Reports from the Ground
Havurah asked four Jewish believers—three Americans, one Ukrainian—about their aliyah experiences. Here is what they shared with us. At their request, some of their names have been changed.
In 1988, Moishe Rosen invited my wife and me to be his guests on our first visit to Israel. We went with the expectation of having a vacation, but after spending three eventful weeks there, we returned with the conviction that the Lord was calling us to come to live in Israel.
In succeeding months, the Lord began to confirm this conviction in several ways. By signing up for the frequent flier program on our flight, we received a free round trip for both of us from New York to Tel Aviv. The elders of our congregation had been praying about our going to live in Israel, and in July they confirmed that they believed it was God’s will for us to go. Subsequently, there were financial and health problems–trials of faith which we also regarded as confirmations. The following July we left for Israel and have lived in Jerusalem ever since.
While there were trials of adjustment and struggles with the language, we always felt that we were where the Lord wanted us to be. We knew that He had called us to serve Him in the Body of Messiah in the Land, primarily in the pastoral ministry, and He made a place for us in a Messianic congregation.
Throughout the years, the Lord has faithfully provided for us and given us the joy of touching many lives in the Land. Without a doubt the most difficult aspect of our living in Israel is being so far away from our children and grandchildren and not being able to participate in many of the important events in their lives.
But the rewards of knowing we are where He wants us to be and serving Him among our own Jewish people, with the gifts He has given to us has made our living here supremely worthwhile.
Looking back over the past sixteen years, I can see many reasons why I made aliyah. I was thirteen years old; my sister and brother were ten and three. Struggling financially, we all lived in a one-bedroom apartment. My father was not yet a believer, while my mother was new in the faith, and my parents used to frequently quarrel.
Then one day my uncle’s family welcomed some friends from Israel who had made aliyah. My family and I were present as these visitors shared with us many positive and interesting things about Israel. Being a curious kid from a small town, and I was fascinated by the “things from abroad.” When I was fifteen, the Jewish Agency offered me an opportunity to live and study in an Israeli yeshiva as a tourist for three years. For me, this was an opportunity to “run away” from both parents and country to a better place—an adventure!
By studying in the yeshiva, I gained knowledge of my Jewish heritage which I did not have in Ukraine, since my father was a secular Jew. Unfortunately, there were a few kids, more like hooligans, from the former Soviet Union who came with me on the same study project. I hated violence, and it was a challenge for me to not become like them and also to not get beaten up. But from my time there, I realized that there is someone in Judaism called the Messiah and that he needed to come to redeem the Jewish people.
After finishing yeshiva, I officially made aliyah at eighteen. And while practicing Judaism, I realized that I couldn’t have peace and reconciliation with God through tradition and good deeds. So my Israeli yeshiva experience was one of many steps on the way to faith in Jesus. I believe God used all the circumstances in my life to bring me to Israel and to draw me close to Him!
I first visited Israel in my sophomore year of college and fell in love with the country. I returned the next summer and still felt a strong leaning toward someday making the move there. But it wasn’t until I started dating the Israeli man who is now my husband that this dream became a viable option. I lived in Israel while we dated, and after we were engaged, I made aliyah.
By that time I had already experienced “real life” in Israel—and it wasn’t as romantic as my summers away. It was hard to adjust to a new culture, learn a new language, and be away from family and friends. What brought me through the whole process was my commitment to my husband. And it was also encouraging to have a support system already in place through him and his family.
The first time I was called an “immigrant” I was shocked; I thought that I would fit in automatically. But then I realized that though I am Jewish, I was something of an outsider in Israel. I thought that getting my teudat zehut (identification card) would be the final step, but it was still hard. To be honest, there were many moments I wanted to get back onto the first airplane to America.
The most valuable lesson I learned is that I wasn’t meant to fit in! Being a believer in Israel has its whole slew of challenges which made me realize that I really don’t “fit” anywhere on this earth. My true identity isn’t as an American or an Israeli—it’s in the kingdom of God. I know that Israel is where the Lord wants me, and my true home is in the center of His will. That’s why it isn’t too bad if I feel uncomfortable—and it may even be a blessing.
My wife and I made aliyah to Jerusalem in response to a specific calling that we felt from the Lord. While we thought that we had a good understanding of Jewish culture, making aliyah was an eye-opening experience: we realized that our idea of Jewish culture was actually Jewish-American culture. We found Israelis to be much more secure—less self-conscious—in their Jewish identity than American Jews, and they therefore didn’t feel compelled to express it in the same way.
Adjusting to life in Israel can be quite difficult for American and European olim (immigrants). Things that we take for granted—cost of living; wages; standard of living; standards of safety and cleanliness; customer service; common courtesies—may or may not exist here. We have personally witnessed time and again a sad phenomenon among Jewish believers who come here. If they do not have a confirmed calling from the Lord to be here, they inevitably wash out and go back to wherever they came from, beaten and battered from the experience.
Even though we see all around us an “Ezekiel 37” fulfillment of the restoration of the nation, the diaspora has not yet come to an end. I would never advise Messianic families to return to the Land based solely on their Jewishness. There will be a time for that. But for now, we really believe people should come here based on a clear calling from the Lord.
Life in the Land has forced my wife and I to come to a new level of living by faith in God. In response, the Lord has met us in our place of need every time, and we have never been left in a place of want. It’s an amazing way to live, and we wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.