* From: West Orange, New Jersey (born in Philadelphia, grew up in Cherry Hill). Tamar went to Kellman Academy for elementary school and Maayanot for high school. Her family davens at Congregation Ohr Torah.
* Graduate of Stern College for Women, Judaic studies
* Now living in Givat Mordechai, Jerusalem
* Married to Gidon Ben Tzvi
When did you first know you wanted to make aliyah?
I’ve wanted to make aliyah since I was four years old. When I finished high school, and was considering what to do next, I unfortunately was unable to go to seminary in Israel. My family had gone through many transitions since I was little, and it was not time for me to go through another one. I had davened so so hard and truly felt like Moshe Rabbeinu when he could not go into Israel. I had been wanting to make aliyah since Israel’s 50th birthday and had worked hard to become more religious, and I just felt “why can everyone else go but I can’t; look how hard I am trying, God.”
Instead, I went to Stern after finishing high school, getting a degree in Judaic studies. Throughout my time there, I never thought about not making aliyah. Despite all of the challenges in getting to Israel, it had been a dream of mine since I was little, and I was not going to give up on that dream.
How has your acclimation to Israel been? How has the social and employment adjustment been coming with an American college degree?
I have lived in Israel for a little more than one and a half years and have moved nine times; I had various jobs the first year, and this year I have been working from home. It wasn’t easy at first, but I have slowly started to really pick up on my Hebrew and I have started to understand society better as well.
The first year was insane and a half with all the moves, dating, understanding the system, lack of Hebrew … it was not a year I ever want to repeat or wish upon anyone else. Since we have been married, though, life has been amazing and surreal and I wish everyone a life like the one we live.
When did you officially declare aliyah and receive Israeli citizenship?
I knew coming in I was going to declare aliyah, but my parents did not want me to declare right away, to give me a chance to make sure I could “make it” before committing. Within a few months I decided to declare aliyah within Israel via Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Guided Aliyah department, officially becoming an Israeli citizen on December 27, 2015.
I declared aliyah because financially it was becoming tough through my apartment moves, and I needed to start getting the benefits of making aliyah. I also had no doubt I was staying here, as I had met my husband three months before and we knew we were getting married and staying in Israel. The day I officially made aliyah was very meaningful, but I knew it was just a government formality; I really celebrate and view September 2, the day I landed in Israel, as my true aliyah day. (I also was the last one called in my group, and so I had to wait three hours and ended up missing my sister’s baby shower—not the best first encounter with Israeli bureaucracy.)
How did you meet your husband?
I am happily married to Gidon Ben Tzvi, who went to YU the same exact four years as I was in Stern, and made aliyah two weeks before me. I was not currently dating and he had other options and was not so interested in me, but our shadchan, a great guy from my community in West Orange, was insistent and so we went on the date. By the end of the first date I had this feeling of “I just want to hold your hand”; although we were both shomer negia and would not touch until married, I knew it was him I wanted to marry, and by our fourth date we both told each other we wanted to get married. One and a half years of knowing him and I can honestly say that we are best friends. We got married September 2016 in Lakewood because most of our close friends were there, as well as family. I think that despite all the struggles of my aliyah, moving nine times, trying to support myself and the craziness with the job hunt, I really believe that without him I would not have been able to do it.
Where do you live now? Why did you choose to live there?
I currently live in Givat Mordechai, Jerusalem. We decided to move here since it was a nice, varied-hashkafa and mixed Anglo/Israeli community that was not so city-like, despite being a 15-minute bus ride to the Central Bus Station and City Center areas. I have never been much of a city person and Givat Mordechai is in the middle of Jerusalem, but you feel like you are in a suburb with the beautiful Emek HaTzvaim as our backyard. It’s also down the road from my husband’s yeshiva Torat Shraga and YU’s Gruss Kollel, where we had a nice amount of couple friends from the previous year and thought it would be a smooth transition; the stability was especially important because in my first year of aliyah I had moved nine times. The adjustment was really just as planned and it has been so nice being a part of both the Givat Mordechai and Gruss communities.
Where are you currently working? How has the adjustment to working in Israel been?
I have been working with a Judaica store in the U.S. for the past eight months to help build their website. It’s really nice to get acclimated to Israel while working. It was an adjustment to live in Israel and get married altogether, so having a job where I could work from home and make my own hours made things much easier.
Do you have a lot of family in Israel?
Yes, there are six kids in my family and four of us live in Israel. I have a brother in the IDF, a married sister in the Gush and a married brother in Givat Shmuel. Our parents and two remaining siblings are still in America.
What has been the biggest highlight of your life in Israel so far?
I think it’s safe to say meeting the man of my dreams was the best moment to ever happen to us in Israel!
Where do you see yourself in 30 years from now?
In 30 years I see us with a bunch of kids, maybe even some grandkids, living in Yehuda or Shomron. We’ll be building the Jewish future together, continuing to help others, bettering ourselves religiously and helping many live in Israel, although I hope Mashiach comes way before then!
By Tzvi Silver/JLNJ Israel