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For the past couple months, I’ve written about the waves of immigration, or aliyot, to Israel. It began with the First Aliyah in 1882, and continued until the Fifth Aliyah ending in 1939. The Yemenite, Ethiopian, and Russian Aliyot took place after Israel was established and continued until the 1990’s. All of the people who moved here in these aliyot believed in establishing a thriving Jewish state. They built a truly beautiful society that is amazingly multidimensional. So, what more could I possibly write more about when it comes to aliyot?…. MY ALIYAH!!! So now for the last post of the Aliyah series, here’s a private tour guide’s Aliyah.

Tel-Aviv.43 A Private Tour Guide’s Aliyah
Guiding along Rothschild Street in Tel Aviv. (Photo by Samantha Israel Tours).

So here it goes! A private tour guide’s Aliyah…

It all began when I started going to a Jewish summer camp in 2000. I began learning about Israel from the Israelis coming to work at camp. And I almost immediately was intrigued and wanted to learn as much as possible. As the summers went on and I learned more, I wanted more and more to visit Israel.

 

Of course, it wasn’t so easy to convince my parents that it would be safe for me to travel around the country. There were plenty of things to be concerned about: the ideology behind the program, the itinerary, the staff, not to mention the safety (which was very much at the forefront of many people’s minds in the early 2000’s. To show I was serious, I wrote up everything my parents could possibly want to know a trip to Israel…. They would have to discuss this and think it over.

 

But it worked, and in the summer of 2005 I made it to Israel for the first time. The minute I saw the land of Israel from the boat we took from Cyprus I knew something big was about to happen. I spent four weeks in Israel exploring all the different regions and people. I had fallen in love…. big time. Not with a specific person, but with the State of Israel.  I loved the food, I loved how caring Israelis were, I loved the Hebrew I learned, and I loved the connections between the history of Israel and the Jewish People and the land of Israel itself.

Group-picture-of-Mount-Herzl A Private Tour Guide’s Aliyah
Birthright Group picture on Mount Herzl (Photo by Samantha Israel Tours).

But I did come back! (A Private Tour Guide’s Aliyah is underway)

During the summer 2005 trip, the principle of a high school semester in Israel came to speak with us. How he presented the program was genius. Instead of telling us all the great reasons why we should come on the program and how it will change our life and all those warm, fuzzy feelings, he told us ten reasons why we shouldn’t come on the program. With every reason, I sat there wide- eyed, and thought to myself, “Well, that’s not me. So maybe I should come to Israel for a semester of high school.” Yeah, good luck convincing the parents to allow me to come again only six months later.

 

I spent four amazing months on Kibbutz Tzuba learning Hebrew, Jewish history, and general education classes. We went on trips around the country, and to Poland, and on week long hikes. These four months changed my life. I made friends that I am still very close to ten years later. I began learning a second language, and expanded my understanding in Jewish history. But really, more than anything else, I was laying down my roots in Israel. And this was only the beginning.

 

Then I came back again!

And this time I stayed for a year, exactly 365 days. I spent two semesters at Tel Aviv University taking classes for my majors back at the University of Massachusetts—Amherst. But the classes not only fulfilled the Political Science and Judaic Studies degrees I earned, but better equipped me with tools and knowledge I would need with engaging in Israel advocacy the following year. I went out and met Israelis, and I learned how they lived their daily lives. I did NOT live in a bubble at the University.

 

Over winter break I volunteered with a program helping out on IDF bases. This opened my eyes to the service young men and women have to do to protect Israel. While for three years I had gone off to college and had a grand old time enjoying my late teens and early twenties, Israelis the very same age as I were putting on IDF uniforms and defending a country that I had grown to love so much.

IMG_0311 A Private Tour Guide’s Aliyah
Volunteering for the I.D.F. (Photo by Samantha Israel Tours).

Over the summer I returned to that IDF volunteer program, before participating in a photography seminar. I don’t know if I can saw it helped. I still took a lot of fuzzy pictures afterwards.

 

Many North Americans come to Israel before making Aliyah on a ‘pilot program’ to check if living in Israel is actually a viable option. While I may not aware of it then, my year in Tel Aviv was my pilot program. By this point, those roots I had planted here in Israel were running deep.

 

I made it to Israel one more time before making it my permanent home.

This time I came for winter break of my senior year of college. It had been a tough year in terms of Israel advocacy on campus. A week before I arrived in Israel, students from the BDS protested an event we held on campus. A month after I would return to school an even more violent protest would break out.

Those protests often ran very personally for me. How could people be so disconnected from what was happening to believe such terrible things about my friends and a place I had grown to love so much?

 

More than anything, this trip was the deep breath I needed to remember what I was advocating for. The moment that still stands out for me from this trip was thinking about all of this while sitting on Tel Aviv’s beach and watching the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea. In the end, I took that deep breath, wrote ‘I love Israel’ in the sand, and then left to take the bus to Be’er Sheva.

 

September 12, 2011 (A Private Tour Guide’s Aliyah Date)

On September 12, 2011, my dream came true. One of El Al’s 747 Boeing planes landed at Ben Gurion Airport, and I got off it as one of Israel’s newest immigrants. A Private Tour Guide’s Aliyah became a true story All I had with me was three suitcases, 3,000 dollars, and a smile that no Israeli bureaucrat was going to wipe of my face. As of that moment I was, and am, Israeli!

IMG_0727 A Private Tour Guide’s Aliyah
My Aliyah date, September 13, 2011. (Photo by Samantha Israel Tours).

Since that day, life hasn’t always been easy. I didn’t know Hebrew at a level in which I could work speaking it. Despite my numerous visits to Israel beforehand, there were still things that made absolutely no sense to me. My accent in the little Hebrew I did know was heavy. It would take five years for it to be significantly less (my “r” in Hebrew still gives me away).

 

To top it off, I had to figure out things that every college student has to figure out how to do upon graduation:

  • How to open my own bank account,
  • How to get health insurance,
  • Find a job, and
  • How to be a real human being.

 

But I stayed focused on succeeding here, and in the five years and two months since living in the State of Israeli I have indeed succeeded quite a bit. I speak Hebrew, took a two- year tour guiding course, passed state tests, and began a tour guiding career. I have met some truly amazing people while living in Israel, who have inspired me in many different ways. And I have explored and lived that Israeli mosaic of people, practices, and Judaisms that I’ve referred in previous blogs. This private tour guide has met the man of her dreams, and married the greatest man in Israel, and the world.

 

I can summarize a private tour guide’s Aliyah in a story of the best day of my life in Israel.

I was on my way to meet a friend for dinner. She had come all the way from the States, and this was the only time we both had time to see each this visit. I didn’t want to be late. Standing at the bus station, the wait for the bus arrived dragged on. I saw a shuttle pull up, so I asked if he went to where I needed to go, he said yes, and I jumped on. It quickly became obvious that this shuttle, however, did not go to where I was meeting my friend. I jumped off at the next bus stop only to miss the bus by a couple of seconds.

 

Frustrated, I decided to simply take a taxi, and ran over to the taxi station. I told the driver, of Eastern European descent, to take me to the “Big Fashion” shopping mall.  His friend, another taxi driver, but of Moroccan descent, told “Be careful. He’ll take you to Eilat.” I turned to him with a smile and asked “Why not? What’s wrong with Eilat?”

 

He laughed one of those full, hearty laughs, and said to his friend, “You see, she’s Israeli.”

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Samantha Ben Avraham
Follow Samantha Ben Avraham:

Private Tour Guide

Samantha is a private tour guide in Israel. Her passion is to bring Israel to you on a personal and interesting level. From guiding University groups to Birthright trips to private family tours, Samantha brings Israel to you!

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