“I had no return ticket home,” Akiva Gersh recalls of the flight to Israel that changed his life. “This time, I was coming to live for the rest of my life. To plant my roots in the land. To change the course not only of my life but of my future children’s lives as well, and their children’s and their children’s. To be part of the greatest and most miraculous migration the world has ever seen.”
“I took out my guitar and, without any conscious thought as to what song to sing, ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ burst from my lips. More than that, it burst forth from deep in my soul,” Gersh writes in the introduction to his new book “Becoming Israeli: The Hysterical, Inspiring and Challenging Sides of Making Aliyah.”
In the book, to be launched at a Times of Israel event in Jerusalem on July 23 in association with Nefesh B’Nefesh, Gersh has collected the experiences and reflections of more than 40 English-speaking Israelis, many of them Times of Israel bloggers, including Sarah Tuttle-Singer, Dov Lipman, and Benji Lovitt.
“I made aliyah, I would say in my first years here, because I wanted to know the Israeli story in its fullness — not only the headlines but the ‘back pages’ of Israeli life,” award-winning journalist Yossi Klein Halevi writes in a foreword, adding that he told his children, “The main plot of the Jewish story was once again being written here.”
“I still believe that this is the place,” says Klein Halevi. “Not the only place for Jews, but the ultimate place. I still worry that when I go abroad I will miss something essential in the Israeli story.”
The book features advice. “Bring Ziplocs,” suggests Jessica Levine Kupferberg, a former litigation attorney who made aliyah from La Jolla, California with her family in July 2014. “Bring your old yearbooks, your favorite face cream, and some good English books.”
It also features personal struggles with identity. Alex Rychvin was born in Kiev, educated in Australia and whose family left the Soviet Union as refugee refuseniks in 1987. “Time and time again, I would be posed the question, ‘Where are you from?’ And, in response, I would sigh, pause, and then unleash my complex personal narrative, complete with a polemic on the delicate interplay between race, religion, culture, language, and countries of birth and residence.”
And there is the sudden realization that all the skills you learned in your native tongue disappear when you don’t have full control of the language.
‘It’s hard to be charismatic when your Wisconsin Hebrew school language skills amount to: Notebook. Pencil. My teacher is pretty’
“It’s hard to be charismatic when your Wisconsin Hebrew school language skills amount to ‘Notebook. Pencil. My teacher is pretty.’ (Thanks, Mrs. Schwartz.),” writes Hilary Faverman, a content marketer from Wisconsin celebrating a decade in Israel. “This is a hard place to get used to. Especially when you arrive with no linguistic, historical or cultural knowledge, and get pregnant within four minutes. Then, you find yourself alone in an Arab-Jewish neighborhood (I wanted to be open-minded) with a screaming newborn (maternal instinct triumphs over sleep deprivation, right?). I was wrong on both counts.”
Funny, moving, scary and thoughtful, the essays in this collection “give an inside look into the never-ending joys and challenges, inspirations and frustrations that we have experienced along our journeys of aliyah,” writes Gersh. “It is also, in my humble opinion, a peek into one of humanity’s most incredible stories — the story of the Jewish people returning home.”
Panel discussion and bloggers’ meetup to celebrate the launch of “Becoming Israeli,” with Sarah Tuttle-Singer, Yossi Klein Halevi, Akiva Gersh, Benji Lovitt, Hilary Faverman, Chaya Lester.
8 p.m., Sunday, July 23 at Nocturno Café, 7 Bezalel Street, Jerusalem. In association with Nefesh B’Nefesh. Tickets NIS 40 (NIS 30 advance) BOOK HERE
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