Sivan Shachnovitz Felder always knew she would make aliyah.
“I never really thought of myself as a Zionist,” said Ms. Felder, who is from Fair Lawn. “But I always knew I would live in Israel. This is my home.”
That sentiment is given poignant voice in a poem written by Ms. Felder and narrated by her sister, Batsheva Shachnovitz, in the award-winning video “Olah Chadasha” (New Immigrant), which recently took first prize in the “Inspired by Israel” contest hosted by the Israel Video Network.
The video, in which the sisters explore their reasons for moving to Israel — Ms. Felder and Ms. Shachnovitz, together with their mother, Sura Shachnovitz Rosenberg, and two brothers, made aliyah five years ago, shortly after their father, Yossef Shachnovitz, died — shows Ms. Shachnovitz, then a high school senior, walking through Jerusalem, reciting her older sister’s words. She feels safe in Israel, she says. She feels that she is home.
The child of an Israeli father and “an American mother who’s more Israeli than some Israelis,” Ms. Felder and her siblings grew up involved in Zionist organizations. While they had visited Israel many times before, this time they intended to stay. “I thought, now is the time,” Ms. Felder said, adding that whenever she made a choice to do one thing or another, “I asked myself how it would impact the goal” of making aliyah.
The entire family now is in Israel. Ms. Felder’s mother has remarried and lives in Hashmonaim. One brother studies in a kollel, while the other serves as an army commander. Ms. Shachnovitz, 18, is finishing high school.
Ms. Felder, who made aliyah when she was 21, is married to Jake Felder, a fellow immigrant from Rhode Island. The couple has two small children, a 3 l/2-year-old boy and 5-month-old girl. Looking for something to do while on maternity leave, the video maker, who works for a production company, took up her mother’s suggestion that she enter the contest.
Growing up “I always had a camcorder, filming people on the train, making family videos,” she said. “It was a hobby. When I came here I went to social work school and found out about someone looking for an assistant editor to help with wedding videos. I applied, and she hired me. After a while, I bought equipment, taught myself the editing software, and now I work full time for a professional production company.”
While aliyah was always her goal, Ms. Felder never assumed it would be easy. Still, “It’s a thousand times harder than I imagined,” she said. “I speak Hebrew fluently for an American, but I envisioned a magical thing, that I would be welcomed with open arms.” She’s sure it would have been harder still to be here without family. Nevertheless, “I feel that my life has more meaning now, that I am where I am meant to be.”
Ms. Felder knew she wanted her sister to be in the video “because you don’t label her right away. She doesn’t look religious or nonreligious — she just looks like a teenage girl. I didn’t want political or religious views. Just her. I told her, ‘You have to be in it.’” Suffering at the time with paralyzed vocal chords, Ms. Felder also asked her sister to do the narration.
“It was pretty quick,” she said. “We filmed in two days. I dragged her around. She was sick with a stomach virus.”
Ms. Felder, who watched every one of the other video entries, said “a lot of people talked about being inspired on a very large scale — kind of a big, faraway thing. That’s what was different about ours. It’s the personal experience of me and my sister. People like to feel personally connected.”
Does she miss anything from home? With a little prompting, Ms. Felder acknowledged that mint chip ice cream would be nice, but otherwise, she said, there’s not much difference. Still, she added, her younger sister is growing up differently here than she would have at home. “Israel is a place where young adults have so much more independence. If she didn’t have a car at home, she’d be stuck. Here she can do anything she wants. She’s growing up differently, with more freedom and independence.”
Ms. Felder remembers that when she grew up in New Jersey, she and her siblings were not permitted to play in the front yard. “Now my son plays outside on the front porch and I don’t fear for his safety. Everyone is on my team.” The family lives in Alon Shvut , an Israeli settlement southwest of Jerusalem, one kilometer northeast of Kfar Etzion, in the West Bank.
“It’s much more painful and more beautiful here than I had thought,” Ms. Felder said. “While I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, someday I may not be here. I wish to convey that to those who make aliyah. It’s okay to not want to be here sometimes.”
Although she is religiously observant, “I didn’t come here to colonize,” she said. “I don’t try to convince people to come. I’m just where I’m supposed to be.”
Judges chose the video winners from the 10 submissions; for ten days, the public could vote of them as well. It was voted by the Israel Video Network. A total of $20,000 in cash prizes was awarded to the winning videos, sponsored by the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation in partnership with the 12Tribe Films Foundation.