Making aliyah during the pandemic

Making aliyah during the pandemic

Couple moves from Teaneck to Israel, pursuing long-held dream, undeterred by coronavirus

Ed and Barbara Susman from Teaneck beam as they land in Israel; they’re thrilled to make aliyah even though they’ll have to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine. (Nefesh b’Nefesh)
Ed and Barbara Susman from Teaneck beam as they land in Israel; they’re thrilled to make aliyah even though they’ll have to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine. (Nefesh b’Nefesh)

Dozens of relatives planned to meet Ed and Barbara Susman when they landed at Ben-Gurion Airport on March 19 as they made aliyah from Teaneck.

Instead, the Susmans and 22 other olim — new immigrants to Israel — were met by masked and gloved El Al staffers holding a sign declaring, “Welcome home, olim!”

After collecting their luggage and paperwork from officials of the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, the Susmans went straight from the airport into 14 days of quarantine in a rental apartment in Netanya.

Moving to a new country during a pandemic is hardly ideal. Yet the Susmans say they never considered delaying any further the fulfillment of a goal they’d had since their marriage nearly 26 years ago.

“We were smack dab in middle of our plans when the coronavirus hit, and we were not going to let it stop us,” Mr. Susman said. “If this is the biggest problem we have, we are probably the luckiest people in the world.”

He and his wife appeared to be in high spirits as they spoke with the Jewish Standard on a WhatsApp video call about 10 days into their quarantine. They described walking into their sea-view apartment on March 19 and finding that their daughter and son-in-law, who live in Nof Ayalon, about an hour south of Netanya, had stocked the pantry and refrigerator with “enough food to feed 200 people for eight weeks,” Mr. Susman joked.

And that wasn’t all. “The apartment was full of signs and posters, messages and pictures from our friends and family,” Ms. Susman recalled. “It was exactly what we needed.”

The Susmans’ departure ends a 53-year history in Teaneck. Mr. Susman’s parents moved to the township in 1967. “We were the 40-something-th family in Congregation Bnai Yeshurun,” he said. Ed Susman and his brothers, Michael and Yehuda, were raised in a strongly Zionist home. Both his brothers made aliyah more than 30 years ago and became prominent rabbi-educators in gap-year programs for overseas students.

“When Barbara and I got married, aliyah was in our plans” — “It was a rolling two-year plan that just kept rolling,” Ms. Susman quips — “but we had obligations in the States in terms of taking care of parents and the like.” Nevertheless, they visited their Israeli relatives with their two children at least once a year.

Mr. Susman is an automation consultant and Ms. Susman works with Vera & Nechama Realty. In recent years, their “sandwich generation” obligations waned, as their parents died and their children grew up. Their daughter moved to Israel more than four years ago, and their son, a student, lives in New York City.

Last August, the Susmans decided that the time for aliyah was right. They contacted Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization founded in 2002 in cooperation with the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel to facilitate aliyah from North America and the UK.

The Susmans originally thought to make the move in May 2021, after their son’s anticipated graduation from City College. Soon they decided, however, that there was no reason to wait that long.

“We came up with a plan and we just moved along,” Ms. Susman said. “As the process progressed, we got more excited, and there was never a notion that anything could stop us.” Not even a pandemic. “As long as they would let us in, we were coming.”

They sold their house and packed up its contents to be shipped to Israel. They said their goodbyes to Ms. Susman’s brothers in Queens and New Jersey and to local friends and fellow members of Congregation Rinat Yisrael. Several bon voyage parties had to be canceled.

“We felt this was our next step in life, and when coronavirus hit it was just another thing to deal with,” Mr. Susman said. “It never crossed our minds not to come. It was a matter of more stuff to deal with as part of the overall aliyah process, which is complex anyway. In my career I’ve managed some very difficult projects and this was one of the most difficult in my life.

“But when we arrived in Netanya, it was like walking into a second home.”

The Susmans spent Passover in Netanya several years ago and fell in love with the coastal city and its “warm and welcoming Anglo community.” (Israelis use the word Anglo to describe people from any English-speaking country.)

They’d befriended members of the 130-family Anglo synagogue in the neighborhood on previous visits and joined them online for kabbalat Shabbat and Havdalah while in quarantine.

“The most difficult thing is not being able to be together with our daughter and son-in-law here in Israel, and missing our son in New York,” Ms. Susman said. “He wanted to come to be with us during the transition, but he couldn’t because tourists are not allowed into Israel right now. He will hopefully come later.”

Like Jews in most of the world, the Susmans will not be able to celebrate Passover with extended family as they’d planned.

“We were going to go to my brother Michael but instead we’ll be here,” Mr. Susman said. “We do feel very comfortable here — I don’t know how it could be any better under the circumstances.”

Post-coronavirus, the Susmans hope to take intensive Hebrew classes. Ideally, they’d like to work part time in their fields after they are settled. Once travel between the United States and Israel is back to normal, they would to receive visitors in Netanya.

“It is truly remarkable to see that aliyah is continuing amidst increasingly complex global circumstances,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh.

He noted that the Susmans’ flight included 10 families and singles, ranging in age from nine months to 73 years. They came from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Twenty more immigrants have arrived since that flight.

“These new olim, more than ever, represent the strong future of the State of Israel as they are determined to fulfill their dreams of helping to build the Jewish nation,” Rabbi Fass said. “We are ready to assist them throughout their entire aliyah process in order for them to settle into their new homes as smoothly and comfortably as possible during these challenging times.”

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