As many of my friends in Israel know, I am missing the last few weeks of my Ulpan program, Ulpan Etzion, that I’ve been enrolled in since my aliyah last July. Goodbyes, in general, aren’t easy, but this one is particularly hard.
As our session comes to an end, I can’t help but feel that Jacob’s words from this week’s parasha, say what I’ve felt over the last five months: And Jacob awakened from his sleep, and he said, “Indeed, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know [it].”
For years, I felt alone in my dream of making aliyah. Sure, people spoke about it in a wistful, hopeful manner, but few considered their dream a pressing priority. I found a couple other kindred spirits, and together, we dreamed and planned quietly, supporting each other in our deeply cherished goal. It wasn’t until I made the decision to go myself, that I realized how many others were making the same consideration, quietly.
Initially, I chose Ulpan Etzion because a friend of mine who’d made aliyah the summer before recommended it. She told me about the friends she made, how they supported one another, how the teachers and the staff went above and beyond to help new olim begin their aliyah with community and guidance. Honestly, at first, I thought of it as a convenient place of lodging. Maybe I would like it, maybe I wouldn’t. Bottom line, they gave me a bed, two meals a day, and an address for my Nefesh B’Nefesh application. That’s all I thought I needed at that point.
Well, there’s one other thing that is vital for a new olah, and Ulpan Etzion provided it really well: a sense of belonging. Thing is, I didn’t see it coming. Until aliyah, I thought I’d find belonging by fitting myself into a community of homogeneous core goals and values. Ulpan Etzion is a pretty heterogeneous place. Students come from all over the world, with varying levels of religious affiliation and reasons for making aliyah. We have a motley gathering of cultures, languages, and views on who gets to be first on the lunch line, and yes, that can cause friction and misunderstanding. Even so, most of us came together to learn more, connect, and celebrate the huge commonality we all share: setting down roots in Eretz Yisrael.
In its own way Ulpan Etzion is the Mount Moriah of my aliyah journey. It was the first stop on my journey from dream to reality. Just as Jacob had a place of respite on his way to fulfilling his ultimate goal: to begin his own family and return in peace to his father’s house, to Eretz Yisrael, so have I begun to chart my own journey with my incredible peers. Sometimes, like Jacob, we wake up frightened and afraid – the natural outcome of applying a dream to reality. And though I can’t speak on behalf of all new olim, I wholeheartedly can say the same, as Jacob did: “How awesome is this place. This is none other than the house of God.”
This is the place where I gained a new privilege and identity – that of an olah and resident of the State of Israel.
This is the place where European, Russian, and South American Jews (among others) became more than impersonal data in Pew reports and news articles, but friends and family.
This is the place where I learned that even though aliyah comes with difficulties, it also comes with something I never had in the US: a sense of enough and acceptance of life’s perplexing imperfect goodness.
In Israel, life can be tough, but you never have to tough it out alone.The compassion, kindness, and camraderie I found in Ulpan Etzion, as well in the deep love of Am Yirsrael and Eretz Yisrael, has introduced me to a new side of myself, or really, awakened a confidence, tenacity, and sense of wholeness.
Uncertainty is a far more exciting adventure when you’re in it with others.