Group hopes to smooth way for those planning ‘aliyah’

BY KEREN DOUEK, STAFF WRITER

When Oz Ben-Shmuel moved to St. Louis temporarily, approximately three years ago, it occurred to him that the community might benefit from having a resource he had found very helpful when he first made aliyah in 1981. At the time, Ben-Shmuel had participated in a chug aliyah — a group of like-minded people considering or planning for aliyah — in Chicago.

“From the three years I have been living in St. Louis, what I have seen is that when someone moves to Israel they just sort of disappear,” Ben-Shmuel said. “There is no real communal send-off for them.”

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Ben-Shmuel has set up a St. Louis chug aliyah to give others in the Jewish community the support that he found so helpful when he made his move.

“If the St. Louis Jewish community believes that support for Israel is important, what more ultimate support for Israel is there than actually picking up and moving there and being part of the Israeli society? That is the height of Zionist ideals. So if the community supports Zionist ideals, they should be supporting those people and encouraging people to make aliyah,” he said.

Stuart Klamen, a member of the chug aliyah, made aliyah last year, but came back to St. Louis for a while. He is planning on going back to Israel soon, but in the meantime has caught one of the chug aliyah meetings and said he thinks “it is a great thing.”

“It’s nice to have something organized in St. Louis,” Klamen said.

While Klamen is from St. Louis, he said that when he was planning his aliyah he dealt with Chicago and with Israel directly, “and nothing really inside of St. Louis, so it’s nice for them to have that now. I’m sure it would have helped with the process.”

Ben-Shmuel said he believes there are actually a lot of people in St. Louis who think about making aliyah.

Esther Zimand and her husband, Rabbi Ephraim Zimand, are a prime example, as their goal is to make aliyah in the summer of 2007.

Esther Zimand said she was “very pleased” to hear of the chug aliyah.

“We had never heard of such a thing in St. Louis before,” she said. “The timing is very appropriate for us now because we really are seriously working on it, and so therefore we knew there would be helpful people coming to town and helpful people to work with through the process.”

Zimand, who has watched two children make aliyah with their families, said that while the aliyah process is exciting, it is also scary.

“It is a very scary process,” she said, “and I think that is no matter what age you are. I know for my children it was a scary process. I’ve seen how well they have adapted, and for us it has been a dream, and it is still scary.”

Zimand said she hopes the chug aliyah can help with the process, “and how one goes about doing it, things we need to do here to prepare for it, once we get there what things they can help us with, to help us understand the systems — the banking system and the health system. We don’t need information about employment or school, but any other social adaptations that we will need when we get there, and also the fact that we are looking into buying an apartment, and they can probably be very helpful with that process as well and help us understand the differences between the Israeli system and the American system.”

Klamen said the first difficulty olim (immigrants) should expect to encounter when making aliyah is adapting to the language. He said he had difficulty adapting even though he knows the language.

“Still, to this point, I could probably use more Ulpan for professional purposes,” he said. “I still feel much more comfortable professionally in English than in Hebrew, although I am fluent in Hebrew.”

Klamen also said that olim are generally told to expect it to take six to nine months before getting a job in Israel, “and maybe even longer.”

“I went to Israel with a plan, and people were always asking me what my plan B was. I said I didn’t have a plan B. Of course, in the end, I had to go with the plan B.”

The chug has had two meetings so far — an organizational meeting to gauge the response and start organizing the group, and a kickoff meeting where Wendy Keter, the Midwest regional director of the Israel Aliyah Center, gave an overview of the rights that new olim would have in Israel — and has three more programs planned for February and March.

On Feb. 1, there will be a meeting specifically geared toward doctors considering aliyah. The speaker will be Dr. Morris Hartstein, who took a one-year leave of absence from his job in 2004 to live in Israel with his family, became certified to practice medicine in Israel and found a job in Israel while his family learned Hebrew and adjusted to life in Ra’anana. The Hartsteins are now in their second year in Israel and deciding whether to make the move permanent.

The meeting will be held at the home of Dr. Elan and Andria Simckes at 139 Ladue Oaks Drive, and is open to everyone but particularly geared to doctors who are considering the move.

The next event, on Feb. 15, will be a major meeting for the entire community.

Nefesh B’nefesh, which works to revitalize North American Aliyah by providing immigrants with financial grants, employment resources, social services, expedited government processing and chartered aliyah flights, will be sending two representatives to the Feb. 15 meeting — one specializing in employment and the other in different absorption issues.

“We are hoping to attract a large crowd of people — people who have even just remotely thought about the possibility of moving to Israel at any stage in their life,” Ben-Shmuel said. The meeting will take place at the Federation building. “A lot of information will be given there.”

The chug aliyah is planning a third meeting and hopes to bring a standup comedian from Israel who is a former American who made aliyah.

“It is a standup comedy act about what happens to a person when they move to a new society and have to learn a new language, and it is quite entertaining,” Ben-Shmuel said.

The details of that meeting are still being worked out.

Ben-Shmuel said the purpose of the chug aliyah is to see to it that people who choose to actively make aliyah “receive the support and admiration of the community as a whole.”

“The chug aliyah was started with the intention of raising the profile of the community’s awareness of Israel as an alternative place to live,” Ben-Shmuel said, “and as a lifestyle decision which is not out of reach. If a family is interested in providing a good, solid Jewish education for their children and Jewish background for their children, there is no place easier to ensure the continuity of the next generation than in Israel, where Jewish holidays are national holidays and the places that are learned about in Bible class are places that you can actually live in.”

For more information on the chug aliyah contact Oz Ben-Shmuel at 314-727-2123 or e-mail [email protected]

Keren Douek is a staff writer and can be reached at [email protected]