There’s a lot of options for American Jews that want to make Aliyah, and even more for those who are anticipating joining the IDF. I chose the DIY route (to which I am prone): a group flight from JFK, flying El Al Airlines. I would stay with friends until my ulpan (Hebrew course) started up north.
We’ll talk about the path of relocating to another country and my process in a future blog post, but for now, check out the wiki for the basics.
The short version is that I enjoy autonomy. I didn’t want to join a group that would tell me when to register for the draft, or where to live. I wanted to choose, even if it meant having to deal with foreign bureaucracy on my own.
Also, I apparently enjoy making decisions that are absolutely bonkers.
It took me a week and a half after I returned from Birthright to tell my mom the plan. I had already started the paperwork at that point, and she was essentially non-reactive. She spent the next month and a half trying to call my bluff, not truly believing that I was going to follow through until I finished the bulk of the paperwork and was ready to tell my dad. The day I submitted the paperwork, I found her in the break room in the building where we both worked, in tears. My heart shattered into a million pieces. She made me promise that if I was going to the army, that at least I wouldn’t become a combat soldier. I swore I wouldn’t.
I sat with my dad to tell him the big news. He was quiet for a bit, then asked more questions about my plan for life in Israel. He said, “I just want to make sure you’re successful.” That stung. I was going on this soul-searching mission in the Holy Land and all he could think about was financial success? I set it aside, and asked if he had any more questions.
“Just promise you won’t be some combat soldier.”
“I had to promise Imma (mom) the same thing! Don’t worry!”
When Jewish kids make Aliyah, things feel so intense, urgent, wonderful, and real. When you arrive in Israel, you have that shiny new ID in your hand. People are singing and dancing in the airport. The young beach-goers in Tel Aviv are ridiculously attractive. Everyone you meet wants to know what your plans are to serve your new country. When you put on that uniform for the first time, you feel stiff and silly, but incredibly proud; folks back home are calling you a hero before you’ve even started training. Suddenly, rockets are falling around you in the desert, and your friends are praying for their lives.
“I promise I won’t make Aliyah!”
“I promise I won’t fall in love!”
“I promise I won’t join the army!”
“I promise I won’t be a combat soldier!”
“I promise I won’t be in danger!”
“I promise there won’t be a war!”
Promises are easy to make. This breed is impossible to keep.
In any case, I was still frustrated about my dad’s comment about my success, and we met again a couple of days later. My dad was never good with the “emotions” thing, but when I told him how I felt about what he said, he teared up.
“Happiness is the best indicator of success. I just meant that I want you to be happy.”
We cried together, and one promise I knew I would keep was that I would be happy.
Fast forward two weeks, and we’re having a family meeting at Starbucks. The one by the Kroger, across from Sam’s Kebab in Bellevue. The table outside on the right corner facing the door. It was a warm summer evening. My dad and stepmom are sitting next to each other on the right side of the table, and I’m in between my siblings. I don’t remember what was said exactly, but my stomach felt like a boulder being dropped from a building.
His cancer was back.
How could I possibly leave?
Before I could even ask, he said, “I gave up my dream to make Aliyah at one point. If this is your dream, you have to do it. You have to go to Israel, and you cannot stay here because of me.”
It was my dream.
And this person with whom I was so often frustrated; this person that I so consistently frustrated, was willing and happy to give me two parting gifts: permission and validation.
The only two things I ever wanted from him, but we had always struggled with balancing our differences. Individually we were yin and yang, but together we were a gray blob. This was our shot to embrace those differences, and we seized the opportunity with all of our strength.
So, I packed up my things while he got tired.
And I applied for my immigration visa while he got skinnier.
I researched what awaited me in the IDF while he researched experimental drugs.
I went to visit my grandparents in San Antonio, TX while he went to Philadelphia to get treatments.
I worked crazy hours to earn extra money while his went towards hospital bills.
I went to the gym religiously while he prayed to God not to let him die.
When my bags were packed, we both weighed less than 110 pounds/50 kilograms.
By the time I left, we were embarking on two separate journeys, but we knew we had each other’s love, support, and acceptance.
Yin and yang had come together.