By Jessica Cutter
It’s hard to say when or what exactly drove me to want to make aliyah. There were many little things, many bigger things, but overall it was a feeling, a gut reaction every time I heard a word of Hebrew spoken, or I landed in Israel and felt the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders and my soul complete.
As a child I attended Zionistic schools, and subsequently sent my children to HALB, a school with a strong sense of Zionism and connection to the land of Israel. For me, it was challenging to daven every day and ask Hashem for rain in Israel, to attend the Israel Day Parade or other Yom Ha’atzmaut programs and celebrate these holidays in New York or growing up in New Jersey, when I knew in my heart we could be celebrating them in the land of Israel itself. That is what drove me to make the final step from talking about wanting to make aliyah to doing it. To dream is one thing, to do is a whole other ball game.
Moving to Israel and even taking the steps to do so is HARD, and it is not for everyone. While our Jewish homeland calls to us all to come to visit, to kiss the walls of the Kotel as we pray for health, safety and success, to actually live in Israel and walk its streets every day is not something I would encourage everyone to do. But for me, there was no other way to live.
In December 2016, I went to the Nefesh B’Nefesh website and registered for an account to get the whole aliyah process started. I submitted my name, typed every letter, and clicked SUBMIT with excitement. THERE IT WAS – I was starting the process of making aliyah! If only it were that easy. The next few months were a flurry of paperwork, applications, and attempts at organization.
But there was no looking back. I always knew aliyah was for me and was the only possible next step for our family. For my husband, it was not as simple. For the past 10 years we had devoted our lives to the Long Beach Jewish community and the BACH shul. We created a top-notch kiruv program that grew from 60 attendees for the High Holidays to close to 400. We created a community of people who looked to us for spiritual guidance and for connection to their Jewish heritage, and we were so proud and energized by all the work we were doing.
How could we leave that work and those people who needed us, my husband would ask? For me, it was dishonest to stay in New York, helping guide others in how to lead a more meaningful life, when I knew that for us, the only complete and meaningful life would be in Israel. After many long conversations and sleepless nights, my husband came on board, and we simultaneously committed to making aliyah AND returning to our beloved Long Beach kiruv community – LBJE – for High Holidays and periodically throughout the year. This would maintain the connections with our dear congregants and ensure that the program would not only continue without us, but would grow and flourish. We were the founders, but our movement became bigger than us and like many organizations, can succeed still without us at the forefront.
Over the past year and a half, since clicking the SUBMIT button on the Nefesh B’Nefesh website with excitement, we have worked diligently to prepare our family for the big move, both our four children who would be the most directly impacted, and our extended family in America who would feel the hit as well. What we didn’t expect was just how strongly the Long Beach community and our friends would feel about the community’s loss upon our leaving. Many times we questioned our next steps, felt unsure if we were doing the right thing. But we moved forward with our plans, reminding ourselves of all the reasons we embarked on this aliyah adventure in the first place.
For our kids, it was exciting to think about moving until it became a reality – until they realized, “WAIT, school is going to be in HEBREW?! We don’t speak Hebrew!!!” But with the help of special tutoring at HALB, and an extra dose or two of falafel with chummus, and even some extra tissues for tears fallen on pillows, my children also boarded the Nefesh B’Nefesh Aliyah charter flight out of JFK on July 24 with excitement for the next phase of our lives.
Packing up our lives and organizing (or attempting it at least) was all a flurry of excitement, stress, and nerves. There were many moments when I wasn’t sure we would really get on that plane. Maybe it was the 1 a.m. panic attack when I realized the movers had packed our passports and aliyah documents on the lift truck that was already loaded onto the ship in the port, or the many hours I spent plugging away at my job even the day before we left for the flight, unsure just how it would all get done. But much like the flurry of activity an hour before Shabbat each Friday, and then the calm when the warmth of the Shabbat candles engulfs the home and a sense of spirituality and calmness ensues, the flurry of activity, nerves, and excitement all reached a peak when we stepped on the plane headed for our homeland – Israel!
The plane ride and the roller coaster of excitement that began afterward is a whole other post in itself, which deserves every single fiber of your attention, so you understand just how beautiful and wonderful it was to land in Israel after 35 years – finally living without my heart in the east, but my body in the west. Shalom, until next time!
Jessica Cutter made aliyah with her husband Azi and four children from Long Beach, N.Y., on the Nefesh B’Nefesh Charter aliyah flight July 24. Since its founding in 2002, Nefesh B’Nefesh, in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel and JNF-USA, has facilitated the aliyah of over 57,000 North Americans to Israel.