Standing with Israel – Defining ‘home’ for thousands of new Olim

More than 19,000 Jews from all over the world make Aliyah each year.

As told to Ellen Yarrow

My parents were born and raised in the Ukraine but never felt at home. Ever since they met at the age of 16, they dreamed of Israel. They listened quietly to the Israeli radio station and read books about Israel before hand-copying them to pass on to their Jewish friends. It was unsafe to be a Jew and Zionist in the Ukraine in those days.

Fortunately, my parents were one of the lucky ones to be able to make their dream come true and make Aliyah to Israel when I was just two. The first year was very difficult for my parents. They were well-known musicians in the FSU but unknown in Israel. And still, they loved Israel even more than they loved the Israel of their dreams from so long ago. My parents told everyone that I was born in the wrong place, that I was a natural Israeli. I was the only ‘Olah’ in class, and though everyone knew, they never let me feel different. Being accepted meant everything.

After years of running barefoot in the grass, it was time to put on the uniform and go into the army. There was no prouder person than me, but I never expected that the meaning of “home” would change as a result of my service. I spent the first year of my service teaching Hebrew to soldiers who were new immigrants in Israel. My army base was in the south and it took me hours to get there from my house in the North.

All of a sudden, the dessert became the most romantic thing in the world for me. At that point, the meaning of home changed for me once more. Home was now the sand that covered my country.

Today, I am a Shlicha, a young emissary for the State of Israel in North America. I am far away from my family, friends and everything I knew before. I don’t speak Hebrew every day and yet I feel at home. Israel is everywhere – in my classrooms, my kitchen, my dreams, my hopes and in my new community.

Immigrants are Israel’s lifeblood!  Yet, Aliyah, with its accompanying need to adapt to a different society, learn a new language, adjust to a new culture, find employment, and locate a place to live, is a major challenge. When coupled with acute cultural, educational, and economic gaps, such as those experienced by immigrants from Ethiopia and other countries of distress, the result can be severe crisis.

Jewish Agency absorption centers are located throughout the state, including Montreal’s partner region of Beer Sheva/Bnei Shimon. They provide thousands of new Olim with their first home during the difficult transitional period after their arrival. Far more than bricks and mortar, the centers furnish the newcomers’ material needs while providing the tools needed to achieve independence and acclimate to a new culture in a sheltered, stress-free environment.

In addition to housing and support services, the absorption centers provide Hebrew ulpan classes to give the new immigrant a working knowledge of Hebrew, an introduction to Jewish culture and traditions, communal celebrations of Jewish holidays, and field trips to sites of religious, historical, and national significance.  Nursery and kindergarten programs leave parents free to attend orientation programs, job search workshops and lectures on employment and educational opportunities.

In conjunction with the Jewish Agency and Keren Hayesod – UIA, Federation CJA supports activities that promote and facilitate Aliyah. Successful absorption ensures that the new Olim remain in Israel and contribute to its continued development, strengthening society as a whole. By supporting these programs, we give new long-term tools for successful absorption.

Since its establishment in 1948, Israel’s population has increased almost tenfold to 7.7 million. During this time, Israel has absorbed over three million new immigrants.

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