Shira’s Story: Aliyah- A New Life
(1/5) “Real Life vs. Dream Life”
“My whole life I’ve always thought to myself, ‘Move to Israel. Live in Israel.’ But I never actually thought it was going to happen. When the idea came into my mind, I asked, ‘Is this really happening? Is this something I’m really going to do?’ I asked because America was good for me. My husband and I had good jobs, a nice house, a great community. My parents, in-laws, and families were close by.
For us, it was a really good opportunity that we felt was the moment. If we weren’t going to take the chance now, then we would never have the right time again, to go for it. My husband Yitz asked his work on a whim whether he could work remotely, and surprisingly, they said yes. He told me, “If they are saying yes, then why are we saying no?’ I couldn’t think of a reason why we should be saying no.
My family vacations and summers were spent in Israel while growing up. My parents kept an apartment in Israel, and always talked about making the big move themselves, one day. There was a lot of talk of life in Israel in my home when I was a kid, so much of it was theoretical. It felt like a far-off dream.
2 summers ago I went to JFK airport to the Nefesh B’ Nefesh Aliyah Departure ceremony to see off my brother and his family. There were 300 people making aliyah and hundreds of others who were there to say goodbye to their families. Everyone was crying and hugging. We got into the car, and I was so upset after saying goodbye, I remember Yitz saying to me, ‘This should be us next summer. We should go and make aliyah.’ Feeling the emotional weight of the goodbyes at the terminal I said, ‘We’ll see…’
The next summer, there we were at that scene again. Hugging, kissing and crying with our family, and saying goodbye. Then immediately we walked through security and in a haze took off our shoes and asked ourselves, ‘What have we just done? What just happened?’”
(2/ 5) “Why Leave A Good Life?”
“When we had our first Nefesh B’ Nefesh meeting in Teaneck, N.J., we had begun considering our options.
I remember an aliyah advisor sitting across from us, talking to Yitz, and I just started crying. My husband asked me why I was crying and I responded, ‘I don’t know why.’ There we were, sitting there, having a conversation out loud, in someone’s office — everything became so real. This was different than the quiet conversations we had at home about the things we wanted for our lives. She was asking me questions about the things that I wanted, and I couldn’t answer her. After the meeting, we got back in the car and Yitz asked me, ‘Do you not want to do this?’ I didn’t want to say that I couldn’t do it. I could. But it was so hard to say it out loud.
When I started telling friends and family, it was difficult to get the words out. If we had stayed in America, I would have known what my life would hold — where my kids would go to school, college, how everything would be. We would live in a house in New Jersey, with the jobs and the life we planned. It was good. It was easy. Part of me questioned ‘Why would I leave a good life to do something that makes me feel so afraid?’
The decision felt like jumping off a cliff and not knowing where you are going to land. It’s hard to make the decision to leave everything that you’ve ever known and move your family to another country, where they will know no one and not speak the language.
People gave us a range of reactions. There were those that we genuinely happy for us. Some were happy that we were going, though they would never do it themselves. Some didn’t pretend to understand why we would want to move to Israel.
My father had a strong reaction. He is a relaxed person who doesn’t tend towards big displays of emotion. He often tells me he loves me and that he’s proud of me, but I have rarely seen him emotional. When we were about to get on the plane, I looked over at him. He was crying. My husband turned to me. ‘Shira, in 8 years of marriage I’ve never seen your father cry. Not on our wedding day, not when our kids were born, never.’ My father, in that moment, told me with tears in his eyes: ‘I am so happy and proud of you.’
He had dreamed of making aliyah. For him, the moment had never come. Now, he has two children who made the leap he could not. We are here because of him — because of the home in which we were raised. As children, we received a powerful message: though we lived thousands of miles away, Israel was truly where we are meant to be.”
(3 /5) “Struggling to Say Goodbye”
“I think I felt frozen. Here I was on the plane and my kids were excited. Being young, they had no idea what was going on. They kept asking me why I was crying. I was so emotionally and physically drained, from the packing and organizing and saying goodbye; the whole leaving experience had been so intense.
We had built our house in America, from scratch. My husband always says that he ‘birthed that house’ and it was difficult for us, to let it go. The day we moved out, the couple that had bought it from us were getting ready to move in, and it was so weird to see new people begin to make a life in our old space.
The day we were leaving in the morning I was in such a bad mood, feeling so stressed about making sure that we had everything we needed. I was being bombarded with calls from family and friends who wanted to wish us well, but I didn’t want to take the calls because I was so inundated with my complicated feelings about leaving and the anxiety of moving a family of five across the world.
We got in the car, and everyone wanted to take pictures of us. We had made cute t-shirts for the event, and our family wanted to capture every last moment. I was watching it all happen, having a hard time believing that this was reality. After the whole ceremony at JFK, we walked through to security and I got a text message from my sister-in-law. She shared with me a message to make me feel less alone, and she stated it perfectly. ‘Leaving sucks. There is no way around it.’
We got on the plane, got the kids all situated with their technology, and finally, I had a quiet moment to think. ‘I’m on the plane, making aliyah with my family. This is actually happening.’ There was a beautiful sense of camaraderie on the flight, everyone so happy and excited that we were doing this amazing thing together as a group.
When we landed we were able to switch gears a bit. It happened to be the hottest day of the summer and all the speeches at our landing ceremony were canceled however the dancing continued. The kids were overall happy but overheating, hungry and at times cranky. We were dripping sweat and overheating, not just from the temperature; we were filled with excitement, happiness, sadness and all the emotions in between. It was amazing when my brother, my nephew and all our extended family living in Israel came to greet us at the airport.
We stayed with family until our rental was ready and our lift had arrived. It was a convenient and comforting landing for us. The moment we got the call that our lift arrived is when the honeymoon ended and reality began.”
(4/5) “Frozen in Overwhelm”
“We had to start going through the checklist that NBN gave us of everything we had to accomplish. I was so overwhelmed by the whole process that I felt frozen, again. After about two weeks, Yitz looked at me and said, ‘Shira, you have to snap out of it. I need your help so we can get everything accomplished.’ I didn’t know what to do first, I didn’t know how to ask for the help that I needed. I’ve been taught Hebrew my whole life, but I don’t speak it nearly as fast as anyone in this country, and everything felt so challenging. I felt like I couldn’t do it. My husband encouraged me to get out of the funk and to start living our new life.
It took a while to get into the groove because I wasn’t used to anything. I used to work full time, be at work at 8 am, come home at 4, make dinner, go to the gym, take care of the kids; I had such a functional, set routine. The first few months here, I couldn’t get it together. I couldn’t make dinner. I wasn’t even working. I was having a hard time navigating the supermarket and adjusting to daily living here.
There was one day when I went to fill the built-in soap dispenser in my new kitchen. The next day I was looking for something under the sink, and my husband walked in to find me crying hysterically. ‘There was no bottom,’ I sobbed. I had poured soap into the dispenser and hadn’t checked that there was a bottom to it, and now there was soap everywhere, ruining everything under the sink. Why would I have assumed that there would be no bottom to a soap dispenser? This was the small moment that held so much more weight to me.
It was a ‘Why are we here, Why are we doing this?’ moment. ‘Why did I leave my beautiful home? My comfortable life? My routine, and friends, and family….’ Yitz responded, ‘Shira, we are going to make this a home, together.’ He was right. It took me several months to feel like, this was my home, and that I could feel happy. We started to have ‘aha!’ moments, and moments that made us smile; these were the small acknowledgments that things were going well, that we have made the right choice for us.”
(5/5) “Being Where We Belong”
“Someone told me that when I would get here, I would laugh and cry, out of happiness, more than I ever have in my life. Watching my kids in this country makes me smile. They play and run and are so happy. They were happy in America, but there is a different energy here. Kids are kids in this country. Watching all of my kids at their Chanukah shows, singing and dancing along with the rest of their class, I was so proud of them. I’m so thrilled to see that my kids are adjusting so well to this huge change we’ve made.
Being here, you have to challenge many of the things you learned growing up. Life is just different. Everything isn’t always easy for me, but we’ve been here 6 months and I think we’ve found our rhythm. I’ve adjusted to Yitz traveling for work, and getting my kids to school; I’ve gotten into the rhythm of my day-to-day life. Things still come up and stress me out, but there is much more positivity and less stress than when we first got here. Now, I’m learning to laugh along with my struggles, because I realize I’m not alone.
Since we’ve made aliyah, we’ve been home for a handful of shabbat meals. People in Modiin are so welcoming to new olim. They just want to be helpful to us and make sure we are ok. They know how hard it is because so many of them have made this journey, too. Now, we never feel alone and the feeling of being where we belong, in the land of our people, makes life in Israel feel so worth it.”
Shira Lankin Sheps grew up in New Jersey and went to Stern College for women. After graduating from Hunter College School of Social Work with her MSW in clinical social work, she worked in the clinical field, in marketing and photojournalism.
She decided to start The Layers Project to help break down stigma and promote healing within our Jewish community.
She feels strongly about presenting women, who are so often shown as shallow characters or fully removed from Jewish media spaces, as three-dimensional individuals whose lives are full and rich with resilience.
Shira made aliyah with her family two years ago to Jerusalem.
Headshot taken by Tzipora Lifchitz.