Anyone who has made aliyah has been asked this question at one time or another: Why did you come now?
Usually the oleh or olim involved answer the question by saying that it’s the right time for them or for their children. Or they give another personal response.
But what Israelis are really asking is, Why did you come now when things are so bad?
One of the paradoxes of aliyah is that both questions are relevant.
This is certainly the case for those who arrived on the Nefesh b’Nefesh flights on July 1 or July 7. It will probably also be true for the flight that arrives on July 21.
The first flight left New York on Monday evening June 30. A date that will be difficult to forget.
“We were checking our bags in when we heard that the bodies of the three boys had been found,” says Yehuda Miller, 26, from Pittsburgh, PA. He is referring to Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Sha’er and Naftali Fraenkel. “I dedicated our aliyah to their memories,” he says. “We were on our way and the circumstances of their deaths made me feel more passionate about coming. Terror wins when they make us feel afraid,” Miller continues, “and I don’t want them to win.”
Miller checked into the flight with his wife Rivkah, also 26, and their two daughters Yaeli, 3 ½ and Sophie, almost 2.
(Left): Sophie, almost 2 years old and Yaeli, 3 1/2.
(Right:) The Miller family: Sophie, Rivkah, Yaeli and Yehuda.
“I tend to numb these things out,” Rivkah Miller says, referring to the death of the three Israeli teens. “I’ll deal with it later – or not at all. I can’t let it interfere. There’s no turning back. I have to stay focused on our kids.”
Several previous visits
Like many religious olim, both Yehuda and Rivkah came to Israel several times before they made aliyah. They both spent a year in Israel after high school.
Rivkah is the third of eight children and was at a seminary in Yerushalayim in 2004-05. Yehuda studied in a yeshiva in Tsefat the following year. He is the oldest of four.
What is important for them is that they know people in Israel. Rivkah has two brothers in Israel. One in Modi’in and one in Bet Shemesh. And their next door neighbor lived back-to-back with Rivkah’s family when she was growing up.
But the question still remains: Why did you come now?
“It’s hard to explain,” Rivkah says. “I feel the need to be here. This is our country. I didn’t feel this way the year I was in sem,” she says. Yehuda agrees. He didn’t have such a great year in yeshivah, but he loved Israel.
“I always felt at home here,” he says. “One thing that really drove me crazy in the US is that I always felt awkward because I used all my vacation time on Jewish holidays. I also felt that I was leaving my department in the lurch when I wasn’t there. The result was that I didn’t feel I could truly enjoy my Judaism in the US.”
They both thought about moving to Israel while they were single. As it turned out, they were married in the summer of 2009. In January 2014, less than five years – and two children – after they were married, they started their aliyah process. Less than six months after that they were on the plane.
Their first week in Israel was a busy one. They had to buy appliances and furniture before they could move into their rented apartment in Givat Shmuel, between Bar Ilan University and Petach Tikvah.
“A few days after we moved in, a friend who has a car came to visit. She offered to take me to the supermarket and show me around. The girls were bouncing off the walls so we took Sophie with us,” Yehuda says.
“We had just pulled up in front of the supermarket when I heard my first siren. I didn’t quite get it. I didn’t feel this was something I had to deal with urgently. But my friend told me quite clearly to take Sophie and get into the safety of the store.”
When their second siren sounded, the children were asleep. “I remember thinking that we’re going to have to put the kids back to sleep after this,” Yehuda says.
“And for the third siren I got lost and ended up in someone else’s shelter,” Rivkah says. “But they were really nice. They calmed me down. I realized we have to take this in stride and move on,” she says.
A week later – their second week in Israel – Rivkah went to the grocery and automatically checked where she could take shelter if she needed to. “This may seem extreme,” she says, “but it’s either make adjustments or stay in the house.” She decided to make adjustments.
“We’ve now had about five sirens,” Yehuda says. “I don’t want to sound like I’m being brave, but I feel like it’s more of an annoyance than a danger.”
The question still remains
Why did you come now? And how did their families react?
“It wasn’t a shock that we moved,” Yehuda says. “I’ve been “threatening” to do this for a while. I think it was actually harder for my parents when we were still in Pittsburgh. But as soon as we left, they went from crying to kvelling.”
“My parents are very proud,” Rivkah says.
“My father said that even though he’s going to miss us, he doesn’t want us not to make it here. He wants us to live our dream of being in Israel,” Yehuda says.
They don’t feel totally cut off from friends and family who are 7,000 miles away. “We have a US phone number and I still have a hevrutah on Skype with a friend I’ve been learning Navi with for about three years,” Yehuda says. He speaks to his family most days.
“I spoke to my father about a half hour every day when we were in Pittsburgh,” Rivkah says. “And I’m trying to keep that up.”
What is their dream?
Rivkah says that it’s easy to describe their dream. “Last Shabbat we were hanging out at a friend’s house. People our age. We weren’t talking about houses and possessions, we were just talking,” she says.
“We’re looking forward to the hagim,” she says, “because we don’t have to make them happen in Israel.”
Yehuda elaborates: “We’re not making Shabbat here. It is Shabbat.”
Taking the girls to the shelter
What are they thinking when they have to take the girls to a shelter or other “safe” place?
“It really isn’t so difficult,” Rivkah says. “They go right back to sleep.”
“We told Yaeli what’s happening. But for her it’s like a story book: ‘These people don’t like Jews. So they send rockets to try to hurt us. But we’re in a safe place. And Hashem is watching out for us.’”
“After my first blog post about sirens, one of my cousins told me to get back to the States,” Yehuda says. “I told him that going back to the US isn’t necessarily the correct solution for us. But I understand what you’re thinking.”
Between setting up their house, running to the shelter and taking care of two small children, do they still have time to talk to each other?
“Absolutely. We check in on each other. Just to make sure we’re doing ok,” Yehuda says.
“We also reaffirm that we made the right decision,” Rivkah says
They both agree that they did.
As far as why did you come now? They have both thought about this.
Yehuda: “If we made aliyah a year ago, we’d still be here for this war. And if we had already been here a while when the war started, I don’t think I’d consider moving back.”
Rivkah: “There’s no right or wrong time to make a leap of faith. And that’s what’s pushing us. You just have to close your eyes and jump. The rest is up to Hashem.”