If you watched the music video “We Are Home” by the Israeli a cappella group Kippalive, an ode to aliyah based on “500 Miles” by Hedy West, you may have noticed that one of the male ensemble’s members is from Teaneck.
Meir Fox, 27, joined Kippalive about a year ago, providing tenor harmony as well as songwriting talents. Ever since the group’s appearance on Israel’s “X Factor” in 2013, the guys have been doing steady weekend gigs and performances across Israel. They’ve even performed at the president’s residence, and they’ve been on TV with popular singer-songwriter Kobi Aflalo.
“It’s really been a wild ride,” said Mr. Fox, who is part of the core group of six. Not only does it provide him with always-welcome extra income, he added, “I do it because it’s an amazing creative outlet. I took voice lessons since childhood and have been playing guitar since I was 10. Music is an integral part of who I am.”
And as the song says, he does feel he’s home despite having moved to Israel without his parents, Steve and Chary, his twin brother, Moshe, or their younger sister, Aliza — indeed, without any known relatives in Israel at all.
“In my family, in every generation one person moves to a different country,” he said with a laugh. “My maternal grandfather moved from Spain to Morocco; my mom from Morocco to Canada to the U.S.; my other grandfather to the United States from Poland; so I’m sort of continuing the tradition. I’m a really independent person; living alone and doing things on my own is not too difficult for me. But I do miss being with my family, and I miss the conveniences of home.”
The Zionist ideal was part of the fabric of that home life for as long as he can remember, Mr. Fox said. He and his siblings attended the Moriah School in Englewood, and he spent summers at the Bnei Akiva Movement’s Camp Moshava, where Hebrew was spoken and aliyah encouraged.
“One time, when Meir was 9 years old, he announced that he was running away to the ‘land of our people,’” Steve Fox said. When that focus didn’t fade over the years, Steve and Chary Fox asked only that Meir wait until finishing college, and he did.
At the Frisch School in Paramus, Meir Fox was one of the editors of an Israel advocacy newsletter.
“Frisch always embedded a love of Israel in its students, and there were always Israel events and fundraisers going on, so it gave us the vision of Israel as a priority for Jews even if we’re not there,” Mr. Fox said. “All these things add up to something greater.”
After high school, he did a gap year and a half at Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh in the Old City of Jerusalem. “I really gave it my all to have a full Israeli experience,” he said. “I studied in Hebrew, visited a new place every weekend, and volunteered at Shaare Zedek Hospital. And the more people I interacted with, the more I saw myself as being a part of this country and wanting to grow here ideologically and personally.”
After earning a degree in English literature and business at Queens College in 2012, Mr. Fox began working at a startup in New York City.
“Suddenly it dawned on me that if I didn’t make aliyah now it would be way harder in the future,” he said. “There’s no right time for aliyah; it just has to feel right in a certain sense. I was really looking forward to it although I knew there were going to be a lot of challenges. So I decided to just drop everything and make the move.
“I told my parents, ‘I’m joining the army and going to live on a kibbutz,’ and their reaction was, ‘Well, we saw this coming.’ My dad almost made aliyah when he was 17, so he understood.”
Steve Fox said that at 17 he spent the year on Kibbutz Yavneh in a Bnei Akiva program, and he went back to volunteer on that kibbutz after the Yom Kippur War. “Aliyah was part of my mindset at the time, but life happened.”
However, he added, “We are unequivocally proud of our son making aliyah. The important thing for us is that he did what he felt was in his heart, and whatever we can do to help from a distance we have done.”
On September 12, 2012, the Jewish Standard published Steve Fox’s essay, “Holy landing,” (http://jewishstandard.timesofisrael.com/holy-landing-4/) about seeing his son off at the airport on a Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight to Israel. The essay is accompanied by a photo of Meir Fox wearing an NBN badge that reads, “I’m making aliyah for …” to which he’d penned in the concluding phrase “everyone who couldn’t.”
Chary Fox recalled that although she felt “so happy to see his dream come true,” when they came home from the airport that September day, “I sat in my backyard for hours with tissues. I had an extremely hard time.
“And then I saw the Nefesh B’Nefesh video and I saw this proud young man walking off the plane and a smile light up his face and I said to Steve, ‘You know what? He’s home.’”
Mr. Fox had three good friends who had gone to Israel before him, and he was inspired to follow in their footsteps. He especially admired Frisch classmate Coby Burstein from Rockland County, who moved to Israel shortly after high school graduation in 2007 and served as a combat infantryman and combat medic in a reconnaissance unit of the Givati Brigade.
Last summer, Mr. Burstein, a 26-year-old newlywed, was killed in a car crash.
“Coby was one of my best friends, and a role model for me because he was the first person from our grade who said, ‘I’m making aliyah alone and joining an elite unit in the army,’” Mr. Fox said. “The path I charted was very much based on his.
“I even served in the same unit as he did. I really looked up to him. I felt that if he could do it, I could do it.”
However, Mr. Fox was 23 when he arrived, and immigrants of that age are required to serve only a token six months in the IDF, in a non-combat role. Ironically, he fought his way into the army. A couple of days after his arrival, he went to the draft office in Tel Hashomer with his new Israeli ID card in hand.
“I walked in and said, ‘Good morning, my name is Meir Fox, and I want to draft into a combat unit as soon as possible.’ They didn’t know what to do with me,” he said. Many of the young men and women who show up at the draft office are seeking an exemption from service rather than a spot in a fighting unit.
“I had to push them, but thank God it worked out.”
During his army years, Mr. Fox had the support of the other 30 lone soldiers with whom he shared living quarters at Kibbutz Be’erot Yitzchak, as well as from a host family on the kibbutz. The family, who recently stayed with the Foxes in Teaneck during their first trip to the United States, attended any army ceremony that the Foxes couldn’t get to. Steve, Chary, Moshe, and Aliza all flew over for the swearing-in.
Over the course of 18 months in Givati, Mr. Fox led his company forward as a light automatic machine gunner. “For me, the biggest challenge was starting my service at 23, while most of the others were 18,” he said. “I had to listen to a commander who was 19 years old.”
His unit was stationed in tense areas, including Jenin and Ramallah, and he knows what it’s like to be the target of rock-throwing and worse. “We came under fire sometimes,” he said. “I began to understand the complications that go into split-second decisions from an Israeli soldier’s perspective, and how fast it all happens.”
Military service is the great equalizer in Israeli society, and it was also Mr. Fox’s de facto ulpan — intensive Hebrew language course.
“It very much helped me understand how to fit into Israeli society, not only in terms of language but also mentality,” he said. “I think one of the hardest things for people making aliyah is adopting an Israeli mentality, and it really taught me to be more aggressive to get what I need.
“I didn’t have siblings or cousins to clue me in, or a neighbor who works for a bureaucratic office. It was sort of just grassroots, making my case to get what I wanted and consistently failing until I did.”
After his discharge, Mr. Fox moved to Tel Aviv, where he works as a content writer at the software company Dynamic Yield.
However, he was the only Sabbath observer in his apartment building, and he felt a bit out of place in the generally secular milieu of Tel Aviv, so he moved to Jerusalem not long afterward. He has two “great roommates” and commutes to work an hour and 15 minutes each way. In Jerusalem, he gets around by bike.
“But my quality of life is great and being here has reinforced my spiritual connection,” he said. “When you celebrate a holiday here or daven here, it’s way different than in America. I can’t compare it to anything there.
“In America I always felt like a Jewish person in an anonymous place and in Israel I feel like a Jewish person in a Jewish place. It’s a subtle difference, but it makes a big difference in the long run.”
And yet, he admits, “As much as I feel comfortable now living in Jerusalem and working in Tel Aviv, it won’t ever get to that level of comfort I had in Teaneck. I miss my family and friends, and that feeling of being on familiar territory.”
He believes that his late paternal grandfather, Joseph Fox, who was raised in Warsaw, would have approved of his choices. “At 16, he was a partisan fighter in the forest during the Holocaust. I think if he knew I was a soldier in a Jewish army he would be very proud.”
Mr. Fox encourages others to at least try living in Israel. “There are people who can’t live without it, like me, and others who are hesitant and that’s okay,” he said. “You can check it out and have the option.
“I feel that people have a tremendous opportunity to have an influence here. You really have the opportunity to get involved and make a difference in a way I didn’t feel I had in New York.”