|Jeremy and Dena Wimpfheimer and their children|
As hundreds of North Jersey residents prepare to arrive in Israel this summer to make new lives in the Jewish homeland, we spoke with less-new immigrants who would like to tell them that despite very real cultural, linguistic, emotional, financial and physical adjustments, aliyah can be both rewarding and successful.
Teaneck native Jeremy Wimpfheimer, 32, and his wife Dena, 33, found their stride in public relations and marketing.
“We both wanted to live in Israel before we met each other – perhaps that was part of the attraction – and we never had plans to stay in the States, so we looked for a practical way for it to work,” Jeremy said.
Having just completed bachelor’s degrees, Jeremy at Rutgers and Dena at Queens College, they married on Sept. 10, 2001, in New York City. (“Several people told us they were late getting to work in the Wall Street area the next morning because of our wedding the night before,” Dena said.) They arrived in Israel on Oct. 18. Nefesh B’Nefesh, the 10-year-old organization that facilitates aliyah from North America and England, came into existence several months later, and become one of Dena’s clients.
At first they lived in a Beit Shemesh house Jeremy’s parents had bought 10 years earlier. After the elder Wimpfheimers made aliyah, the young couple bought a house in the same neighborhood and have filled it with four children; a fifth is due in September.
Just one week after aliyah, Dena began working at the Israeli branch of the Ruder Finn communications agency. “I didn’t even have time to go to ulpan, but diving head-on into my field was exactly what I wanted to do,” she said.
Jeremy served in the Israel Defense Forces spokespersons unit, where he does his annual reserve duty, and began working as a freelance journalist and consultant for the International March of the Living while assisting his wife with PR projects.
Eventually, the couple established an independent PR consultancy. They count the Koby Mandell Foundation, Shaare Zedek Medical Center, and the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization among their expanding list of clients.
“I always say that in Israel you have to find options that will help you succeed to the best of your abilities, and you have to think out of the box,” Jeremy said. He also suggests bringing along a sense of humor and patience.
Through their professional mentor, Charley Levine of Lone Star Communications, they’ve worked with personalities, including the born-again Jewish rapper Shyne, and coordinated visits from politician Mike Huckabee, talk-show host Glenn Beck, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and former President George W. Bush when he came to Israel for the First Presidential Conference. Their activities have won them many awards from the Israel PR Association.
“Helping to promote these individuals helps to promote Israel, and that’s very satisfying,” Dena said. “It’s interesting and exciting to be behind the scenes of so many news items, helping to get the story out into the mainstream.”
Jeremy added: “Actions we take translate into stories that end up on CNN, in the New York Times, the Jewish Standard. Our stories have reached tens of millions of people, and despite the element of stress and also risk, the ability to impact on the news cycle is very rewarding.”
They believe it was advantageous to start married life in Israel. “Coming with kids is a lot harder,” Jeremy said. “People sometimes ask if we’d consider going back. The answer is no. We truly don’t miss life there because our entire family and professional life was built here. The only thing we miss is good Chinese food.”
Well, that and the many family members they left behind. “That part is certainly unfortunate,” Dena acknowledged. “We get visitors throughout the year and we have the hope that one day they will join us permanently.”
Yehuda Kirschenbaum made aliyah on Aug. 20, 2009. A 2001 graduate of Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, he spent two post-high school years in an Israeli yeshiva and went home only to fulfill a promise that he would continue his schooling in America.
“I had a connection to the country for a long time, because my mother is Israeli and we visited a lot,” he said. Back in New Jersey, he worked for a time at his father’s co-owned kosher restaurants in Teaneck, but he yearned to start somewhere fresh. When his younger brother, Yosef, now 26, moved to Tel Aviv, he followed.
“When I first got here, I did four months of intensive ulpan so I could build a good base of Hebrew,” Yehuda said. “But the real reason my aliyah is a success is because after two weeks I went to a Nefesh B’Nefesh event and met some guys who play football.”
He went to watch a practice, but he ended up joining the Tel Aviv Pioneers team in the Israel Football League. “They turned me down for the army because of my age, and the team gave me all the camaraderie I was missing,” Yehuda said. “The Israelis on the team gave me the lessons I needed to learn that I would have learned in the army.”
When NBN flights land this month, Yehuda plans to go with some of his teammates to greet the new arrivals. “I try to find help for olim [immigrants] as much as I can, giving advice or help. I know it’s important, during the first few months particularly.”
Living in Tel Aviv, Yehuda supports himself by working in the marketing department of an Israel-based Internet eyeglass retailer. “I work from nine to six and play football twice a week,” he said. “And I’m also planning my wedding right now.”
He met his bride, California Ã©migrÃ© Debra Kamin, at a party. None of his siblings will have to travel far for the December wedding, because they’ve all relocated to Israel. Yosef, now working for Tishbi Winery in Zichron Yaakov near Haifa, was followed by Yehuda and then by sisters Nina, now serving as a paramedic in the air force, and Miriam, who lives in Jerusalem with her husband and baby.
Moshe and Chaya Fuld arrived from Teaneck with their three children in 2006. Thinking ahead to the move, Moshe had established a law practice in Manhattan and the couple built a house in the central Israeli suburb of Chashmonaim.
Unlike many immigrants who commute to jobs in Europe or the United States, Moshe managed his firm from afar. “Before we made aliyah I stopped having personal contact with clients so they wouldn’t feel abandoned all of a sudden,” he said.
Last year, he sold the majority portion of the practice to his managing attorney. “Law was an avenue to make money quickly for aliyah,” he said. “It wasn’t a great love of mine. I wanted to do something that would give me gratification and make money too.”
After a year of continuing education courses in business and Internet marketing, and networking with others, he decided to start a business called AngloProtekzia. The company will help other English-speaking immigrants decipher household bills and negotiate with such service providers as the bank, phone company, Internet access provider, contractors, and insurance agents. He’ll take 50 percent of realized savings from those negotiations.
“After making aliyah I made it my business to be an expert about anything and everything about Israeli life, with the help of chat forums including the one run by Nefesh B’Nefesh. I have hundreds of e-mails archived about every topic under the sun. For the last two or three years, I’ve been helping people for free,” Moshe said.
“I’m on the absorption committee of Chashmonaim, and I tell people to just e-mail me their questions and if I don’t have the answer I’ll get it for them. I want to empower people to make informed and educated decisions in a land that does not speak their mother tongue. I want them to feel at ease with the minutiae of life as they did in America, and be able to concentrate on why they came here in the first place.”
Such a venture might not be possible without Chaya’s salary as a full-time accountant, plus excellent Hebrew-language skills. “I joined the [Israeli] army as a kid, and I’m now studying for the Israeli bar,” Moshe said. “I speak well enough to get my point across – forcefully, if necessary. I get done what I need done.”
The children, meanwhile, all have acclimated well. The Fulds’ daughter, 20, aced her way through high school and now serves in the air force. Their older son, now going into 11th grade, arrived as a C student and is now on par with the Israelis in his class. Their 14-year-old son could pass as native-born Israeli, according to his father.
“All three are totally ‘mooshlam’ [whole, or perfect] and there are no issues of looking back,” he said. “They don’t talk about ‘back home,’ because this is their home.”