This year in Jerusalem - as Israeli citizens
With studied reflection, new immigrants arrive in the holy land for their first Passover as Israeli citizens.
As the country's new immigrants prepare to mark their first Passover in Israel as Israeli citizens, many English-speaking olim are sorting through a range of thoughts and emotions - from wide-eyed exuberance and national pride to studied reflection.
"Passover, story-wise, is about leaving a place, but it's also about coming to a place," says 36-year-old Adam Ingalls, a professional photographer and set designer from Los Angeles, California, who now lives in Jerusalem. "That's an extremely important distinction for me, personally."
Dean Goodson, a 19-year-old native of Cape Town, South Africa, now participating in an ulpan program with a dozen of his South African peers in the northern kibbutz of Ma'agan Michael, will celebrate the festival with family members in Kfar Sava. "The symbolic part for me is not the slavery - I was not a slave - but rather, entering the Land of Israel and going back to the Promised Land," says Goodson. "It's not so much the religious thing. It's the fact that I'm home."
Accepted with open arms
Twenty-two-year-old Glenn Heilbronn, a native Californian who was raised in Toronto by his adoptive parents, visited Israel six times prior to his aliyah. Now mentoring a younger Israeli cousin who recently lost his father to cancer, Heilbronn has been asked by his seder hosts to discuss the festival's theme of freedom from slavery and its relevance to his own life.
"The experience of liberation is finally being able to be the person I have always wanted to be and being accepted into a country with open arms," says Heilbronn, a resident of the northern kibbutz of Mishmar Ha'emek.
Heilbronn says he recently experienced his first "truly observant" Shabbat at the home of a modern Orthodox immigration counselor and her family. "Here there is a sense of brotherhood and family that I don't think I could experience anywhere else in the world."
That sense of belonging and having a shared history is of particular importance to many new immigrants this Passover season.
Shana Yakobi, 37, of Modi'in, says the buildup to Passover in Israel is a stark contrast from the experience her family knew in their hometown of Gaithersburg, Maryland. "What's special is that my kids now know all the songs," says Yakobi, a project manager and a married mother of three, whose children range in age from 1 to 8. "They never had a real formal Jewish education. I'm just seeing it through their eyes."
'People just understand'
Sharon Wilner, the daughter of Israeli parents who has lived in Boston, Massachusetts, and Farmington Hills, Michigan, notes a similar sense of belonging as she celebrates her first spring in Israel. "A lot of people don't realize what an experience it is to be in Israel for the holidays," says Wilner, 26, who is pursuing a master's degree in organizational behavior and development at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. "You really feel it. You don't have to explain it to everyone. People just understand where you come from."
While the attention of new immigrants is squarely focused on the seven-day holiday, which begins at sundown, the holiday for many is merely a reprieve from trials and tribulations associated with settling into a new country.
"I am still trying to set up my practice," says Devorah Kur, a Ra'anana-based reflexologist, who arrived in December with her husband and four of their five daughters, ages 10 to 17, from Johannesburg, South Africa. She is attempting to balance ulpan classes and motherhood, while her husband, a jeweler, has yet to start his business.
Laurie Gates' aliyah in August from Skokie, Illinois, coincided with her 50th birthday. She is looking for part-time work in the custom jewelry business, while her husband, Ephraim, seeks a position in analytic chemistry. They will be joined at their Beit Shemesh home by their daughter and son-in-law from Jerusalem. "We feel like we are in the place where we belong to be and need to be and want to be," says Gates, who notes last year's seder in the United States concluded with their own addendum to the haggada's signature coda, "Next year in Jerusalem": For the Gates family, it was "Next year in Beit Shemesh."
Even as Israelis speak of a possible showdown with Iran, Gates and her husband say that they feel at peace. "My husband often says that here 'you're directly under God's protection.' We have no regrets," says Gates.