We’re Making Aliyah
I’ve been hesitant to say this out loud.
I was afraid that this precious dream, so close that I can taste it, would slip through my fingers, as it has so many times.
But here it is: My family and I, God willing, are moving to Israel this summer.
Since my grandparents spent their lives rebuilding their family and community from the ashes of the Shoah, there has been talk amongst the generations that our family belongs in Israel. Dreaming about what it would be like to live there. Establishing connections to build a stronger pull towards our ancient homeland. Imagining the possibility and potential of this modern state, and all the opportunities that would lie there for us.
After thousands of years of Jews praying to be allowed to return to Eretz Yisrael — the land that God gave our people — I grew up knowing that moving to Israel could be a reality.
My parents always had Israel on the tips of their tongues, singing us the songs of Israeli culture as lullabies, and sending us to Zionist schools and camps. Moving to Israel was presented as a legacy, a value, and a goal. They told us that it was a place where we could all go on our individual journeys, and find our way home, together.
The minute I landed in Israel as a young adult, I felt a pull stronger than I had ever felt. A gravitational force that drew from the prayers of generations, the whispers of hope. It was a time when I spent dreaming of the possibility of a future, that was given to me as a birthright. I knew that I would want to spend my life there, raise my children there, and live history in the making. I wanted to be a part of the ingathering of the exiles, I wanted to live the miracles that built a great civilization from the desert, to live the miracles that were sure to come. I wanted to live as a Jew in my ancient and modern homeland.
I wanted to go home.
I got married and had children and, in the midst of it all, became chronically ill. Years passed by and time escaped me. My children grew older. Summers slipped away, opportunities came and went. Through my illness, I held on to this dream of one day recovering my health and being able to get on that plane and make the move. As time passed it seemed less and less likely, and my drive to get there got stronger and stronger. At a certain point, I was living in Israel in my mind, living an imagined life through the haze of illness.
When I recovered from illness and regained my vitality, we knew that it was time to start planning. But recovery was a slow burn, and there were so many activities of daily living that I had to readapt to before we could even dare to start the process. We did it anyway. Researching, planning, speaking to people — finding out all we could and planning a future for ourselves. By the time I was ready, we were more than ready.
Several years ago, my youngest brother made aliyah from Yeshiva and joined the army. His leaving was a wakeup call to me that this moment, one we had been planning as a nuclear family from the time we were young, was finally upon us. He told us that he knew we would follow, and so he went to begin his adult life there, and he would wait for us. Shortly after that, my parents began planning their aliyah. My sister decided she was ready as well. They went on aliyah last summer and are thriving as olim chadashim. Now, it’s my turn.
There are days when I still don’t believe it. I’m going through all the motions, the aliyah interview, the Nefesh b’ Nefesh conversations, planning the lift, getting a home set up in Israel, choosing schools for my children. As time ticks by I still feel like I’m playing pretend, existing in the fantasies that kept me living when life was dark and hopeless. It’s hard to process that my daydream will soon be real life. That the scenes of the life I see when I close my eyes will be before me soon enough.
As I go through the preparatory stages of our move I carry the burden not only of my family’s needs but of a collective memory of longing through the generations. I try my best to explain to my children the significance of our Aliyah, which is larger than ourselves. I’ve sung Hatikva every night before bed since they were babies, hoping to show them that they could live prophecy. To imprint upon them the place they play in the history of our family and our nation. To fill their sleep with dreams of going home.
In all of this, I know that God has a plan for us, but He helps us along the path we choose. We have sacrificed and suffered much to get to this time. But now I’m saying it out loud and the time has come. We are making aliyah.
“Hashiveni v’ashuvah, el haaretz hatova.”
“Lead me home and I will return to this wonderful land.”
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 a year ago to Jerusalem.