Aliyah – immigrating to Israel – is increasingly on the radar of Jews around the world. Whether excited to be living in a thriving Jewish state, being a part of the “Start-Up Nation” at the cutting edge of the sciences and medicine, or as parents joining one’s kids and grandkids, folks are moving to Israel for a variety of – positive – reasons.
In a two part series, Shelley Berman from Johannesburg relates her thought process and experiences of the transition from Glenhazel to Modiin.
By Shelley Berman
Aliyah? On my agenda? NEVER!
Or at least, that’s what I thought, until April 2016. But allow me to introduce myself and give you some background. I am Johannesburg born, a 60-something mother of two, grandmother of six, English teacher and writer.
My husband, Ian, and I were in our mid-to-late fifties, happily married for about 35 years, with two married children and two grandchildren. We were very comfortable in our secure (or rather, what we perceived to be secure) suburban life in Glenhazel, Johannesburg.
We had everything that we thought we needed: our children and grandchildren nearby, a very close extended family of siblings, nephews and nieces, a lovely home, good jobs, a warm community, and good friends.
Thank G-d we both enjoyed good health and were quite content with our lives and comfortable lifestyle. Aliyah, or any form of emigration, had never crossed our minds, was something that we had never considered, and that only other people did.
That is, until our daughter and son-in-law announced that they were going to be those other people. The rumblings first started one shabbat afternoon in early 2016, when we were having a general family discussion about emigration. I could see which way the wind was blowing in their minds, and fear gripped my heart.
The thought of my two precious grandsons being taken away from me made my blood run cold. I retreated to the bedroom and couldn’t face the rest of the conversation. I adopted an ostrich attitude, kind of like, if I don’t hear them talking about it, then it’s not happening.
But, as the weeks wore on, the rumblings became more of a constant topic of conversation, until they announced that they were going on a pilot trip, an exploratory mission to see if they could make this work.
Leaving their 18 month old and almost 3 year old boys with us for ten days, they went off to explore Israel, and the opportunities ‘She’ could offer them.
They came back with stars (of David) in their eyes, passionate about their decision to make a new life for themselves and their young family in Modiin, Israel. They started planning for a January 2017 departure, and begged me and my husband to join them on this adventure.
To say that this was a terrifying time for us would be to completely understate the emotions that were raging through me. To be parted from my beloved daughter and grandsons? Unthinkable!
But, on the other hand, to accompany them and, in the process, abandon my other child, my son and daughter-in-law, who at the time were going through their own challenges with trying to start a family? Equally unthinkable!
However, we decided to keep an open mind and go on a pilot trip ourselves, thinking that it would empower us to at least make an informed decision.
In July we took a trip to Israel. We rented a small apartment in Modiin for ten days, and made lots of appointments to see people whom we thought would be in a position to advise us.
Sadly, this trip was not a success. The people we met with were mostly unhelpful and very negative, giving us the impression that this would be a bad move for us, and leaving us feeling quite hopeless that we could make it work.
How wrong they were!
If only I had known it at the time, we did not choose the right people to advise us. From a so-called financial advisor to a recruitment agent, to a realtor, they all only served to amplify and exacerbate my fears.
Fears of what, exactly?
Well, really, of everything related to Aliyah. But primarily, fear of financial insecurity, of parting from all my loved ones in South Africa, of the physical hardship of such a massive move, and the enormous fear of change.
We returned from that pilot trip totally deflated and deeply sad. Our babies would be leaving us, and we were utterly bereft at the thought of being parted from them. But we knew that we just had to accept the situation.
January 2017 came faster than we could have imagined. When Juliet said to Romeo, “Parting is such sweet sorrow”, she lied! There was nothing sweet about this parting. It felt like my heart was being ripped out. I was enveloped in a shroud of sorrow that lasted for weeks.
But my children were happy, and that is really what every mother wants for her children. Somehow, motherhood gives you the ability to overcome your own heartache by putting your children’s needs above your own.
We paid them our first visit over Pesach 2017, just three months after they had left. We could already see on that trip how they were starting to settle down and were enjoying life as Israelis in their homeland. We had a wonderful two weeks with them, and came again in December of that year.
By that stage, we were becoming more familiar with Modiin, and were realising more and more just how much we loved Israel in general, and Modiin in particular. But nothing had changed in terms of our personal perspective.
Until April 2018. We were on our third visit, this time over Pesach (I had actually started a small home-based business to help to fund frequent trips to Israel, which thank G-d was doing very nicely). Pesach in Israel was so special. On this trip we finally concluded that this was the place we wanted to call ‘home’.
Aliyah was now seriously back on our agenda. We set up many meetings, this time with people who were better qualified and informed to advise and guide us, and by the time we stepped on the plane to go home, the decision had been made. We knew that our next trip would be on a one-way ticket.
So many people have asked me what, in fact, had changed that made us realise that Aliyah could actually work out. There is no definitive answer to that question, other than our attitude. On our original pilot trip, we came with an attitude of “Oh well, let’s see if there’s any chance that we could do this.”
I realise now that that was the wrong attitude. By April 2018, we knew that we had to find a way to make it work. Our approach changed from ‘Let’s see IF this can work’ to rather thinking ‘Let’s figure out HOW this can work’.
About the Writer:
Shelley Berman and her husband, Ian, made Aliyah from South Africa in December 2018. She has always been a staunch Zionist with a strong love for Israel. With a degree in English and an English teacher by profession, she is passionate about education. She has also always loved writing, and has worked as a content writer. She is dedicated to her family, and is a proud mother and grandmother.
While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves. LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)