By Rachel Barron
For some Jewish students at this university, exciting post-graduation plans include moving to Israel in a process known as “making aliyah.”
Aliyah allows Jews to move and settle in the state of Israel, and is a part of the tradition of Jews returning to their religious homeland.
For Ilanna Newman, a senior linguistics and hearing and speech double major, the decision was partly sparked by her parents’ decision to make aliyah in the 1980s, although they returned 9 months later due to “bureaucratic and cultural difficulties”. After visiting Israel and attending a seminary after high school, Newman said she fell in love with the country.
“It was the first time I felt comfortable,” she said. “The whole culture was reflective of my Jewish identity.” Newman will graduate in May, and plans on moving to Israel in August.
“You can live in America all you want, but at the end of the day at least your descendants are going to end up [in Israel] so why not make life easier for everyone else and take the plunge yourself?” she said.
Aliyah is not just a post-grad activity, however. Junior bioengineering major Josh Nehrer said his parents and younger sister made the move to Israel without him last summer.
Attending college out-of-state made the move much easier on Nehrer. During previous school years he rarely saw his parents or sister anyway, he said. Now, instead of going back to Cleveland for breaks and holidays, Nehrer simply travels to Israel to see his family.
“I always had a plan to make aliyah after I graduate – my parents just beat me to it,” he said.
Nehrer could see how the cultural differences between Americans and Israelis might intimidate those planning to make aliyah. Nehrer said Israel is a much more independent country than America and Israelis are more self-sufficient. They use public transportation, like buses, to get everywhere they need to go. “It’s a culture shock a little bit,” Nehrer said.
Another cultural difference between America and Israel is the focus on tangible, material belongings, according to sophomore environmental science major Shira Rosen.
“I think it’s important [to make aliyah] because American society has gotten very materialistic and focused on certain things that probably aren’t the best for us, but it’s very different in Israel,” she said. “The culture and community is really focused on what is really important.”
Rosen spent the year in Israel in 2010. During her time in Israel, Rosen said she tried to help and become part of the community. Her younger sister is currently studying in a seminary in Israel and plans to make aliyah in August. “Once [my sister] got the ball rolling, it motivated me to make aliyah,” she said. Previously, Rosen considered making aliyah, but not very seriously.
Rosen is concerned for her younger sister to move so far away from their family. In order to keep in contact with her sister Rosen uses Skype as much as possible in addition to phone calls and WhatsApp, a smartphone app that allows users in different countries to text message.
“I’m a little worried just because we’re so family oriented and we don’t have any family living in Israel,” Rosen said about her younger sister. “But I know she’s going to find herself there.”
These students agreed that traveling to and living in Israel really epitomizes what it means to be a young Jewish person in today’s society.
“Until I spent a year [in Israel] I didn’t really understand what it meant to be a part of a Jewish state,” Nehrer said. “I appreciate it much more, and I’m excited to live there.”