Saturday, May 06, 2006

At home in Israel, taking life as it comes

Tulsa World
By BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer


JERUSALEM, Israel -- A Tulsa family's move to Israel more than two years ago was part of an ancient Jewish practice called "making aliyah," returning to the Jewish homeland.

Making aliyah has been in the Jewish psyche since the children of Israel, led by Moses, returned to Palestine 3,200 years ago after 400 years of slavery in Egypt.

Jews also returned to their homeland after being taken into captivity in Babylon about 600 B.C.

And in modern times, first a trickle and then a flood of Jews from all over the world returned from nearly 2,000 years of dispersion after the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Aliyah is the Hebrew word for immigration to the land of Israel. It means ascending, and has a spiritual as well as a physical context, signifying identification with the Jewish people and their historic link to the land of Israel.

Larry and Carol Feldman, their son Seth, 21, and daughter Amira, 16, met with a reporter Sunday evening in the lobby of a hotel near the walls of Jerusalem's

old city to talk about their personal aliyah.

"It's been a riot," Larry said.

The Feldmans' decision to move to Israel came at a time when they were looking for a life change. Larry had sold his dental practice in Tulsa and was doing some property investing.

When the idea of moving to Israel came up, it immediately appealed to the Feldmans, and they acted on it quickly.

"We'd visited Israel many times and always found it rewarding," Larry said. "The idea of moving here was a beautiful dream."

They are glad they made the decision, but the reality is far different from the dream, he said.

"We were naive."

Said Carol: "We always came as tourists. Living here is much different. People in Tulsa don't realize how easy life is there. In Israel, it can take two or three hours to cash a check."

Their life in Israel continues to be challenging.

While daughter Amira quickly picked up Hebrew, the new language has been tough for the parents -- in their 50s -- both to speak and to write. It is entirely different from Western languages, using a different alphabet and reading from right to left.

Jobs are difficult to get without good language skills. Larry is doing some land investment but does not plan to practice dentistry.

Life in Israel is expensive. The Feldmans sold their 4,000-square-foot house in Tulsa for about $300,000 and are spending more than that for an 800-square-foot flat in Tel Aviv.

But the pressure to "keep up with the Joneses" does not exist in Israel, Larry said. Life is more relaxed. More time is spent walking and socializing with neighbors.

The Israeli government provides good, free medical care.

The Feldmans now feel at home in Israel.

"This feels like my country," Carol said. "I've never felt this way before."

Larry agreed.

"Having a majority experience is important," he said. "You feel like you're among your own. But Tulsa feels like home too."

One member of the family strongly protested the move.

Amira said she hated the idea of leaving her friends in Tulsa just as she was going into high school, and leaving the only house she had ever known as home. She begged her parents not to move.

"But now I feel like I'm home in Israel. It's the best place for me," she said.

Some time after their move, Amira left Israel to go to a Jewish summer camp in Texas. As she headed back, she realized she was anxious to get home.

"She went to camp an American, and came back an Israeli," Larry said.

Amira said she loves it that teens in Israel have so much freedom.

"We can stay out 'til 6 a.m., and it's normal, and it's safe."

She is even looking forward to her mandatory two years of service in the army after high school.

Son Seth was a student at the University of Wisconsin when his family moved. He is spending his junior year studying in Jerusalem this year and plans to move to Israel some time after he graduates.

The Feldmans said they feel completely safe living in a country regularly attacked by suicide bombers.

Carol said she often walks home alone from friends' houses late at night without a concern. Parents have no fear to let their children stay out all night, because personal crimes are rare.

The religious breakdown in this 80 percent Jewish nation does not conform to U.S. Judaism.

In Tulsa, the Feldmans were members of Temple Israel, a Reform congregation. Now they attend a synagogue that would be described as traditional. And they are not there every Sabbath.

"In Tulsa, going to synagogue is a way to identify with your Jewishness," Larry said. Here, Judaism is practiced as part of the culture, in a less religious way.

Will the Feldmans ever return to the United States?

Larry shrugged.

"People in the United States feel like they have to plan all the details of their lives and their retirement. We're going to just take it as it comes," he said.

As for Amira, she plans to stay in Israel.

Itai Lavi, Israeli emissary to Tulsa whose job includes helping Americans who want to move to Israel, said Israel encourages immigration because of a belief that the nation is the homeland of all Jewish people.

Israelis also believe it is their duty to help Jews living in danger or poverty around the world to find better living conditions in Israel.

And, he said, the Jewish population in Israel is not growing fast enough, so immigration is needed to maintain a Jewish majority in the country.

He said one or two Tulsa families make aliyah each year.

Since 2002, 8,000 Jews from the U.S. and Canada have moved to Israel, Lavi said.

The government has an extensive program to help immigrants adjust to life in Israel.


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