I know I should have really started blogging again before I actually arrived in Israel, but I was so busy with all the pre-aliyah planning…
I know if I don’t start now I am going to forget things. So, even though it 12:30 AM, here goes.
This blog is probably going to be disjointed, at least in the beginning, because I want to first talk about my first few days here as an update to all my friends and family. Eventually I will try to explain my thoughts and feelings on the whole process as well.
So…Monday, July 11. Most emotional day of my life. Started out with my dear good friend, GW, picking me up and driving me to JFK. On the way there (amazingly no traffic at 9 AM) I was on the phone with my Mom and then also my best friend, C, and was already shedding tears. We arrived and I unloaded my two 70 lb suitcases, 2 carry-ons and of course a bag of food (which hardly got touched at all during the flight!) I walked in to Terminal 4 and the atmosphere was calm and fairly quiet. There were already a good number of passengers there but the NBN staff was expediting everything so wonderfully. They are super organized and really made this entire process from start to finish go really smoothly. Almost immediately I recognized Rachel and her family, who I had only “met” on FB through our mutual friend, Jodi. We embraced like old friends and I know we will be “aliyah-family” forever. GW had gone to park her car and then she came in to hang with me while I checked in and all that. It was great to have her there to help keep an eye on my luggage and just to be supportive. It is the coolest feeling to be on line for check-in and everyone around you is going to be on your flight and making aliyah. We all started chatting and introducing ourselves right away. I got lucky with security and did not have to take my bags through the extra security that most people have to go through so check in was pretty quick. I got my boarding pass and thankfully had an aisle seat.
We then waited for all the family and friends to arrive for the farewell ceremony. I was so lucky to have so many wonderful friends from NY and NJ come to see me off, and especially my family – my sister, my aunt & uncle and cousin, and my Bubby. Saying good-bye to my Bubby was definitely the hardest, but Thank G-d she has been so supportive since I told her about my decision, in December. She is a Holocaust survivor and the bravest, toughest person I know. When she and her family were taken to Auschwitz, the last words her father said to her were, “Whoever survives this should go to Israel.” (Every time I retell this or even type it, I cry) After the war, she and her brother were the only surviving members of their family, and they tried very hard to go to Israel, but it was so much more difficult and they had sponsors in America, so that is where they went. But I grew up hearing that story all throughout my childhood. And my Bubby also told us how her parents wanted to go to Israel before World War II started but they couldn’t make it happen at that time. So I believe the seeds of Zionism were planted generations back. My Bubby is so proud of me and my accomplishments and I know it was hard for her to see me off, but she only focused on how brave she thinks I am and how she hopes she will be able to come visit me.
Rabbi Fass, the founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh, spoke for a few minutes. Every time I hear him speak, I am so inspired. The first time I met him, at the NBN Aliyah Fair in October in NYC, I have to say I was a little star struck. He is a true celebrity and hero to me.
I hung back as most of the passengers went to security and stayed with my posse until pretty much the last few moments we had. Then made my way to the gate, one last phone call to Mom in Baltimore and then we were boarding!
NBN was amazingly organized. The staff and some upgraded passengers were in Business Class. Then the first section was the 51 singles (this was emphasized many, many times) and some couples, with 2 families with children in the bulkhead of our section. One family was good friends from Queens, just a few rows ahead of me, so it was nice to have familiar faces nearby. I had met a few people on the flight in the weeks beforehand and one girl and I had become very close and we were seated next to each other which was terrific. But as soon as we were airborne, everyone was milling around, introducing themselves and schmoozing. It was a terrific atmosphere and a lot of fun. The NBN staff were working hard, processing all of our paperwork and passports. It’s the coolest thing ever. All the documents are on a tablet device, like an iPad, and we sign with electronic pens and it’s transmitted to the Ministry of Absorption while we are flying and everything is ready for us when we arrive.
As we neared Tel Aviv, there was some air traffic and we had to circle a few times before we actually touched down. Everyone was getting excited and nervous. When we finally touched down, we cheered so loudly and they started playing music.
I was seated pretty close to the front of the plane and I was able to get my bags right away so I was one of the first few people off the plane. It was amazing. I don’t even think I was able to be fully in the moment. I was too busy looking for the video cameras to wave to my friends and family watching the ceremony live. At that time, I didn’t even know how many people were watching, but later on when I checked e mail and Facebook I was completely overwhelmed.
Walking off the plane was just amazing. My lifelong dream come true. We took a group picture with the 51 singles (don’t forget there were 51 singles on the flight!) and then proceeded to the bus to take us to Terminal 1 where the welcome ceremony would be held. The bus ride was just a couple minutes and as we exited there was a huge group of chayalim (Israeli soldiers) there to greet us, and family and friends waiting. My amazing friends were out in full force with signs to greet me. As soon as I saw them, the tears started flowing. Knowing I have such a wonderful fan club and support system here has made so much of a difference. And then my amazing, wonderful Aunt & Uncle and cousin – my closest family in Israel and supportive of me since I was born. They have always been there for me and we have stayed so close even since their aliyah 11 years ago. Then I was kind of in an emotional fog. We got seated and I had my 1st iced coffee slushy :)
Natan Sharansky addressed us first and spoke so eloquently. A true Jewish hero.
There were some other speakers and then the IDF led us in Hatikvah (Israeli National Anthem). It’s just such a different feeling to sing this as a citizen. I immediately felt like I was home.
After some more document processing we got our 1st payment of Sal Klita in cash! and a voucher for a free cab ride to anywhere in Israel. Lots of perks as olim chadashim :)
For some reason I was one of the last ones to get a taxi – they were trying to group people by area. Anyway, a cute young guy going into the Army was my ride-mate. Of course we knew a bunch of people in common; Jewish geography at its best. I was so exhausted I couldn’t keep my eyes open.
…Next up…Arrival in Yerushalayim