Duty to Israel overrides fear
Moving to Israel during a time of war seems counterintuitive. But for them, there was never a second thought.
By SHERRI DAY
Published August 16, 2006
BOCA RATON - The movers came, making it real: Simmy and Dorothy Friedman are moving to Israel.
Few people in their heavily Orthodox Jewish community question their decision. But some business colleagues, associates and even the neighborhood letter carrier wonder about the couple's timing.
Why go now with turmoil in northern Israel and Lebanon?
Israel "is the place where we belong," Simmy Friedman, 71, said last week as packers collected his belongings. "We never thought for a second to change our minds."
Buoyed by Zionism and parental instinct, the couple next month will join two of their sons and nine grandchildren in Israel. This year, more than 3,500 American Jews like them will make aliyah, a Hebrew word that refers to the worldwide immigration of Jews to Israel.
Most of the olim, or emigrants, are making the trip en masse this summer in advance of the school year.
Even in times of peace, a handful of families postpone their trips for unknown reasons. But no one has canceled because of the violence in the Middle East, said Charley Levine, a spokesman for Nefesh B'Nefesh, a private nongovernmental group that organizes the mass trips from North America along with the quasigovernmental Jewish Agency for Israel.
"Some years we have Palestinian uprisings," Levine said. "Some years we have relative calm, and some years we have a war on the northern borders. It's that kind of country. The people that are coming ... their reasons are deeper and more eternal than headlines."
But the violence in Israel has motivated some to come back to the United States, particularly those who live close to the front lines.
Tampa's Leigh Fishman Barry moved to Israel in 2004. While studying there, she embraced Hasidism, got married and moved with her new husband to Safed, a small city on the northern border.
As missiles rained down on their neighborhood last month, the Barrys fled. Leigh brought their 10-month-old baby to Tampa. Her husband, a native Israeli, stayed behind in another city to care for his elderly mother.
"We're contemplating moving back to the United States," said Barry, 25. "Nothing serious yet. We're just a little freaked out right now."
Despite her fear, she draws inspiration from North American Jews who continue with their emigration plans.
"To me, true bravery is, with everything going on, they didn't bat their eyes," Barry said.
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Scholars say North American emigration to Israel is rising, fueled by a growing sense of Zionism, particularly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Groups like Nefesh B'Nefesh, whose sole mission is to promote North American aliyah, also have made immigration easier with loans and grants as well as help finding jobs and housing in Israel.
But some scholars worry that radical North American emigrants to Israel could stir up discontent among the general populace.
Some "people are immigrating almost purely for ideological reasons," said James F. Strange, a professor of religious studies at the University of South Florida. "This introduces an element that tends to radicalize the population and tends to polarize."
Boca Raton was the incubator for the most recent aliyah efforts in North America. Nfesh B'Nefesh, which means Jewish Souls United, was the brainchild of an associate rabbi at the Friedmans' shul, the Boca Raton Synagogue.
Levine and his organization say they have helped 10,000 Jews from the United States and Canada relocate to Israel since its founding in 2002. In the next decade, the group, funded by wealthy North American Jews, hopes to increase the number by tenfold. They claim a 99 percent retention rate and said 94 percent of adults seeking work have found jobs.
Potential immigrants can get loans that range from $8,000 for a single person to $22,000 for a family, Levine said. Loans are forgiven if the new immigrants remain in Israel for at least three years.
The Israeli government sweetens the pot. New immigrants receive free intensive Hebrew lessons, tax breaks on major purchases such as homes, cars and appliances and get help securing citizenship papers, driver's licenses and other documents.
The government also pays for a one-way ticket on an El Al chartered flight from New York to Tel Aviv.
Gilad and Hadassa Field, a Boca Raton couple with four young children who range in age from 2 months to 9 years, have been planning to move to Israel for a decade. The couple studied for a year in Israel after graduating from high school.
News of violence in Israel did little to dissuade the family, which boarded an Israel-bound plane last Wednesday.
"It wasn't a question of if, but when," said Hadassa Field, a 30-year-old special education teacher. "We knew we would go, and our kids knew we would go. They want to know why everybody else isn't moving too."
Before leaving, the Fields went on one last round of Americana, picking fruit in Maryland and touring historic Philadelphia, where Gilad's parents live.
Though parting from family and friends hurt, the Fields said their new country is filled with relatives: several siblings and a host of cousins, nieces and nephews. And in less than a year, Gilad's parents also will emigrate.
The couple expect to receive special blessings for moving during wartime. "We feel like it's the right thing to do," Hadassa said.
The Fields arrived at their new home in Beit Shemesh safely. "Things here are exciting and overwhelming," the couple said in an e-mail.
American families already in Israel say that even now, in a time of unrest, the olim are doing the right thing.
"We don't see rockets," said Abe Augenbraun, a stock market researcher who emigrated with his wife and three children from Boca Raton to Modi'in in 2004. "We don't hear explosions. As a whole, I think it's safer living here than it is in America."
Augenbraun said he no longer worries when his son plays unsupervised or doesn't quite make it home on time. And he permits his teenage daughter to go to the mall in the city alone - something he wouldn't consider in the United States.
It's a lifestyle that Dunedin's Michael White, whose oldest son is an Israeli paratrooper, carefully considers.
"I keep a watch on the Israel real estate market just to see what I can afford," said White, who has another son who also wants to live in Israel. "If both my sons are there, and I have any hope of grandchildren, there's no way I would be that far away."
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The Friedmans have been planning to relocate to Israel since last November, a few months after their second son moved his family abroad.
The couple has much to do before their flight leaves on Sept. 5. They will visit friends and family, including an extended reunion with their youngest son, Howard, a podiatrist in Teaneck, N.J., who has five sons but, so far, no plans to emigrate.
The couple also hope to stop at their parents' graves in Baltimore.
And there's the shopping list. Dorothy plans to take her two sons Hershey's Miniatures and Thomas' English Muffins. She'll bring powdered milk to make her signature peanut butter honey puffs for her grandchildren.
Meanwhile, Dorothy's husband, Simmy, watches Fox News and scours Israeli newspapers and the Internet. No matter the day's headlines, there's no turning back.
They've got an apartment in Modi'in in a new 11-story high-rise. It has 2½ baths and four bedrooms. One of them is a safe room outfitted to withstand attacks, Dorothy Friedman pointed out nonchalantly as she examined her new floor plans.
"We're moving on to a new phase in our life, and yet another adventure," she said. "And, we're not scared."
Sherri Day can be reached at email@example.com or 813 226-3405.
WHAT: Permanent emigration to Israel.
WHO: 3,500 mostly middle-class, Orthodox Jews
FROM: 32 states and five Canadian provinces. More than 60 percent are from New York or New Jersey. This year, 96 Floridans are scheduled to move to Israel, ranking the state fourth in total numbers of 2006 emigrants. Most Floridian emigres come from South Florida, which is home to a large concentration of Jews.
AVERAGE AGE OF ADULTS: 35
OLDEST EMIGRANT: 92
YOUNGEST: 2 months
SETTLE IN: 135 Israeli cities including Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Modi'in, Ra'anana and Tel Aviv.
Source: Nefesh B'Nefesh
IN THE MIDEAST
- The cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah held for a second day on Tuesday.
- The international community scrambles to put together a fortified U.N. peacekeeping force for southern Lebanon. Meanwhile, hundreds of Israeli soldiers leave Lebanon as part of a partial withdraw.