I was contacted by someone today, who wanted some information about the Aliyah (becoming an Israeli citizen) process. Though a plethora of resources do exist for those who wish to relocate to the land of milk and honey, sometimes it’s great to hear it from someone who has already been through the process.
Perhaps you’ve been contemplating making Aliyah for some time. Maybe you’ve only thought about it once or twice, or maybe you’re not even vaguely familiar with the process. No matter how much information you’re interested in, even if Aliyah is not an option for you and you’re just curious about what it means, I’m about to shed some light on the process. This may also be useful for those who are about to make Aliyah and are looking for a great way to explain it to their family and friends. I know that it certainly created a lot of interesting conversations in my circle.
What is “Aliyah?” Well, in Hebrew the word “Aliyah,” or “עליה” means assent; the act of going up. In this context, it is used to refer to the act of progressing towards Jerusalem. The aspiration for Jewish people to make Aliyah, or return home, was developed during the Jewish diaspora. Large scale immigration to Israel began in 1882, when the territory was known as “Palestine.” The name “Palestine” had been given to what is now the State of Israel after the Romans conquered it and took the land from the Jewish People in 135 CE. The Roman’s traditionally named their conquered territories after the greatest enemies of those whom they had conquered. At the time that the Romans conquered Israel, the largest enemy that the Jewish People had were the Philistines. Thus was born the territory known as “Palestine” (or Syria Palæstina).
Since Israel was officially established as the Jewish State in 1948 more than 3,000,000 people have made Aliyah.
Aliyah is an important concept for Jewish culture and the reason behind Israel’s Law of Return, which states any Jewish person (deemed as such by halakha or Israeli secular law) has the right to assisted immigration and Israeli citizenship. A person who “makes aliyah” is referred to as an oleh (m) or olah (f) and the plural for both is olim.
When a person makes Aliyah, they join a global community of Jewish People with similar ideologies. It’s like being adopted into a new family, and gaining thousands of brothers and sisters. It doesn’t matter what language everyone speaks, whether it is English, French, German, Hungarian, Russian, or Italian, they all speak the language of “coming home.”
From my experience, there’s a few things one must do to have a successful Aliyah…
1. Take a pilot trip
I have met a few people who, just following a tug on their heartstrings, hopped on a plane to make Aliyah without ever having previously been to Israel. However, I would recommend what they call a “pilot trip.” Take as much time as you can (I recommend at least 10 days) and travel the country. See the North, the South, the Sea, and the Dead Sea. Hike in the desert, swim under a waterfall in the Kineret (sea of Galilee), see the “shuk” (market) in Jerusalem on a Friday, and see the intersection of Ben Gurion and Dizengoff in Tel Aviv on a Tuesday. Go into towns that are hidden gems, where not many Olim end up, like Rishon Lezion.
Many diaspora Jews have the opportunity to visit Israel prior to even thinking about making Aliyah and many times that visit is even the inspiration behind the desire to become an Israeli citizen (such as it was in my case). However, if you’ve never had the pleasure of strolling down the cobblestone streets of Old Yafo, plan a trip—and try to incorporate leisure days that don’t include tourist activities, where you can really take things in, observe, and appreciate the culture and all that Israel has to offer.
2. Be Informed
Preparing to make Aliyah can be overwhelming sometimes, and even stressful. This of course is natural, considering you’re relocating your entire life to a new country. I found that having a great support system and asking lots of questions made the process nothing but joyful. If you’re planning to immigrate from North America I would suggest going through an agency called Nefesh B’Nefesh. They have a great staff that will walk you through the entire process, are there when you have questions, and will even help you find a job or relocate your company (if you are self-employed). They hold a lot of information session, both in the US and in Israel, where you can meet other people who are in the process of making Aliyah, network, and learn about everything that is available to aid you on your journey.
Make sure to inquire about all components of your move including financial preparedness, work options, army service, school options for either yourself or your children, and your pet’s travel accommodations.
If you have family or friends in Israel and know where you would like to settle, great! Check that off of your list. If not, that’s okay too. The Jewish Agency offers quite a few absorption programs that can help you get settled during your first few months in Israel. You will receive 5 months of subsidized Hebrew lessons no matter where you end up. All of the absorption programs that are available include the 5 months of intensive Ulpan (Hebrew lessons). If you choose to go that route, there are a variety of programs; there is everything from University / dorm living, to Kibbutz living and working (available for both young singles and families). If you decide that a program is not for you, there are still plenty of options for where to take your Ulpan lessons. I chose not to do an absorption program, but I wound up finding a wonderful community of people through taking classes at Ulpan Gordon in Tel Aviv. To this day I am close with many of my classmates.
No matter what path you choose after you make Aliyah, you can’t go wrong. Just remember to research all of your options so you are fully aware of how many things are available to take advantage of.
3. Don’t get discouraged
As I mentioned, the Aliyah process can be overwhelming at times. It’s not a matter of if you will feel overwhelmed but, rather, a matter of when you will feel overwhelmed. It may be when you’re filling out all of your application paperwork, it may be when you’re being interviewed by the Jewish Agency, or it may be two days after you land when you’re sitting in an office in Israel with a woman who speaks more Russian than Hebrew and less English than both (this was the case for me).
The important thing is to expect a lot of bumps in the road, understand the process that takes place after you land in your new home, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. For as many things that can happen to you in Israel to drive you crazy, there are 10 more experiences that will really make you smile and be grateful that you decided to make Aliyah.
This article was originally published on the operationexodus.com blog in March, 2014