Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Dream of Aliyah

By coincidence, today the First International Jewish Bloggers Convention is being held. A sold-out convention of Jewish bloggers is being held in Jerusalem in just a few hours, sponsored by Nefesh B'Nefesh, the group founded by Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and Tony Gelbart in 2002 to encourage Jewish emigration to Israel. The act of making "aliyah" is the Hebrew term that literally means "rising up" or "ascent." In many Jewish communities, the fervent hope of living in a Jewish state where one can practice his or her religion unfettered is the ultimate aspiration. Someone who makes aliyah is considered an oleh (male) or olah (female). The plural is olim. The dream of aliyah was just realized yesterday by 240 North American olim along with 50 others from the United Kingdom who, with the help of Nefesh B'Nefesh, permanently relocated to Israel and thereby strengthened the Jewish state. I am proud to state that I know of four of them, but I will get to their story in just a bit. As usual, many of my stories have something to do with my experiences associated with Hurricane Katrina. This one is no different. It all started with Cleveland Jewish Federation worker Robin Sirkin. It was she who spearheaded the Federation's outreach to Katrina victims, who were in Cleveland at the time of the disaster or who had evacuated there. Being a stranded vacationer, I was helped immeasurably by Sirkin, who provided me with much-needed financial assistance through the Red Cross and the Federation and helped guide me throughout the vetting process for additional help from the city and the state of Ohio. Were it not for Robin Sirkin and others like her, I would not have stayed in Cleveland. As it turns out, she was also able to connect me with a generous donation from Bellefaire JCB, a picturesque campus located in the shadow of John Carroll University off Fairmount Boulevard there. Bellefaire offered me a dormitory style one-bedroom efficiency where I could live while working in Cleveland. Soon after moving there I began my job as the web producer, IT adviser and staff reporter of the Cleveland Jewish News, a job which I loved and kept for 18 months. When I moved into the room Bellefaire JCB had provided me, I found it filled with $1500 worth of goods including a new bedspread and two sets of dishes in case I wanted to keep kosher. On top of the bed were a detailed map and a lovely note from David and Jill Gleicher, welcoming me to Cleveland and inviting me to attend nearby worship services at Green Road Synagogue. The note written on a piece of cardboard also invited me to join them for Shabbat dinner at their home, about three blocks away. It was an extremely generous donation of time and energy on their part, making sure all the furniture, cooking ware, towels and other appurtenances were in place before I arrived. I was astonished at how well I had been received. As it turns out, with the Gleichers' help, I did begin to keep kosher. A link to that CJN story is found here. Over the course of the next year and a half, I had many Shabbats to share with Jill and David and their family and well as with Robin and John Sirkin's loveable brood. Their homes were always open and standing invitations to join them were always extended. Jill, a retired dermatologist, and David, an attorney who had retired to become an author, were a very unusual couple. She had given up her practice in Buffalo after becoming disabled and moved to Cleveland with her children. David, who attended Yeshiva University and was a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, had practiced law for a number of years and had raised a family there. David had also been lucky a few years back as a $32,000 winner on "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?" and a $25,000 winner on a game show run by The History Channel. Both David and Jill found themselves divorced and looking a few years back. They were lucky enough to find each other and were married in 2004. David moved to Cleveland around that time, but it wasn't long before he and Jill decided to make the emotional and religious leap of moving to the Promised Land. Knowing they were going to be making aliyah, I also had David begin to write a blog for the Cleveland Jewish News about some of his experiences prior to beginning the laborious effort to move the family there. Although the blog was short-lived, it was full of a number of well-written pieces and I enjoyed reading them even after I had made my return to New Orleans. You can read all 18 of his pieces by going to this link. I talked to them at length on several occasions and made sure that I was in Cleveland last November especially to say goodbye to them in case I wasn't able to see them again before their journey. As it turns out, I didn't make it back in time, so I was glad I made that trip. Over the course of the last two months they packed and sent off all of their worldly possessions. About a week ago they closed on the sale of their lovely Beachwood home and yesterday they were on the El Al plane that landed in Israel. People from all over the world can see them arriving on the 35th Nefesh B'Nefesh flight on their Internet site here. Jill and David along with two of their sons will be living in an apartment in Jerusalem, a home they found and purchased in a lengthy and complicated procedure two years ago. It was a pleasure to see them arrive, although the video was not very steady and blurry. I hope one day to visit them and see for myself the new life they have carved out for themselves in the heart of the Jewish homeland. So this Passover, when I utter that famous phrase, I will be thinking of the Gleichers when I say "Next year in Jerusalem!"

No comments: