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Home > Israel > Aliyah at 60-something

Aliyah at 60-something

Special to
September 22, 2000

JERUSALEM—My husband, Allen, and I recently celebrated our first anniversary. Not our first wedding anniversary, which we actually celebrated 40 years ago, but the first anniversary of our aliyah. A little more than one year ago - Thursday, Aug. 26, 1999, to be exact - we arrived in Israel - "young" retirees making aliyah at 60-something. And what a year it's been - filled with highs and lows, lots of challenges, some frustrations, but most of all, a sense of fulfillment.

Our first introduction to the life of new olim (immigrants) came right as we got off the plane. As we came through the door of the terminal, a gray-haired woman from the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) greeted us with a sign with our names. Volunteer Lynn Davison's sign also read, "welcome home."

One of AACI's primary purposes is to help new olim with their absorption into the country. Volunteers begin by meeting immigrants at the airport. With Davison's help, we completed the initial process at the Ministry of Absorption offices on the second floor of the airport within an hour - an almost unheard of record! Had we arrived a day earlier, though, when more than 1,000 immigrants were arriving from the former Soviet Union, there would have been long lines and the process would have taken much more time.

We left the airport as official new immigrants with our immigration certificate in hand, which opens the door to rights such as ulpan (Hebrew classes), housing, healthcare, importing belongings and buying major appliances and/or a car. Then it was into a cab paid for by the Jewish Agency, which underwrites a cab for all new olim to the destination of their choice. Two hours later we were on Kibbutz Meirav on Mount Gilboa, at the home of our son Hanan, his wife, Judy, and their three daughters. Artwork and signs in Hebrew and English adorned the front door: "Bruchim habaim," "Welcome."

A week later we moved to Jerusalem, where we stayed in an apartment hotel for a week until we rented a furnished apartment in the neighborhood of Rehavia. We wanted to do things slowly, since we know Americans who immigrated to Israel, bought an apartment immediately, and now feel they would prefer living in another neighborhood. We hope by taking our time, we may be able to minimize the number of mistakes we make.

Our lift was delivered in late September, and we began ulpan soon thereafter. Although we both went to afternoon Hebrew school many years ago, we learned only to read and write Hebrew, use the siddur (prayer book) and chumash (Bible) but never really learned to speak Hebrew. Our initial ulpan was five days a week, four-and-a-half hours a day. After Pesach, we changed to a non-intensive one - three days a week, three hours a day. Less pressure, and more relaxed.

However, learning to speak and understand a new language is a real challenge - especially at 60-something. We are trying hard, but we are struggling. We are currently taking a memory seminar and trying to apply some of the things we learn there to the process of learning Hebrew. Although we are heartened by the information that it actually does take older adults longer to learn new things, we are still frustrated by the fact that we can speak only easy Hebrew and are not able to easily understand Israelis other than our Hebrew teachers.

It's quite a put-down when our 3-year-old granddaughter frequently says, "Savta, lo nachon, lo nachon!" ("Grandma, that's not correct!") It certainly helps that many people speak English. But not everyone does. And, of course, posters on the street and the mail are in Hebrew, as are voice-mail messages at many offices. Our son and daughter-in-law receive many calls and faxes from us seeking help.

So far, our dealings with the Israeli system have been fairly easy: None of the horror stories that we heard about the bureaucracy has come to pass. But we have a tremendous will to succeed, and we are trying hard to remember that this is Israel, not the United States; that Israelis do things their way, not our way; and it helps to have a lot of savlanut, patience.

Our emotions have been at high pitch for much of the past year. The feeling of being here in Israel, not as tourists, but as Jews living in the Jewish homeland, is overwhelming. For much of our adult lives, we dreamed of the possibility of living here, of fulfilling the mitzvah of living in the land, being part of the land that God gave to the Jewish people and that Jews throughout the centuries yearned to return to.

We have recited the Shehechiyanu prayer numerous times since arriving - thanking God for bringing us to a particular season and making it possible for us to fulfill our longtime dream. And now, as we celebrate our second High Holiday season here, we offer prayers of thanksgiving and hope - for ourselves, for our family and friends, for Jews everywhere and for the land of Israel.

This is the first installment in a series looking at the challenges of making aliyah after 60. The next installment will appear when Phyllis' granddaughter learns not to correct her Grandma.

Phyllis Singer, former editor/general manager of The American Israelite in Cincinnati, resides in Jerusalem with her husband, Allen. Email her at

©, 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission.

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