Home Perspectives Opinions How friendships and authentic Israel experiences shaped my Aliyah story

How friendships and authentic Israel experiences shaped my Aliyah story

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Rebecca Weiss in Israel

How did I arrive at the doorstep of Aliyah? It didn’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual, years-long story of special friendships, authentic Israel experiences, experimentation, and thoughtful planning.

I’ll be on board the Nefesh B’Nefesh Charter Aliyah flight on August 14, but my journey to Aliyah started nearly a decade ago. After attending Camp Ramah in Canada from ages 10-11, my parents encouraged me to participate in a summer camp on a kibbutz in order to benefit from a more immersive Israeli experience. After all, there’s only so much you can learn about Israel from afar in North America.

My parents were right. At 12, when I was a camper at Kayitz Bakibbutz on Kibbutz Shluchot in northern Israel, I was quickly attracted to Israeli culture. I became very close with all the Israelis in the summer camp, frequently visiting their homes after the session ended each year. Looking back, what really motivated my Aliyah were the friendships I made along the way, starting with that summer.

Kayitz Bakibbutz was unique in that I wasn’t pushed or sold on any particular agenda. I fell in love with Israel based on normal, everyday activities like hikes and other experiences in nature. I got to see Israel from the Israeli perspective, rather than through another North American summer camp. There’s no substitute for that kind of authentic experience. I kept returning to Kayitz Bakibbutz in subsequent summers, extending my trips and making more friends.

As a 10th-grader at Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, I returned to Israel through Ramah’s TRY program for the spring semester. As part of a group of 46 students from across North America, I not only learned Jewish history, but traveled through Israel in history from Abraham to the present day—all in a mere four months.

Before TRY, I had no interest in joining the Israeli army. I thought that if I didn’t have a strong pull to enlist (as was the case in my mid-teenage years), then I shouldn’t. But as I started learning more about Israeli culture, I realized that if at my age you want to live in Israel, then you need to join the army—especially if you really want to integrate into Israeli society.

At that point, I wanted to stay in Israel and join the IDF. It was a gut feeling. But I never told anyone about my intention at first, thinking I should wait a couple of years and allow my feelings to settle in. I was still only 15.

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When I started to apply for college, I looked at mechinot (pre-military preparatory) programs. I wanted to throw myself into the Israel experience and see what happened. After high school, I attended Mechinat Nachshon for 10 months.

This was my trial year in Israel, a serious crash course in Israeli culture. The mechina accepts students from all over Israel and from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, to show not only North Americans, but even Israelis themselves the real Israel. We learned everything from Israeli politics to agriculture. I participated in the program with four Americans; we were all very different, but it was comforting to have a group of people like me to rely on, considering our fellow students were 42 Israelis.

By November 2017, I was certain about Aliyah. In January, I finally told my parents.

There wasn’t one moment when I decided to immigrate. Year by year, the friendships I made while taking part in Israel experiences showed me how gratifying it is to live in the Jewish state. Although I’ve loved living in Canada, I feel that the future of the Jewish people is in Israel and that I can make a positive difference there.

On August 15, Rebecca Weiss of Toronto (holding phone) takes a selfie upon landing at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on Nefesh B’Nefesh’s aliyah charter flight. (Photo Credit: Shahar Azran)

Nefesh B’Nefesh was very helpful during my Aliyah-planning process this year. After I filled out a simple online application last November, I started getting phone calls and emails from the organization’s representatives within a week. I told them, “I’m not really there yet, but I’ll give you a call when I am.” By March, when I started calling, they always knew the answers to my questions. The Nefesh B’Nefesh advisor I worked with, Yitzy, was extremely positive and made me feel even more upbeat about Aliyah.

My advice to other young people considering Aliyah is to experience every part of Israel—to go on both organized and random trips, and to meet as many people as possible from different sectors of Israeli society. Gather every experience and piece of information you can to see if Israel is the right fit for you. That’s what I did, and now I couldn’t be more excited for my future.

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Rebecca Weiss, 18, of Toronto, made Aliyah as part of the Nefesh B’Nefesh Charter Aliyah flight on August 14. 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.