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Everything you wanted to know #1: Snakes

… ie, Every Dumb Thing You Might NOT Have Wanted to Know About Aliyah, but I Did and This is My Blog So Here it Comes Anyway.

Here’s my question:

Olim in the north - just curious, have you ever seen a snake? Did you freak out??? Panicking a little here...

(p.s. This picture, taken from Wikimedia, is the most benign-looking shot I could find of the Israeli viper, aka צפע ארצישראלי, aka Vipera palaestinae… benign mostly because it’s just lying around, with no sense of scale, as opposed to being gigantic or deadly or whatnot.)

And in case you’re wondering why I’m worried – here in Ontario, we have exactly ONE species of venomous snake.  The red areas are where it lives.  The green area is where I live.  Far, far away.


So that’s why. 

Here’s the answer(s):

Responses from the five Israelis I know on Facebook:

  • Never ever ever ever saw a snake. Saw a turtle, scorpion (the black one) and spiders....
  • I did :) And I have killed numerous scorpions :)
  • Two neigbbours have been bitten by snakes. Both lived to tell the tale. I've only ever seen baby snakes.
  • My friend's dog was bitten by a snake and died from the bite. I have only seen one once. But we know they are out there....
  • I have seen snakes and scorpions and rodents and tortoises and mammals of all shapes and sizes. When you are out in nature you need to learn basic rules such as the correct way to turn over a rock( finding scorpions) and where and when you might come across a snake( they don't like the cold and they hibernate). The only poisonous snake we ever came across was right outside our vacation condo in Virginia. BTW, cats are the only known predator for snakes and scorpions in Israel and there are many that would love to have someone adopt them. [Note to self:  YES!  CATS, HERE WE COME!!!]
  • never saw one... in the whole week I've been here:)
  • They are here your not  [That one’s from my aging father-in-law in Ottawa, who is just discovering facebook]
  • Never seen one, thank G-d, but they do exist even in Beit Shemesh. A neighbor was bitten once outside our shul. She was treated and survived to get married and have a kid (so far).

There…Aren’t you glad I asked???

The paperwork begins…


This is just a minuscule sampling of the dozens of documents and testimonials we  have to get together in the weeks to come…

Here’s what they’re asking for:

For each of the 4 of us:
- Passport                
- Photograph of family member(s) making Aliyah                

Adults only:
- Entry and Exit Form                
- Proof of Living Overseas (for the past 7 years)                
- Health Declaration
- Passport Photos (please mail by post only!)

From Ted only:
- Accompanying Letter from the Applicant                
- Conversion Certificate                
- Accompanying Letter from one of the Officiating Rabbis                

From me, because of my complicated past:
- Court Order (custody)                
- Declaration of Unaccompanying Parent
- Declaration of Unaccompanying Ex-Spouse

(those last two are going to prove tough to get, but I hope the Death Certificate will suffice…)

- Civil Marriage Certificate
- Waiver of Confidentiality                
- Declaration of Family Obligations
- Financial Affidavit                
- Letter of Recommendation - from a community leader (not a relative), attesting to your character, contribution to the community, reasons for making Aliyah, etc.

Sheesh!  That’s a LOT of paperwork…

Our Aliyah Essay

Done!!!  After several months of fits and starts, we’re (meaning I’m) finished filling out the online NbN / Sochnut application form – at last!  Paying the $100 application fee felt like the “putting money where mouth is” milestone, but the biggest hurdle tonight was this 4000-character essay outlining why we want to make aliyah, and our detailed “post-aliyah plan.”

Oh, another milestone of this application form:  they asked for given names as they appear on all our Canadian legal documentation… but they also asked what name we prefer to use.  I filled in Hebrew names – Ted’s current name and my yet-to-be-revealed “aliyah” name.

Here’s our best attempt – written by me in close consultation with Ted.  Really, truly… I promise, he was sitting behind me and we were talking about it while I typed:


We may not be a typical “aliyah family,” but in middle age, we are creative, adaptable and flexible – and also, perhaps more than younger couples, better-equipped to deal with unusual situations and take them in stride. This year, we’re moving into a new stage in our lives with the graduation of our older children, and we’re ready to explore new worlds and push the envelope far beyond our day-to-day lives here in Canada.


My husband says, “when I was in Israel, I felt it was like a haven for the kind of life that I was trying to achieve.” Having just come out of the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, I [Jennifer] couldn’t help but notice how many times the machzor refers to “Israel” and “Zion” – not theoretical or metaphorical references, but concrete: it’s referring to an actual place, a place where we can live as Jews today fairly easily.

When I became religious years ago after growing up with a largely “spectator” type of religious approach, I wanted to make my Judaism real in every way possible. Aliyah was part of that plan, but more than 20 years later, I’m not there yet. God willing, this will be the year we make it happen.


At this early stage, to be honest, I have no idea where we’ll be staying immediately on arrival in Israel – hopefully somewhere in the North, according to our current plan. We are currently discussing our options, but it’s likely that one of us will go ahead or stay behind with the two younger children while the other takes care of technicalities of the move (packing, cleaning up the house here, etc).

This period, one of physical transition, will probably take the most creativity on both our parts, along with a willingness to be “up in the air” for a while as we settle details of housing, utilities, medical care, appliances, lift, paperwork, Internet/phone, bank accounts, etc.. This is probably when we’ll need the most support on the ground as well, and advice is always appreciated.

After our physical needs are taken care of (housing and food), our priority will be finding Ulpan / Hebrew opportunities for every family member. I believe the younger children (they will be 8 and 5) are too young for official Children’s Ulpan, but ideally there will be some type of Hebrew program immediately. If not, we will likely find a summer camp for them and hope they’ll pick up lots of Hebrew in a fun, social setting. We’ll also need to use our time during the summer to finalize arrangements for school and research possible chugim [activities] available nearby.

Ideally, we will be “settled” in our community, wherever we find ourselves, in time for the Tishrei chagim [fall holidays]. It would be fantastic to have friends or at least close acquaintances within the community and a synagogue where we are excited to be spending the chagim [holidays] themselves.

We are planning to have our older daughter (not making aliyah) in Israel for the year attending a seminary program, so God willing, she will be able to be at home with us for the chagim. I would like to make this transition as smooth as possible for her. That’s true for our other children, of course, but I believe younger children are probably more flexible, so I plan to work overtime to make sure the older kids feel loved and welcome in our new home.

We know we’re in for a tough couple of years, but easing the transition for all our children is and will remain our top priority – letting them know we are both having an adventure and fulfilling a dream – not just OUR dream, but God’s dream for the Jewish people.


It will be difficult to leave beloved family members behind in Canada. It will be difficult to navigate the many hurdles ahead, barriers of language and distance and money and culture, but we’re confident that we are ready to take on this amazing adventure and emerge as better, more fulfilled Jews and as a stronger, happier family.

Okay, here’s a cliché!

But I can’t help it, because it’s SO darn awesome:

As if it’s not enough that the digital sign in the front of the bus uses the very same ancient letters found in the Torah… the bus tootles along wishing the whole world a Shanah Tovah.

May 5773 be a year of aliyah for every one of my reader(s) (!!!), in every possible good and sweet way.

Saying goodbye…

So it hit me the other day – we’re leaving, and our extended family isn’t coming with us.  My sisters, who have been around for every major milestone… well, they won’t be.  This isn’t really news to anyone, and this isn’t the first time it’s come to me in a sudden, shocking moment of panic.  I expect it’ll keep hitting me, over and over and over, until we actually leave.

Things were different twenty years ago when I first decided to make aliyah.  My sisters were annoying teenagers and I was somewhat estranged from my non-religious extended family in general.  Plus, I had grandparents and great-uncles and great-aunts and I don’t know how that made it easier, but I guess I figured with the kind of momentum you feel in a big extended family, they would all go on without me and I’d move on to fabulous new adventures.

There’s no big extended family anymore.  I guess it was an illusion, those 20- and 30- person seders and memories of childhood events surrounded by semi-strangers.  The older generation, my grandparents’ generation of great-uncles and great-aunts, is almost gone.  And with the loss of my father and his brother, even my mother’s generation feels shockingly depleted. 

The family seders are very small nowadays – and my own nuclear family too big to slip away without anyone noticing.  That’s the other thing that’s different:  back then, it was just me.  If you’re single, you can slip away more easily.  Now it is me with Ted and four beloved nephews, nieces, grandchildren, great-nieces and so on.  Our little 6-person family generally constitutes the bulk of any family event we turn up at.

Despite a couple of cousins who have figured out a way to reproduce, the rest of my generation have been pretty slothful about getting on with the task of producing the next generation.  Will there even be any family left, once we’re gone? 

If you are considering making aliyah, do it before you have kids the rest of your family becomes attached to.  And before your sisters grow up into amazing, accomplished, kind women of substance.  And before your mother is both widowed and orphaned in the same month, so she’s left coming to you every Shabbos for dinner and hoping every Shabbos and Yom Tov afternoon that you’ll drop by to invite her to the park or out for a walk (at least, I hope she’s hoping for it, as opposed to dreading it!). 

Do it as soon as you can – before you grow up, because it is a Very Painful Thing.

Friends of ours made aliyah to Mitzpeh Netofa (where we’re NOT going, but close by!) this week, and the husband spoke at shul before they left.  He mentioned the much commented-upon verse where Hashem first speaks to Avram in parshas Lech Lecha, saying, “לֶךְ לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ”, get up n’ go from

  • your land
  • your birthplace
  • your father’s house

This friend pointed out that the order seems reversed.  When you’re travelling, what order do you do it in?  You leave your house, your city, and eventually, your country.  This is the logical order, the physical order.

But emotionally, the order is different.  It’s easy enough to leave your land – file the paperwork, tell Revenue Canada you’re not going to be filing Canadian taxes anymore.  Whatever it is, you just fill out a form; it’s simple to do. 

Leaving your “birthplace” is a bit more of a hassle – at a time when many of us don’t live in our actual birthplace, this involves selling or subletting a house, transferring utilities, selling the car, cancelling your phone.  You have a lot more local ties, there’s a lot more paperwork.  This is also the level at which you say goodbye to your community, your shul, so it’s a bit more painful.

But leaving your family, your “father’s house” – well, that’s the really wrenching part, and it’s nowhere near as neat as packing up your household worth of stuff.  There are loose ends you can never tie; old people you’ll never see again; young people it may be years before you meet again; stories you’ll never really know the end of (will they get the Eglinton Crosstown LRT built or not?!?  well, okay, maybe that’s more city-oriented).

The comfort is that there are things like Skype and cheap long-distance phone service and facebook.  It’s still expensive to fly, but it’s safe, and in so many ways, Israel has never been closer. 

My great-grandparents never got to Israel; they would have needed to travel for weeks, maybe months, to get there, and the route would have been dangerous.  If they arrived safely, it would take weeks for a letter to get back home letting everyone know they were okay.  Or not okay, starving or malaria-stricken, I don’t know.

My grandmother told me that after she married my grandfather, they sent wedding pictures back to Nowy Korczyn (Neustadt), his hometown in Poland.  They never got a reply – almost the entire family died in those fuzzy years of no contact, the black box that was WW2 Europe.  But at least we know with a reasonable degree of certainty that that extent of losing-touch can never, will never happen again.

At least if I have anything to say about it.