By Jaclyn Turner
Features layout editor
Many Jewish students at this university have close ties to Israel. While hundreds choose to get involved in the campus’ multiple Jewish cultural and policy groups, a smaller number choose to commit to something more permanent: aliyah.
Enter Maryland Hillel and ask a student if they know someone who has either done a gap year or has chosen to make aliyah, move to Israel, upon graduation and you will most likely find someone with one of these plans.
University students choose to make aliyah for varying reasons, the majority relating to Zionism, the ideology of Israel as the Jewish homeland. Some had a religious Zionist upbringing, took a gap year in Israel after high school or chose to return after moving stateside as children.
Eliyahu Natan Margulis, known to Maryland students as Jonathan but changed his name after making aliyah, said he wanted to perform the mitzvah of living in Israel. He also cited growing anti-Semitic movements on college campuses and the “direction of the country under the current administration showed the anti-Israel notions that are beginning to stir in the U.S.,” as reasons to make the move.
“When I tried to imagine where I would live after graduation in the U.S., I couldn’t imagine anywhere,” Margulis said. “While in contrast, in Israel I can imagine multitudes of places where I can live.”
Margulis’ gap year in Israel and being surrounded by friends who were considering similar actions sealed his ties to Israel. He hopes that his parents will soon join him.
Class of 2014 graduate Josh Nehrer’s parents beat him to the punch, and made aliyah during his junior year of college.
Growing up in Cleveland, OH, in a neighborhood Nehrer called “a springboard for aliyah” as a reference to all the Jewish residents who moved to Israel, Nehrer developed Zionist aspirations years before making the move.
“After my gap year, I’d always tell people who asked me that I’ll be back in Israel as soon as I had a diploma,” Nehrer said. “I almost didn’t return to the states or UMD for undergrad, but I decided it was in my best interest to return for my undergraduate studies in engineering so as to avoid the problem of getting my career started in a language that wasn’t fully familiar to me.”
Nehrer estimated that about a dozen members from his graduating class had chosen to make aliyah.
Yoni Matz, who also graduated in spring 2014, made aliyah the following August on the same Nefesh B’Nefesh flight as Nehrer. Nefesh B’Nefesh is a nonprofit that facilitates olim, people who make aliyah, by easing their move into a new county.
Matz was born in Israel, but his family chose to move to Maryland when he was 11.
“It feels like home in a way that the States just never did,” Matz said.
Moving to Israel, Matz lived with another Maryland graduate and joined several family members, who consider themselves “Israeli- anglos,” individuals who are from English-speaking countries, and his girlfriend, now fiancé. Most recently, Matz’s sister, Chani, also a Maryland graduate, made aliyah in September, choosing to settle in Rehovot for vet school.
Other students had a difficult time waiting until graduation to reach the Jewish homeland. Gabby Haar, who would have graduated in 2017, chose to make aliyah after her freshman year, completely alone, her grandmother her only relative in Israel.
She started a year-long preparatory course called Ulpan to learn Hebrew intensively and acclimate to Israeli culture. She later joined a program called Yahel Hineni that took students on different trips around Israel.
“It was a pretty small group, so it felt like a family,” Haar said. “That gave me a place to spend my time if I was ever lonely or bored.”
Next, she plans to enroll in Ariel University to pursue a degree in physical therapy. For the Jewish High Holidays, she returned to America to visit family for three weeks.
For those interested in making aliyah, Nehrer stressed having no backup plans.
“Jump in,” he said. “Don’t look back. If you do, that backup plan will slowly start to look so much easier and more stable as the idea of moving to a foreign country really dawns on you and you’ll never leave.“
“Believe it or not, Israelis have heard of UMD and love having American students to brag about,” Nehrer said. “I’m guessing I owe President Loh a ‘thank you’ for that one.”