Before opening Rabbi Mordechai Weiss’s new book about making aliyah, You Come for One Reason But Stay for Another: Making the Odyssey to Israel (Devora Publishing), I was a bit wary. The cover looked boring. More importantly, I, like Rabbi Weiss, the former executive director of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County, had already trekked the path of new immigrant to Israel. Although he, unlike me, came with five teenagers in tow, I couldn’t help wondering what he could possibly tell me that I did not already know.
Three pages into the book, I was already laughing out loud. Indeed, I had shared many of the same experiences as Rabbi Weiss, but his wit and candor kept me chuckling throughout most of the book.
Based on his e-mail correspondence with members of his former Teaneck-and-Miami tribe, You Come for One Reason is the story of Rabbi Weiss’s journey, a Teaneck Chabad rabbi for 21 years who decided to lead his family of ten children to the Land of Milk and Honey, in the middle of the Judean desert.
Unlike Rabbi Weiss, I made aliyah before the advent of Nefesh B’Nefesh. Those were the days of disgruntled Misrad Hapanim (Ministry of the Interior) workers, of obnoxious clerks and employees who grew impatient with your limited Hebrew despite the fact that their parents had also emigrated with newcomers’ limited Hebrew, never mind that their parents had also been immigrants with little of no Hebrew to speak of.
In his book, Rabbi Weiss recalls an early encounter with the Ministry of Education in Israel, diplomas must be “certified” before they can be accepted by the country’s universities or other academic programs. After a lengthy process, he finally managed to procure his high school transcript but the Israeli clerk took one look at his diploma and declared it unacceptable. “Your name is handwritten, not typed,” she told him.
Without missing a beat, Rabbi Weiss responded, “Those were the days before typewriters.”
Born in 1959, Rabbi Weiss surely attended high school after the advent of the typewriter, but to the clerk, who remembered what Israel was like at that time, well it sounded reasonable.
That ease and candor typifies Rabbi Weiss’s navigation through new oleh life in Israel, so much so that readers may be excused if they come to believe he is glossing over too many of the details and making light of the true difficulties he – and other new immigrants – must endure. These include a teenage joy ride that ended in the total loss of a van; children who came with him and his wife to Israel but decided to return to the US; and engaging in several career changes in a very short period of time, knowing he had, by then, 12 children to support.
But reading his book, it is possible to believe he really does maintain this even keel approach to life. Neither foibles – his own or others’ – nor life’s roller coaster ride ruffle his feathers.
Rabbi Weiss, of course, is not the only new Israeli seeking to morph the trove of aliyah experiences into a meaningful book or blog. Zahava Englard’s Settling for More: From Jersey to Judea, Laura Ben David’s Moving Up: An Aliyah Journal, and countless new-olim blogs bear witness to the need to chronicle the experience of moving to live in Israel.
The element that makes Rabbi Weiss’s book unique is that in addition to his subtle humor and quick wit, he made aliyah with his intrepid wife Ellie, and their ten children, all at different stages of development. Between their married daughter who was already living in Israel, and their three-year-old just entering gan, there were eight others, including a ten-year-old,who yearned for US baseball and a 15-year-old with learning disabilities. After moving to Israel, they had two more children.
Having made aliyah as a young single woman, I know how hard it is to navigate through Israel’s healthcare system, job market, and school structure. Most olim do it progressively, moving to a new stage as small children grow. But Rabbi Weiss had to attack all of it head on, at all stages of the game, reflecting the various stages of his children, and that is pretty remarkable.
His success throughout the process is no doubt due to the extraordinary optimism that exemplifies his overall approach to life in general and living in Israel specifically. Take, for example, a particularly frustrating encounter with the Ministry of Transportation. Having been told that he must go to Jerusalem to pick up a form which he needed in order to obtain an Israeli driver’s license, he traveled to the Holy City, only to discover that he would not be able to get the form because the office was “on strike.”
Instead of ranting, or packing his bags, he tells his readers the moment offered him “an epiphany”: Getting anything done in Israel was going to be like “playing a big board game.” “In this real-life board game, any number of goals needed to be reached. I would roll the dice and each time move my piece one step closer to attaining my goal. As in a board game, sometimes I’d be required to move a few paces back. With enough patience and a dose of persistence, I’d reach one goal, ever ready to move on to the next one,” he says.
A truly brilliant insight. Anyone hoping to make it as a new oleh, should adopt Rabbi Weiss’s policy, of seeing life in Israel as one giant game.
You Come for One Reason But Stay for Another offers a detailed description of an American’s new life in Israel. It is humorous, entertaining and ultimately uplifting and satisfying.
Review from the Jewish Voice can be found here.