Jerusalem’s southern neighborhoods have long drawn English-speaking immigrants, with generations of olim experiencing the joys and uncertainties of aliyah and the immigrant experience.
Now two locals have each published books about the aliyah experience, from their personal vantage points.
“Angels & Tahina, 18 Lessons from Hiking the Israel Trail,” is Tzippi Moss’s take on aliyah, immigration and Israel, written about her two-month adventure in 2009, when Moss, her husband Allan Rabinowitz and their teenage son Ezra hiked the Israel National Trail, the 1,015-kilometer (630-mile) hiking path that crosses the entire country from north to south.
It was during that same year that Ariella Bernstein and her husband, Avi Losice, made aliyah with their two adolescent children, fulfilling a long-held dream for Bernstein and embarking on the quizzical adventure that is the immigrant experience.
Their children are now in the military and along the way, Bernstein and Losice have “adopted” other young olim — lone soldiers and students in Israel on their own.
Their experiences helping others and navigating the different immigrant experiences is recounted in “Aliya: Home. Hope. Reality,” which takes a more direct, practical approach to the experience, and includes 300 interviews with olim, their parents and even some of their grandparents.
As Moss likes to say, it took her two months to walk the trail and another ten years to write the book that she hopes will help others discover Israel.
“Angels & Tahina” is divided into lessons about life and hiking, from body lessons and hiking gear to hiking poles, finding shelter and figuring out food. The book was also the final piece in the overall purpose of the hike, which was dedicated to Allan’s mother Lee who died from ALS — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The family walked the trail in honor of those who suffer from ALS and cannot walk, and committed to raising $36,000 for the Israel ALS research association.
“It was an enormous part of the experience,” said Moss. “It deepened the reasons for doing the trail. When you have a powerful dream and clear destination, the what and why of what you’re doing will get you there and the how will take care of itself.”
For Moss, it also jived with the concept of the state of Israel, where she has lived for more than 40 years.
“This whole country is predicated on crazy, crazy dreams,” said Moss. “If anyone had told me in 1979 that I would one day walk a trail the length and breadth of Israel and then write and publish a book, I would not have believed that.”
Walking the trail brought Moss, her husband and son closer as a family because of what they experienced, and it also made her fall more in love with Israel.
On the trail, the family was exposed to young Israeli hikers, happy and optimistic, including “modern-day Abrahams,” as Moss called the so-called Israel Trail Angels who host hikers at their homes.
“There’s the incredible graciousness and hospitality and compassion and courage of people in this country,” said Moss. “It made me want to be a better person.”
Moss said she is more committed to showing people the beautiful side of Israel, something she is doing now with Zoom talks for synagogues and churches about the Israel Trail.
Aliyah organization Nefesh b’Nefesh is currently including “Angels & Tahina” in its welcome package for new olim, as well as recommending “Aliya: Home. Hope. Reality.”
Bernstein and her husband have regularly opened their Jerusalem home and Shabbat table to lone soldiers and young olim over the last 12 years. They’ve taken what they’ve learned from their own path and that of their guests and friends, writing a book that tackles the logistics and emotional dialogue that make up aliyah, for both olim and the families they leave behind.
Each chapter tackles a particular aliyah issue, whether housing and health care, friends who are like family, national service or making aliyah with kids, with graphs measuring peoples’ experiences and dialogue that helps families navigate thorny issues and conversations.
The center of the book revolves around the actual day of aliyah, what to expect as the immigrant and the family members saying goodbye.
“It is a deeply emotional day,” said Bernstein. “We explored our own feelings and recollections, and what our parents were feeling,” she said, adding that her own parents were very torn about her aliyah.
In their own 32-year couplehood, Bernstein said she is the emotional Zionist while Losice is the practical Zionist.
“Zionism is like a chronic illness,” said Bernstein. “If you don’t have the chronic disease known as Zionism, you don’t know what I experience. I treated my Zionism by moving to Israel.”
Bernstein and Losice spent a sabbatical year in Israel with their children in 2006, mirroring a similar experience Bernstein had with her parents when she was 10 and Israel first entered her sphere of reference. The family made aliyah three years later, although Losice continued to commute for the first five years.
“We are great interpreters of differences between Americans and Israelis,” said Losice. “We can calmly talk about both sides.”
As a family, they have always reached out to single immigrants as they looked to build their own community in Jerusalem, lacking the extended family that so many Israelis have.
Losice now spends time at two different lone soldier centers, working with those organizations to help soldiers plan lives for after the military, finding their next step — whether it be at a university or job, in a training program or in a supportive network.
Bernstein has become an ad-hoc volunteer parent, in touch with many parents of her young olim friends.
“I’m up many nights with olim and their parents,” she said. “I think of this as my personal kindness. The one thing olim don’t anticipate is the emotional stress on you and your family relationships, of those people who don’t come with you. It helps to have someone to bridge those gaps.”
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