Friday, May 20th | 19 Iyyar 5782

August 22, 2011 11:27 pm

Look Who’s Making Aliyah

avatar by Judy Lash Balint

The latest Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight, which carried 360 new immigrants from North America, landed at Ben Gurion International Airport early morning August 16, Elvis Presley’s “Yahrzeit,” and 50th birthday of Laurie Gates of Skokie, Illinois.

Laurie pointed out the significance of the day to me as she and her husband, Martin, waited in the long check-in line at the El Al counter at JFK. The Gates family, who are relocating to Bet Shemesh, stood out among the young members of Garin Tzabar also waiting to board the Aliyah flight, partially sponsored by Friends of the IDF.

The 104 late-teen and twenty-something group dressed in matching army-green T-shirts will join the Israel Defense Forces within the next few months. Tearful relatives stood by as the young olim prepared to board the flight.

Laurie and Martin Gates had bidden farewell to their friends in Skokie, but were less concerned about those left behind and more excited about who would greet them at the welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion. Laurie’s daughter and son-in-law would be there, as would her sister and aunt, all who have made Aliyah prior to Laurie and Martin.

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There’s no denying the courage needed to enlist in the IDF, but it’s not uncommon for 18-25 year-olds, craving adventure, to travel the world, learn new languages, and try out new cultures. Therefore, in many ways, it’s a lot more daunting for mid-lifers to pull up roots; transplant teenage-kids; sell houses for which they sweated and saved; pack up and transport belongings; forego career advancement, to arrive in a country acknowledged as ageist, struggle with a new language, find appropriate work and a social framework and make sure that all family members are adjusting.

Laurie and Martin Gates had toyed with Aliyah since 2005. As the U.S. economy started to slide in 2008, Martin, a chemist, had trouble finding work in his field. They organized their own pilot trip in 2009 and turned to Nefesh B’Nefesh to help plan their move. “More than half our friends tried to talk us out of it at first,” acknowledged Laurie. “But as the economy tanked people viewed it more positively,” she added. They started taking Hebrew language classes in Chicago and plan to register for Ulpan once they settle in their new home in Bet Shemesh. Martin, a tall affable man with a large smile, is optimistic. “I’m much more likely to find something in my field in Israel than in Skokie.” Laurie will be looking for opportunities in the wholesale or retail business sphere.

On the plane I meet another optimistic middle-aged couple with their teenage daughter. Dan and Sabina Cahn and their daughter Leila from Redmond, Washington are heading to Tel Aviv where they’ve already bought an apartment. Like the Gates couple, the Cahns defy the stereotype of American immigrants as all being Orthodox young families with several small children, headed to Jerusalem, Modi’in or Ramat Bet Shemesh.

The Cahns, traditional, committed Jews harbor a love for Israel and the Israeli lifestyle and have transmitted that to their children.Their college-age son, Gabriel, spent the last year in Israel and hopes to return after completing his degree.

Dan, a senior executive with a long-term care insurance company, is telecommuting to his old job. The day after his arrival, Dan is already online preparing to lead a webinar for associates back in the U.S. His wife Sabrina is a social worker who looks forward to begin a new career teaching an ESL course to senior citizens. Their daughter will be a junior at the Kfar HaYarok High School, which has a special track for kids of English-speaking immigrants. It is located in nearby Ramat HaSharon.

The Singer family, from West Bloomfield, Michigan, brought along a dog, cat, and a ball python snake safely stored in the luggage hold.

Mitchell and Jeanette Singer decided that the transition from Michigan to Israel would be easier for their three kids, ages 8, 10 and 12, if they each could bring along a treasured pet. Ten-year-old Dovid is the keeper of the snake, which had to go through mountains of red tape on both the U.S and Israeli sides before making it onto the plane.

Mitchell Singer, in his mid-forties, sold his insurance agency back in Michigan and plans to focus on his family and adjusting to their new community of Mitzpeh Netofah, a community of some 150 families in the Lower Galilee.

More than 30 residents of Mitzpeh Netofah set out at 5:30 a.m. to greet the Singers at the airport. Amongst them were people like Toby Klein from Baltimore, who made Aliyah through Nefesh B’Nefesh in 2006.

Western Aliyah in 2011 is not what it was a decade ago; Nefesh B’Nefesh has brought more than 28,000 newcomers to Israel since its inception in 2002. It seems promising that the number of olim will increase in 2012.

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