Lauren’s story of how she made aliyah to Israel

Time for another new columnist to be launched into the realms of super-stardom, we thinks! Welcome to the world of Lauren, originally from the US, who describes how and why she gave up the good life back home to make aliyah to Israel, and what it’s like living in the Holy Land for a newbie…if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like making those first steps in the Holy Land, this could be for you!

Hello all! I’m Lauren Gelnick. I’m an olah chadasha (new olah) from NY. I’m going to be taking over duties on the making aliyah desk, although Scott is going to write a column from time to time (come on, we have to hear about Petey and his progress!).

A little about me: I came to Israel on the December 30, 2009/13 Tevet 5770, Nefesh B’Nefesh (hereafter referred to as “NBN”) flight from JFK. Left 17 degree (Fahrenheit) weather for 70 degree (Fahrenheit) weather. Nice, no?

So how did I come to make aliyah? It was never in the plan. Really—when I was cleaning out old school papers, I found an English assignment from 12th grade entitled, “Seven Years From Now I Will Be…” I wrote that I was going to be a physical therapist living in Manhattan or somewhere else close to New York City, maybe married maybe not.

Israel? Nowhere on the page, literally.

I was raised in a home with Israel playing a very prominent part—Israeli music, pictures, my parents had volunteered and went to university in Israel, the schools I went to were Zionistic, and my parents had a very good friends who had made aliyah years ago, but aliyah was never something I planned on doing. I personally had never been to Israel until the day after my high-school graduation when I left to go on Birthright.

My Birthright trip, as everyone says, “was amazing.” I went in the Summer 2003, the day after my high school graduation. I sat on the plane to go back saying, “The plane can take off, I’m staying here.” Needless to say, the plane took off and did not leave my seat on the runway. I went back two and a half years later on a Jewish Impact Film program and one of the staff members asked me, “So you’re planning on making aliyah?” I’m still not quite sure where that came from, but I said, “No, I don’t think I could. I mean, maybe I could live here for two or three years, but I couldn’t leave my family.”

—Insert two years of occupational therapy (OT) school HERE—

I decided that after I finished OT school I wanted to go to Israel for a couple of months; I hadn’t been there for more than 10 days at a time, and I wanted to go spend more time there and not on a very structured program—really experience Israel and be a part of it, not just a tourist. In January 2008 went to a seminary for a few weeks and then volunteered with Magen David Adom (the Israeli Red Cross) through the Overseas Program for 2 months. When the two-ish months I was in Israel for were up, I came back to NY to take the National Board exam for occupational therapy…and booked my ticket back to Israel for May roughly the day or day after I got back to NY. I was in Israel again from May-June 2008, and sometime during that time I decided I was making aliyah.

I can’t explain it logically; on paper, there is no logical reason for me to leave NY: I had a good job making a good salary, I was financially stable, my family is there and most of my friends are around there, I’ve lived there my whole life, and things are in a language I know perfectly. In making aliyah Israel, I’ve exchanged a salary in dollars for almost the equivalent in shekels (roughly 3.7 shekels to the dollar, at least for the moment) in the same position, no longer financially stable as I have no income currently, my family and most of my friends are in NY, and my language skills are considerably lacking. But there’s something that can’t be quantified. It’s like a puzzle—sometimes you can smush a piece that doesn’t quite fit into a spot but it’s not quite right. And then when you find where that piece goes, it’s like—“aaaaaah…that’s right.” And that’s me now. It feels right here, it feels like home.

You’ll hear all about my life as an olah, starting with the pre-aliyah process of making aliyah, through the flight, getting my teudat zehut (ID card), dealing with Israeli bureaucracy, and more! Hang on…because I’m not quite sure where this is going!

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