August 4, 2010
Aliyah Program Takes Off With First Group Flights Direct From L.A.
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“The idealism comes first,” Shani added. “That’s the main reason why we’re going. Obviously, you want to be practical, and when you go through the nitty-gritty things, there are very practical benefits.”
For one, the Bergers will save about $40,000 annually on Jewish day-school tuition.
“What are the two greatest expenses here? Tuition and healthcare,” Avi said while packing books. “There, you’re covered. Granted, you have taxes to cover it, but here it’s a big chunk of your paycheck.”
The cost of health care and Jewish education are cited repeatedly by families making aliyah, among them (soon-to-be) former Orange County residents Steven and Anat Cirt. In June, the Cirts attended a farewell celebration organized by the Jewish Agency at the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which, along with an Aliyah Expo, was among the summer events celebrating and encouraging aliyah from Los Angeles. The Cirts are redeeming their free one-way ticket to Israel in late August on a nongroup flight.
Anat, an Israeli native, met her future husband, an American with an Israeli father, about eight years ago when she moved to Los Angeles en route to travels in Australia. From the moment they met, he spoke of his dream of following in his brother’s footsteps and moving to Israel. Nefesh B’Nefesh encouraged them to wait until they both shared the dream.
Now a mother of three, Anat is ready.
“My son is autistic, and one of the major things I felt, first of all, is that one language would be much better for him, his quality of life, and his special needs,” she said in an Israeli accent. “By quality of life, I mean more friends, more supporting families. Second, to let our children grow up there. Here they learn about Christian holidays, not Jewish holidays.”
As traditional Jews, the Cirts’ main communal link to Judaism has been the Chabad of Yorba Linda. They couldn’t afford to send their children to private Jewish schools, which also weren’t as equipped with special-needs programs. Anat said she believes special-needs education in Israel is superior to its counterpart in the United States.
A CNC machinist, Steven was laid off two years ago but found another job not long after. He’s optimistic he’ll find his niche in Israel’s high-tech sector.
“It’s going to be tough, but it’s tough here, also,” Anat said. “At least there we have my family.” The Cirts will live with Anat’s parents in the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim.
A media buyer for television commercials, Avi Berger is also optimistic about employment options. While he gave up a secure job with an employer of seven years, he didn’t foresee any real advancement in the United States with the advertising market in a state of flux. Ahead of the pilot trip, he researched and cold-called advertising companies. “They were so nice; they were so willing to meet with me,” Berger said.
He will spend the first few months at ulpan to improve his Hebrew for the Israeli job market. “I made a commitment to make this work,” he said.
While Jewish families cite definite practical and spiritual gains for raising a family in a Jewish country, singles account for about half of this year’s batch of L.A. olim. On the whole, they’re motivated by Zionist ideals and an attraction to Israeli cultural life.
“With singles it’s different, because there’s excitement of change of pace and atmosphere and environment,” Katsman said. “You have the dating and social networking component of it. It’s less complicated on the macro level.”
Eitan Rosenfeld, 24, came by himself to Los Angeles. His parents are already in Israel, visiting family, while he stayed behind to take advantage of the direct flight from LAX. An alumnus of Beverly Hills High School and UC Santa Barbara, he speaks proudly of his decision to leave his comfortable job as a program manager at Microsoft in Seattle and move to Israel, where he will study for his master’s degree in computer science at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
“I realized I belong in Israel and that I want to be contributing in some way, shape or form to the welfare of the country. Right now, the plan is higher education,” he said.
For the first time, he felt like a bona-fide Israeli rather than a tourist on a visit to Israel in December, hanging out in Tel Aviv with college friends who already made aliyah. “It was a very fun, natural lifestyle,” Rosenfeld said.
He said he’s trading in a high standard of living for quality of life. “I’m looking forward to unlearning the emphasis they place here [in the United States] on material things.”
This year, about 58 young adults from Los Angeles, mostly children of ex-pat Israelis, are making aliyah as new Israel Defense Forces (IDF) recruits, the subject to be explored in a forthcoming article in The Jewish Journal.
At LAX, Joseph Cooper, 19, from Calabasas was among the participants in Garin Tzabar, a program of the Friends of Israel Scouts that assists college-age olim with absorption into the IDF by providing them with a social framework and home base at a kibbutz.
“Honestly, I looked at my life the way it is now, and I didn’t feel like I was doing something purposeful,” said the Calabasas High School graduate in a telephone interview ahead of the flight. He’s been to Israel twice on family trips and describes a deep, personal connection to the Jewish State. “I want to look back in 10 years, and I wanted to be proud of what I did with my life. I got good grades, but I didn’t feel community college was what I wanted right now.”
His brother, sister, mother and father could hardly stop embracing him as he was called to the gate.
“I just sort of feel like HaShem will take care of it,” his mother, Shelly, said, seeing him off with tears. “He’ll give me a reason to pray every day. I’m extremely proud of him.”
Later this month, follow author Orit Arfa’s blog at jewishjournal.com about her trip to Israel as a member of in-flight press on NBN’s Aug. 18 charter flight to Israel.
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