Why we made aliyah with older kids

I’ve been asked a number of times, “What made you decided to make aliyah with older kids?”

Temporary insanity. :)

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.


13 thoughts on “Why we made aliyah with older kids

  1. I find this very interesting. For most Russians, immigrating to the US in the 90s, the assumption was that teenagers will adjust and pick up language faster than parents will, and then they will “lead the way”, so speak, helping parents navigate the american society. I am also assuming, that if we make aliyah, my kids will adjust and pick up Hebrew quicker than we will, and will certainly have more opportunities than grown-ups, who grew up in a different country.
    Is the country so different, or is it the Anglo teenagers who are so different? Or did the situation change in the past 20 years?

    1. I think that Russian Jews that moved to US or to Israel viewed their immigration as moving toward a better life and more opportunities for themselves and their children than they would have in Russia. Plus there was a certain finality to the move, there was no going back only forward one way or the other. It was sink or swim and the upbringing of Jewish children in Russia at the time was to raise kids to be resilient, one was expected to swim. Therefore, keeping that in mind, one had to try and make it, and the reality is that younger people have easier time adopting to new conditions and in vast majority of cases, certainly the younger generation succeeded in that and often the older generation as well. When Jews move from US to Israel, it’s an elective immigration, they are moving from a place where they had a good life and the bridges are not entirely burnt behind them. In the very worst case scenario if things really don’t work out one can go back to the US. In addition, going to Israel is rightfully viewed as going home , so one expects to feel comfortable at home but the reality is that any immigration is difficult and will require adjustment which could be quite grueling. In general, life in Israel could feel very intense to someone who grew up in a Western country where things are more laid back and people are for a lack of better term more willing to live and let live. Also, if the olim end up in an very Anglo area there is even less urgency or even opportunity to push oneself to integrate. So one has to really push oneself and come with an attitude much like the Werners, that you are in a better place and you are going to do everything to make it here:) And of course good preparation and access to resources whether family, friends, finances makes dealing with inevitable immigration challenges easier. Hope this helps.

  2. I don’t know any Russians who moved to the US, but I have heard/read the opinions of Americans who move to Israel, and I think the biggest block to successful aliya from America (and other Western countries to a slightly lesser extent) is that the Western immigrants think their culture is better. So, while they are seemingly trying to integrate, they are also comparing and criticizing all the time. Probably the Russians felt they were moving to a ‘better’ culture and giving their children a ‘better’ chance – so they were willing to let their children adjust. Whereas many Western immigrants to Israel as Avivah said, prefer Anglo areas, want their children to speak native English, want to keep their Anglo hashkafas – which kind of puts the children in a no man’s land – neither American nor Israeli. Unlike the Russians who put efforts into their children integrating into their new culture.

    Avivah, I have been reading your blog over the past year, and I think you are too modest – you really came to succeed in Israel and not to bring over a piece of America – and that’s when you already had older children. The two most important things which you did, IMHO, are moving to somewhere like Karmiel – as you said. And giving up your homeschooling dream for the sake of your children’s integration. Also your posts always sound so positive – like you are in the middle of a new adventure – and I’m sure that’s rubbed off on your family.

    Wishing you much hatzlacha in the future.

  3. Thank you for sharing that article. From your posts I knew that the process was hard, but I don’t think I was quite understanding just how hard. I’m not Jewish and completely secular in a post-Catholic way, so there were (and probably still are) nuances that I don’t appreciate.

    Your kids are really brave, hopefully they will look back on this year as a challenge but a good one.

  4. It struck me as interesting that you didn’t mention homeschooling in your cheshbon…or was that implied in your discussion of your rabbi’s comment “raising children like yours is a big achievement”– was he referring to homeschooling? If not, what did he mean? Did he mean that you have to be less involved in your kids’ lives in Israel? Is that even true?

    Also, I find it interesting that you took your teenage daughters’ desires to make aliyah into account. Not to minimize their maturity or anything, but can you be sure that they won’t change their minds, and who knows what their future husbands IY”H will have in mind?

    Great post, thank you!

  5. Shuli, I plan to write about our decision regarding homeschooling our children in Israel. Our rabbi was impressed with our children and was expressing concern that if major factors changed, that how the kids were turning out would change, too. I think he said this in part because he felt my husband was minimizing the accomplishment of raising our family and wanted us to understand that this was something important to value and think about.

    I’m not sure what surprised you about taking into account our daughters’ opinions? We didn’t make aliyah because it was what they wanted – it was something I very much wanted, but wouldn’t do if it meant compromising my children. So the fact that this is something they were fully behind was a big factor in feeling we could make the move at that time. I hope this makes it more clear!

  6. Avivah, what is it about Israeli culture that draws you to want to integrate into it? The Israeli, jean-wearing superitendent of a huge Anglo community told us face to face that the way an Israeli school boy says Hello to olim is to fight them physically, aka bullying. Who wants to integrate into that kind of culture?

    1. Moriah, what made you want to make aliyah? Obviously it was a very negative experience for you and you returned to the US. But is it hard to remember that there were things that you liked (at least in theory) at some time?

      I love living in Israel. I love the country, the people, the values – and there are things I don’t like. I could say the same thing about the US. But to take a statement like the one you quoted as if it’s representative of the culture is unfair – while bullying exists everywhere that people live, none of my children have had that experience.

      1. What made me want to make aliyah was the mitzvah of yishuv Israel according to some Rabbis (particularly Dati Leumi outlook), and for others, like Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (charedi), it is only a voluntary mitzvah, like wearing tzitzis.

        The Land of Israel is very very good as Hashem promises. I can’t say much positives about the culture (independent of the Land, but dependent on the people who are dwelling there now) which is not Torah-oriented in general, and leaves much to be desired, especially when you are forced to integrate with those culture, no thanks to NBN, there is a risk of ending up assimilating into the negative culture, which Hashem consistently warns us in the Torah to not assimilate with anti-Torah culture, whether it’s secular Israeli culture or Russian culture or South African culture, or very western materialistic American culture. For those of you who are isolated is nice, warm Torahdik communities, you are fortunate.

        K’siva v’chasima Tova to you all.

    2. Baruch Hashem, your post is really motzi shem ra (slander) on the Land of Israel. Do you really think there is one ‘culture’ here? There is a Western olim culture, a Russian olim culture, a secular culture, a religious culture, a Chassidish culture and another thousand and one subgroups. I can imagine some cultures in Western countries ‘welcoming’ an outsider similarly.

      Most Israelis are warm and caring. My dd has just started a new sem, in a different town, where almost all the girls know each other from before, and she has been warmly welcomed and tells us how nice the girls all are to her.

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