I’ve been asked a number of times, “What made you decided to make aliyah with older kids?”
But I’ll share why we did it anyway.
After visiting Israel in Feb. 2011, my then 14 yodd decided she wanted to live in Israel after she was married. Our then dd16 had already made that decision. They both repeatedly asked/begged us to consider moving to Israel with the entire family, and I consistently told them ‘absolutely not!’ They kept asking me why, and here were some of my concerns:
– It’s strongly discouraged to make aliyah with children over the ages of 6 – 10, depending who you ask. There are good reasons for that (here’s a great article that spells out some of the challenges), and the statistics for success aren’t on your side.
– Dh had a decent job, we had a home, vehicle, savings – he had no interest in starting over again from scratch in his mid forties, with a family of 11 to support. Absolutely no interest.
– When we asked our rabbi for his feedback, he said to us, “Raising children like yours is a very special achievement. Don’t take that for granted. You have to ask yourself if you can raise this kind of family in Israel.” That was my biggest concern, and still is.
So what made me think seriously about making aliyah with a large family that included several teens, keeping all of these things in mind?
When I mentally projected forward about five years, I pictured my oldest three children getting married and starting their families. As I said, two of them were very clear that they wanted to live in Israel, and I didn’t think it was likely that most of the other kids would choose to live in the city we lived in when they became old enough to make that decision. It was sad to realize that the family togetherness that we so much enjoyed was likely to dramatically change in the foreseeable future.
There’s something very nice about having family living nearby. We enjoy our children, and I think that generally they find us pretty tolerable parents, and I hope we will be actively able to share in each other’s lives for many years to come. I felt that by moving to Israel, it would be much easier for our family to continue to stay in fairly close physical proximity. Sure, some kids might get married and move out of the country, but for those that would choose to live in Israel, it’s a pretty small country so nothing is too far away. This was a big part of our motivation. We recognized that we had a very small window of time due to the ages and stages of the kids, and we chose to jump through that window.
However, I was very aware that the decision I was making to facilitate family cohesiveness could be the same thing that would most threaten it. I tried to think in advance about the challenges our children would face, particularly the older ones, in order to make the transition as smooth as possible for them. Did we do a good job of this?
Let me be honest. It was a tough, tough year for everyone ages 9 and up. Difficult and even traumatic. And it wasn’t much easier for the littles who went to school, though it was a shorter duration and intensity for them. I think we got through it pretty well, but I don’t want to give the impression that we magically glided through this year. We didn’t. It was conscious and constant effort on my part to be available to support each one, and I often inadequate to give everyone what they needed.
But we didn’t break. We didn’t go into crisis. There are a few things that I credit our relatively smooth absorption to:
a) We were a strong family unit before our move. Even when we felt challenged, we had each other. Even when a child wasn’t confiding in me, they had a sibling to share their feelings with.
b) Two of our three teenagers very, very much wanted to make aliyah. When times were tough, they knew it wasn’t because we forced this move on but because they wanted it. If they had all been lukewarm or unsure, I don’t think we would have made the move.
c) Lastly, I felt that our children had an emotional resilience that would help them get through the rough spots.
Are the kids happy that we moved here?
I’ve asked them all, and for the most part, the answer is ‘yes’. One in particular would still prefer to live in the US, and that’s okay. But even so, there’s a lot here that they like and they aren’t unhappy to be here.
Some of the things that most concerned me before coming was finding a community where our family would fit. Having lived in Israel for the first eight years of our marriage, I knew how tightly defined communities were, and knew that the city we had lived in in the past wouldn’t be suitable for American teenagers. We went back and forth about whether it would be better to live in an Anglo community where the kids could easily find like-minded friends but would be unlikely to integrate into the Israeli culture, or to move to a community where they would have a better chance of long term integration. We went with the latter choice (and all of the kids have since said that they’re glad we did this rather than go to an Anglo community), and looked for a community where there was an Anglo presence with an open and accepting charedi community. Karmiel fit the bill and has been a very good choice for us.
There were things I didn’t anticipate or that I figured wrong. I thought that since there was a local girls’ high school, that there would be plenty of high school age girls for our daughters to become friends with. I was wrong. For dd16, almost none of the girls in her class lived in our city. I thought the kids would learn Hebrew faster than they did; I needed to recalibrate my expectations. I didn’t know I’d have to constantly educate the educational staff about the needs of my children as new immigrants, or how little support the kids would get through the schools. That’s why I had so many meetings with teachers and principals last year!
I knew the significant differences between the American religious community and the Israeli charedi community, and because moderation is hard to find here, where we all fit in overall charedi society long term is something I think a lot about but still don’t have any answers for.
For a family considering making aliyah with older children, my feedback would be to be very cautious and to take into serious consideration the issues your children are likely to face before making the move. Yes, it’s possible to move with teenagers and for them to adjust to a new language, a new culture, and new friends. And it can be a great experience. But realize that it’s very unfair to take their smooth acclimatization for granted. You may want to live in Israel, but you have to be fair to all of your family members and make the choice based on what will be best for everyone.
Even with all of the challenges, we’re glad we made the move. We’re now over the difficult first year and I look forward to watching things get better for everyone. At the same time, I’m aware that we’re all still in a stage of adjustment and the kids will continue to need monitoring and support. Knowing what I know now, would I still have made aliyah with older kids? Yes.