Aliyah: Living the Zionist Dream and Building the Modern State
JNS.org – When I met Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) founder and president Sarah Stern in late 2019, I had my aliyah visa in hand and was on the verge of completing a lifelong Zionist’s dream of returning to the Jewish home.
I had started my career with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and later took a job with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology to recruit young engineers to Israel.
I had delayed making the big leap to a life in Israel for years, but finally, the time had come — until Sarah handed me an EMET pamphlet. I reviewed the organization’s positions and realized that it shared my unapologetic love for the State of Israel and was bold enough to speak truth to power. I put off aliyah once again, joining EMET as its director of development.
Yet with the coronavirus pandemic putting my role as a person-to-person fundraiser on hold, I could not delay my move to Israel any longer. This summer, I will depart Capitol Hill and immigrate to Israel with Nefesh B’Nefesh.
My main motivation is living out the Zionist dream and contributing to the next generation of the development of the Jewish state. I grew up a Zionist and believe aliyah to be both a foundational and ultimate step in the Zionist dream of Jews returning to our native homeland. This vision began when I was a young child and participated in a mock trip to Israel with my Jewish day school. I gained the firm belief that we all as a Jewish community would be making aliyah at some point in my youth or early adulthood. But as I grew over the years, it became apparent that there would be no communal move.
My motivation became less religion- or Torah-based, and more political and practical, in the sense of building the modern Jewish state. I wanted the next generation of Jews to have the choice of being Israeli without having to go through the process that aliyah entails, primarily the difficult decision to separate from family. At the end of the day, the Jewish people’s exile is over. We sing about next year in Jerusalem, and there is nothing stopping us from making that a reality.
Israel has always been the Jewish home to me in theory, but what brings it to life is the people. I am fortunate to have wonderful Israeli-born relatives in Israel. My uncle made aliyah decades ago, and his children and grandchildren are modern Israelis. They are close with our American family, and they took the concept of aliyah off paper and into flesh and blood. I spent a lot of time with them when I was a student at Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2012-2013, and I don’t think that I would have left that experience so intent on returning had it not been for the beautiful connection with the Israeli side of my family.
For now, making aliyah during the pandemic is unnerving. El Al nearly went out of business; my first flight was canceled; and the economic contraction, quarantine regulations, and social unrest caused by coronavirus is daunting — not to mention the virus itself. All aspects of life are limited in some way by the pandemic.
During these fraught times, getting to Israel without Nefesh B’Nefesh would have seemingly been impossible. The organization has assisted at every step of the way, including putting me on a United Airlines flight in a matter of days after my El Al flight was canceled. Nefesh B’Nefesh has helped guide my ulpan (intensive Hebrew-language academy) decisions and offered resources to learn about social life in Israel, the country’s medical system, and career opportunities. Already a valuable resource for aliyah in all times, the organization is now an indispensable force of stability during this chaotic period.
As my life in Israel begins, I plan to return to work in some capacity advocating for the Jewish state, as well as the importance and validity of Zionism. My long-term goal remains to help raise the next generation of Jews with Israeli citizenship and to give other Jews the option to be Israeli without going through immense bureaucracy, and having to learn a foreign language and culture, which is difficult no matter how much we are raised with Jerusalem in our hearts while in exile.
Asher Daniels, a native of Stamford, Conn., and the former director of development at the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), is making aliyah this summer with Nefesh B’Nefesh.