Last July, on the fast of Tisha B’Av, the thought crossed Aryeh Gielchinsky’s mind that there was something off about his mourning the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jews from Israel when at least part of the damage was in his power to repair.
“It’s peculiar, it’s bizarre, to mourn Jerusalem from America,” he thought. It wasn’t a new thought. He often had felt that way on Tisha B’Av.
This year, Tisha B’Av will be a bit less bizarre for him. He’ll be fasting in Israel. He, his wife, Hadassah, and their three children — Miriam, 7, Batya, 4, and Yoni, 20 months — are flying to Israel and making aliyah on Tuesday, August 2. When Tisha B’Av arrives this year, they will have been Israeli citizens for nearly two weeks.
When Aryeh came home from synagogue last year — Bergenfield’s Congregation Ohr Hatorah — he told Hadassah that maybe they should think about moving to Israel — as he had mentioned before.
This time, to his surprise, Hadassah agreed that maybe they should.
What had changed? A friend who lives in Israel had recently sent Hadassah a picture of her son. Something in the picture suddenly made the idea of Israel feel alive for her. Maybe the tile on the floor? She doesn’t quite remember. But the picture had an impact. It was summer vacation from her job as a math teacher at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School in Teaneck, and she had time for introspection.
So this time, when the idea of moving to Israel came up, she agreed that maybe they should start looking into it.
Both Hadassah and Aryeh had spent a year in yeshiva after high school. (Hadassah first went before she was in first grade, when her family spent six weeks in Israel. “I don’t remember so much from that trip,” she said.) But that was a decade ago.
In January, they spent two weeks in Israel, scouting out the situation, examining places to live, and learning about schools and career options there.
Soon after their return, they made the decision. They were moving to Israel.
“We knew we would have to start registering our kids for school, so we had to make a decision quickly. It took a couple of weeks,” Hadassah said.
Not that the time since the decision has been all clear sailing.
“There have been plenty of times I’ve gone back and forth,” she said. “It’s hard to turn your whole life upside down. It’s a big change.”
In particular, “Family is hard to leave,” she said. Hadassah grew up in Teaneck, where her parents, Jane and David Carr, and her sister, Devorah, still live; her brother, Aryeh, and his family are not far away, in Lakewood.
Aryeh comes from Elizabeth, where his parents still live. He has a sister and brother-in-law, Dina and Adam Loskove, and nieces and nephews, Ilana, Andrew, and Serena, in Teaneck, and a brother in Miami.
And though Bergenfield “is a good community, with a lot of choices, I never really felt it was the right place,” she said. She looks forward to the feeling of belonging she expects to feel in Israel.
“Here, I have to teach my kids that we dress differently than the kids we see outside,” she said. “I have to teach them that certain holiday images that they see on television are not for them. It’s a little easier in Israel. It feels more natural when you’re in an environment that observes the things you observe.”
She looks forward to being wished chag sameach — happy holiday — by bus drivers at the time of the Jewish holidays. “It’s how I expect the non-Jews feel around here when they get wished happy holidays at Christmas time,” she said. “We just spoke to a friend who has been there for two years. She definitely feels different when she comes back here. She doesn’t feel she belongs as much.”
Their house in Bergenfield is half empty. In the living room, the couch is gone and bookcases are empty; the books have been shipped to Israel, along with clothes they won’t need until winter. Furniture is being parceled out to family members rather than being sent to Israel.
“There’s an Ikea there,” Hadassah said. “We can buy some of the same stuff we had.”
They have rented an apartment in Ramat Beit Shemesh, in a neighborhood with many other young American families. “It’s going to make the transition somewhat easier,” she said.
In making the move, they’re helped by Nefesh B’Nefesh. The organization was formed to promote aliyah from North America in 2002. Last year, 3,500 North Americans made aliyah and a similar number is expected this year. One of next month’s immigrants will be number 50,000 for the organization.
Nefesh b’Nefesh gave the Gielchinskys advice on where to consider living, and helped Aryeh make professional contracts. (He is an insurance actuary.) Nefesh b’Nefesh has helped them with the paperwork needed to receive Israeli citizenship.
When they get to Israel, Aryeh and Hadassah will enroll in an ulpan, an intense Hebrew language course. “My father spoke to us in Hebrew when we were little,” Hadassah said. “My Hebrew is not terrible. It’s a little bit dictionary Hebrew, not colloquial. I’m hoping to get more of the idioms.”
Aryeh has been improving his Hebrew. He took a six-month ulpan course in Teaneck this year.
And the children?
“Miriam’s Hebrew is okay,” Hadassah said. Last year, Miriam was a first grader at the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge. “I think she learned a good amount.”
Batya, the 4-year-old, knows a couple words, such as etzbaot, fingers, “but other than that her understanding of Hebrew is gibberish.” She’ll talk in gibberish and say she’s speaking Hebrew.
Hadassah is trying to get Batya “excited about the little things. We don’t have that many sidewalks here in Bergenfield. We tell her that not only do they have sidewalks in Israel, you can walk in the street because there aren’t so many cars on Shabbat.”
Yet Hadassah knows that the transition will be hard.
“The beginning of school is not something I’m looking forward to,” she said. “They are all going to go into new environments. I’m sure it will come out at home.”
But the parents see the short-term disruptions as worth it.
“It’s going to be a good thing for them,” Aryeh said.