Immigrants Celebrate Their 'Aliyahversaries’

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Ask Western immigrants when they moved to Israel and they can probably tell you the exact date, down to the hour the plane touched down at Ben-Gurion airport and their new lives as Israeli citizens began.

It has become fashionable in recent years for immigrants − especially younger ones who live in international hubs like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem − to celebrate this date, which many refer to as their “aliyahversary.” ‏(“Aliyah,” which comes from the Hebrew root meaning “to ascend,” refers to when a Jew immigrates to Israel under the Law of Return.‏) Many immigrants surveyed by Haaretz say they mark the occasion, often by hitting the local pub with friends. Some, like Samuel Green, have found more creative ways to do so.

“I have a big Mizrahi dance party in my flat in Tel Aviv,” says Green, who immigrated from London on June 21, 2010. “We play the greatest of the Mizrahi canon, as well as more modern stuff. It’s very festive.” ‏(Perhaps too festive: his parties have been shut down the past two years by police responding to noise complaints, Green admits.‏)

Immigrants should celebrate their aliyahversaries, and with gusto, Green argues, because a successful aliyah is a real achievement, in light of the hurdles that immigrants face upon arrival.

“Moving from one country to another is not the easiest thing to do, and perhaps because of the ideological baggage that comes with aliyah, it’s even harder for [immigrants to Israel] to make it,” Green says. “So I feel like I should celebrate every year that I’m here.”

Last month, Joel Haber marked his fourth aliyahversary and his 42nd birthday, which happen to be a week apart, in the company of dozens of friends at a bar in Jerusalem. The joint celebration was meaningful, he says, because he feels like he was reborn when he landed in Israel.

“This is a new life for me,” says Haber, a former screenwriter from New Jersey who now works as a licensed tour guide and goes by the nickname “Fun Joel.”

“My decision to move to Israel was one of the best I’ve ever made. What better thing is there to celebrate than that?”

While several recent immigrants spoke of their aliyahversary as just another excuse to have a party, there are those for whom it resonates a little deeper.

Maya Dolgin, a 24-year-old native of Long Island, says that August 23 − the day that she became an Israeli citizen in 2010 − represents “an occasion to reflect on the past year and to celebrate the victories you’ve had,” as well as to set goals for the following year.

The aliyahversary phenomenon has really taken off, according to Rebecca Berger of the immigrant assistance organization Nefesh B’Nefesh.

“Over the years, we have found that [immigrants] like to mark their aliyah date in creative and meaningful ways,” says Berger. “Some even commemorate it by coming to our aliyah arrival ceremonies to welcome other fellow [immigrants] and relive the experience.”

Other popular ways to celebrate include eating out at a fancy restaurant, sponsoring kiddush at a synagogue and exploring the Land of Israel.

Chaim Ford marked his aliyahversary for three years in a row by taking weekend trips with friends he met on his aliyah flight from London and in Hebrew class at Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem. They went whitewater rafting on the Jordan River one year and floated on the Dead Sea another year.

“We wanted to be able to see more of the country we’re now living in,” says the 34-year-old Ford. It has been hard to keep up that tradition since the friends got married and started families, he says, but the group did congregate last year for their fifth anniversary at a Jerusalem restaurant that they used to frequent as ulpan students.

Veteran immigrants also celebrate their aliyahversaries, though they tend to do so less frequently than more recent arrivals.

“I used to celebrate every year,” says Judy Ann Cohen, a native of Davenport, Iowa, who landed in Israel 42 years ago. “Then we got to 25 years and I said, enough, we’ll do it every five years.”

Cohen described one of her more memorable aliyahversary parties, which was held in her Jerusalem home in January 1991 and served as a reminder of what it truly means to be an Israeli living in a conflict-prone region.

“It was during the Gulf War and people came to the party with their gas masks,” Cohen recalls. “There was a siren that night, so we put on our gas masks and went up to our neighbor’s sealed room. That was interesting.”

Next week, New York native Sara Levavi will celebrate her third aliyahversary. The last two years she hosted dinner parties in her Tel Aviv apartment because “I feel like that’s more personal and intimate than going to a bar.” Now based in Haifa, the 27-year-old plans to make brunch for her friends, a group that includes other immigrants and native-born Israelis.

What do her Israeli friends think about the aliyahversary?

“They think it’s a funny idea,” Levavi says. “At the same time, I think that Israelis are always kind of impressed by people who make aliyah.”

As for whether or not it is customary to give gifts at an aliyahversary party, Levavi says: “People don’t know what the etiquette is. One year someone bought me a pair of mugs that are blue and white. It was thoughtful, but I don’t expect presents.”

Revelers at Samuel Green’s Mizrahi dance party in June of last year. Photo courtesy.
Maya Dolgin, left, and Rebecca Baskin celebrate their aliyahversary together at the Jerusalem Beer Festival in August. Photo courtesy.

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