and may actually join us in the next couple of years.

In truth, Goldie has always been 100% in favor of making Aliyah ever since we first met; I was the person who had issues and concerns. We are obviously a team, and Goldie knew when we married that I was unprepared to make the move. But I knew that the minute I said to her, “Let’s go”, that she would be busy packing up.

That’s not to say that I didn’t want to live in Israel. I love Israel and I always loved the thought of eventually settling there at some point. But I was concerned about the safety of our kids. I wasn’t prepared to put them (as I put it then) in harms way, either as civilians or as members of the Israeli army.

Yes, I knew that there are many who live in Israel without ever becoming citizens in order to avoid military service. Even more people use Yeshiva exemptions. (I in no way intend to disparage any of the people in those two groups – they make their choices based on what they feel is best for them) However, Goldie and I both felt that if we were to live in Israel, it would be as citizens. In our hearts we felt a moral obligation that our children do their part in protecting our country (as part of a Hesder Yeshiva/army program) before they started their chosen career paths.

Aside from the safety standpoint, I also worried about finances. With six children, I doubted that a Yeshiva elementary school administrator could find a job in a country where all the schools are public schools and I don’t speak the language like a native.

Much as I may have wanted to, I just didn’t think we could do it. Yet there was always that nagging voice in the back of my head that kept saying, “what if……?”

Then last Shavuos we spent the Yom Tov in Teaneck with Goldie’s brother and his family. We spent most of the Yom Tov meals talking about these issues and how difficult they were for us. But I started to think about it more seriously.

I began to speak with my siblings about the cost of living in Israel and what I would need to earn to support my family. Goldie and I discussed how such a move would impact our kids, especially the teenagers. We really thought about how nice it would be, and what a difference it would make in the way our family would develop. Looking back, it was that Yom Tov that really gave us the first push to really consider it.

Of course, I was safe in these musings, since I was 100% convinced that there was no way I would find a decent job there. So it was easy to magnanimously say, “if only I could find a job, I would really consider it.”

Then, just after the Yomim Noaraim, two things happened that dramatically altered my outlook on the whole situation.

First, my sister in law sent me an email about an Israeli Yeshiva’s search for an administrator/fundraiser. I immediately thought that this was my prime opportunity to put the whole thing to rest. I reasoned that once they showed no interest in me, that I could legitimately say to everyone that I tried, but there really is no work for me in Israel.

Although the job eventually went to someone else, the interest that this particular Yeshiva showed me really opened my eyes to the opportunities that are available if you only look for them. I realized that I might be able to find something if I really wanted to, and that I had to decide what I wanted.

So we talked about it. A lot. I was unsure what I wanted, I still had concerns about the situation in Israel and its long term security as a home for our family. Then tragedy struck. Not me or my family, but in such a way that I took it deep to heart.

You see, someone with whom I developed a close friendship in the last 5 years or so was tragically killed in a one car accident when he lost control of his car while driving home one night in a heavy rain storm. He was a young guy, with so much to live for. He had a wife and three kids to whom he was devoted. He was extremely successful in his profession. Anyone who knew him understood that he was just a genuinely nice guy, with a heart of gold. And he was my friend.

I took the news of his passing very hard. It really shook me. The tragic wastefulness of it hurt. I kept telling myself that there is a grand plan, and this was part of it. That I had to have Emunah that this was what H-shem wanted and that this was the way things are supposed to be. That it was simply “his time” to go.

This was when it hit me that the same thing applied to our making Aliyah. Of course, we don’t rely on miracles and only an idiot walks voluntarily in the middle of an active shootout. However, I thought about all the things we say about Emunah, and about the Yad H-shem and about his plan for the world. I thought about the fact that if your time is up, it will be up NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE, be it on a bus in Yerushalayim or driving down the highway. I realized that if chas v’shalom tragedies are to befall us, worrying about them won’t prevent them; we must do every thing we can to ensure our safety and security and understand that as always, the end result is in H-shem’s hands.

Internally, I made peace with myself and my concerns. I saw a glimpse of the emunah that powers the dedication of those who live in Chevron and the cities of the West Bank. I understood just a little of how they decided to put themselves in H-shem’s hands, leaving Him to safeguard and protect them from harm.

I saw what Goldie had seen all along. That if we were supposed to make Aliyah that things would work out. That our kids could grow up safe and secure in Israel. That we could achieve the same success that others have before us, if we put forth the serious effort to make things happen as much as we could. And we decided that we would try to put together a plan for it to happen this year. That if we could work out the job issues, and the teenage transition issues and a zillion other issues, that we would actually do it. Sell our house. Move our family. Make Aliyah.

Next week I will try to encapsulate the past 6 months of actual planning that we have done regarding job, moving, etc. I will introduce you to Nefesh Bnefesh (if you don’t know who they are – check this space in the next issue) and the wonderful things that they have done to encourage Aliyah. I don’t think we’d be making Aliyah if it wasn’t for this organization and their staff.

Thereafter, I will try to keep a journal of sorts so that you can “live through” the Aliyah process and get a sense of what it is that Olim go through. From our trip in a couple of weeks to find a house all the way through what is certain to be a tumultuous first year in getting settled.