“You just need to get up and go,” my beloved grandfather, Dr. Jerry Rosenberg, told me as I vacillated about when would be the right time to begin my life in Israel.
He died a year ago and I think he’d be proud to know that I followed my dreams and I’m finally here.
Of course, I always knew I’d make it to Israel someday. I immersed myself in the culture so much so that I began to feel like I just didn’t belong in my native Detroit.
Driving home, cleaning the house, running errands, I’d hear the sweet words of Israeli singer Yishai Ribo which felt more than a song – it felt like a personal plea to come home.
“It’s time to wake up/to mature/to return home/and not look for another place,” he sings in Lashuv Habaytah [returning home].
So that’s what I did.
With my late grandfather’s blessing, I embarked on a Nefesh B’Nefesh Group Aliyah Flight in July. I was prepared for what everyone warned me about: the culture shock, the bureaucracy, the arguing with strangers. But when I touched down at Ben Gurion Airport on that sweltering hot day, all I could feel was that I was finally where I belong.
Despite landing in the middle of a global pandemic and being far away from family and friends, I felt every part of me was Israeli.
I wanted to shout from the rooftops that I was a new immigrant and you can bet I showed off my olah chadasha card as often as I could.
Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, the High Holidays weren’t met with the same jubilatory and communal spirit.
But you know what? I was able to make that work, too.
After an exposure to coronavirus (I eventually tested negative), I spent Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in bidud (isolation). Surprisingly, it was the best Yom Kippur of my life. Devoid of the typical distractions one gets from davening with a big crowd, I was left to my own devices, opened the machzor and — for the first time — read every word.
I felt so proud of myself as I observed Yom Kippur in the way in which it was intended: to be at one with myself and not focus on everything I can’t have like food or entertainment.
It helped, of course, that Israel for the most part is a country that’s taking its high Covid numbers seriously. Almost everyone I see wears a mask and nobody I spoke to would even consider attending synagogue, even though many friends and family back in the United States have chosen to do so.
While the numbers here are not ideal, we are all in the same boat.
In fact, the people of Israel may be this country’s greatest commodity. I love seeing a young mother casually hand off her baby to a passenger on the bus so she can safely haul her grocery cart into the vehicle. I love that we all feel the obligation to look out for one another. And I love, while I was in bidud, ultra-orthodox children in our neighborhood would curiously peer into our windows and enthusiastically wave hello.
So, while Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot were not how I imagined how my first High Holidays would be like in Israel, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.
A native of Southfield, MI, Yara Hyman, 20, made Aliyah to Israel with Nefesh B’Nefesh in July. 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 60,000 North Americans to Israel.