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Why I made aliyah

I moved to Israel because I love living here. Some people feel it is courageous, some are confused as to why I would want to leave the United States, and some feel a mixture of both. I do not think it was courageous. I moved to Israel because it is where I want to be; it is where I feel the most free to be myself.

That is not to say that life in Israel is easy. There have definitely been ups and downs. One thing that made my transition easier was that I studied in Beer Sheva for three years, and so I already had a network of friends. I also have family who I became close to during my studies.

When I arrived, I moved in with a former roommate from my time at Ben-Gurion University, who had an extra room in a three-bedroom apartment. Within hours of my arrival three of my friends came to visit. They brought me balloons, assembled my bed, arranged my room, and took me to dinner. I had not previously met the third roommate, but when she came home from work and I went to shake her hand she gave me a hug and kiss and said, “We’re roommates now, roommates hug. Welcome to Israel!” We got along so well that we moved in together when we left the first apartment due to renovations.

Finding a job was difficult, but that seems to be a common concern across the globe. There are plenty of websites to help olim find work, but most of the openings are in marketing, IT and sales. To work in the fields in which I am interested I need a much higher level of Hebrew. I was fortunate in that Nefesh B’Nefesh sent my resume out and a wonderful consulting firm for non-profit organizations contacted me. In February I will be working there for a year. Though finding a job was difficult, one thing that never failed to amaze me was the willingness of Israelis who I met for the first time to, upon hearing about my job search, pull out their phone and call their friends in an attempt to find me a job.

The time I miss home the most is during the holidays. The year before I left Kansas I went on a holiday craze. I drove my family insane insisting that every holiday be spent at home with our traditions and our dishes. I wanted to make sure I fully reveled in the holiday traditions of my childhood before I went off into the unknown.

I have learned to make new traditions. We hosted a Thanksgivukkah dinner complete with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, latkes and sufganiot. Despite the craziness of the day (the store did not have our pre-ordered turkey, but my roommate found one via Facebook; our stove ran out of gas, but our neighbor let us use hers; our sink developed a leak, but the landlord fixed it; we didn’t have a pan large enough for the turkey but small enough for the oven or a baster, but my boyfriend rigged up some contraptions that did the job) we had an amazing time with great food and great friends.

Thanks to technology, I find that I can also hold on to some old traditions, too. Though I moved to a Jewish country, most of my friends do not light Chanukah candles. I sadly resigned myself to lighting them alone, but then one night I had an epiphany. I was video chatting with my Mom and realized that we could light the candles together! There was a slight sound delay, but we were able to sing the prayers together just like at home. It made Chanukah much more special.

There are things about the United States that I miss. Aside from family and friends, I miss not having to fight my way onto the bus or yell at people to get things done. I miss Target and Costco. I miss decent customer service and general politeness. But there are things about Israel that I would not trade. There is something in the atmosphere and in the people that allows you to be who you are and have no fear of exploring and trying. There is a freedom and confidence here that just cannot be found elsewhere. Israelis live life with a passion and a drive that is amazing and exhausting.

I am American. The United States is my home. But through all my life in Kansas and all my years in New Jersey, I never felt a sense of belonging like I do in Israel. Something just clicks. When I exit Ben-Gurion airport and get to wherever I’m going, be it Beer Sheva or Tel Aviv, I feel right. I feel like this is where I belong. It is hard to explain — it is something that can only be felt.

Life in Israel is non-stop. Things are constantly happening all around. There are struggles, and there are parties. And I am a part of it, every second of every day.


This month Lara M. Portnoy will celebrate the first anniversary of making aliyah. She is the daughter of Ellen and Jay Portnoy, who are members of Kehilath Israel Synagogue.