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We’ve come home

We’ve made it! Jennifer and Michael Oliver in Nahariya

It has been my dream to live in Israel from as early as seven years old. My mother and grandmother had visited the land that year, leaving me in America so I wouldn't miss school. How utterly despondent I was at being left behind. When they returned, I gazed at their pictures longingly for hours, declaring that I would one day also be there. By age seventeen, I had saved enough money through babysitting to make my own short visit to the land. My love for Israel only grew, and I even got into some trouble at school on more than one occasion for daydreaming in geography class. My mind was on the one place that felt more like home to me than any other place on earth.

However, the timing never seemed perfect. "We'll make the plunge after I finish this degree, after the next baby is born, after just one more year on this job, after another baby is born." Each year at Passover we would enthusiastically proclaim, "Next year in Jerusalem". Unfortunately, the next year came with the next excuse. One night my husband and I became entranced by YouTube videos from Nefesh B'Nefesh showing success stories of families making aliyah. It was at that pivotal point that we agreed to no longer wait. 

Statistically, it was the worst time to make such a transition. With three teenage sons and one ten year-old daughter, moving directly in the middle of a school year, we were never short on emotional outbursts. Our youngest two children had never even been to Israel. Our fluency in Hebrew was, and honestly still is, limited. We exchanged a country home, yard, and minivan for apartment living and public transportation. We still confuse grams with pounds, meters with feet, and Celsius with Fahrenheit.

There were tears as we left friends and jobs behind. Working as an English teacher in North Carolina for several years, I had made many connections with students and missed that dearly. So I did the only thing I knew how to do when first arriving in Nahariya, Israel. I perused websites and newspapers for opportunities to use my English skills. I needed to use something I understood because daily this country reminded me of new things I didn't quite grasp. That's when I found ESRA and just sent a simple email. Within a few days I received a phone call and was scheduled to volunteer at a local high school with seniors helping prepare them for their English bagrut exam. Spending time with these young women made me feel as if I had something to give, even though I always left with a plethora of shopping advice from them. Walking back to my apartment on my first day of volunteering, I had a new skip in my step. After just a few more of these opportunities, I began recognizing the girls in town at a coffee shop or falafel stand. We would gleefully greet each other, and I instantly felt like a true Israeli, connected to the community. 

The Oliver family have said farewell to North Carolina, and the children enjoying their first Chanukah in Israel

As I write this, I'm watching the sunset over the Mediterranean whilst my children race each other along the shore, picking up shells and snacking on the finest challah bread and hummus. Home isn't where you were born or even where you went to school. Home is where you can go and feel safe and be exactly who you are. It's a place where you can give and receive simultaneously. Many in America didn't understand our choice and declared Israel to be far too dangerous. But for our family, it is more dangerous to forget who we are, our roots. So, even with the difficulties of transition, Israel is indeed the safest place for our family. Finally, I'm home. 



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Wednesday, 28 February 2024

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