Running Home; a Young Woman’s Aliya Story
Eighteen year old Sarah Boldor was hopelessly lost in as unfamiliar a place as one could imagine. Somewhere in the rough forested hills and mazelike trails surrounding the northern Israel town of Tzfat she and her friend Shimrit had become separated from their group of seminary students out for a day hike. This was several hours ago, the sun was setting, water was running out and the encroaching shadows of the treetops began turning into darkness. Sarah did not know which way to turn; she was exhilarated.
One year earlier Sarah was a senior at Northwest Yeshiva High School near Seattle. She had overcome many obstacles to get to this place. Starting her formal Jewish education in High School she had begun ninth grade with basic Judaic Skills. By the time her senior year rolled around Sarah was at the highest level in the school’s Jewish Studies track.
Boldor describes her High School years as fairly typical, like most of her peers in the tight knit Jewish neighborhood of Seward Park she was active in her local Jewish youth group, NCSY. Boldor describes her involvement in NCSY as a joyous experience. “I was on chapter board, helped plan activities, met new people it was amazing. The singing, the intense beautiful Havdala programs, the love of Israel”, all of it made her want to expand her Jewish horizons.
As she entered her senior year Boldor decided that it was too soon for her Jewish education to come to an end. She began looking into gap year Israel programs before settling on Midreshet Yeud, a mid-sized Seminary in the Mamila neighborhood of Jerusalem. But first she had to find a way to turn what was then a mere dream into reality, the difference between the two was the sizeable cost of airfare and tuition. Sarah took two summer jobs.
Sarah’s summer vacation consisted of running the mile from her house every weekday morning to catch the bus to the JCC Summer camp where she worked all day as a counselor. As the other counselors headed home after an exhausting day of chasing kids around, Sarah hopped back on the bus towards job number two. “I worked in Garbanzo Bros Hummus factory, I helped make, mix and deliver the final product”. Most nights she did not get home before midnight, only to start again the next morning.
“I knew what I was working for, so it didn’t bother me at all” said Boldor with a wide smile.
It turns out Sarah’s running to and fro hadn’t gone unnoticed. Her neighbor Nissim is a local hip-hop artist. “Nissim saw me running around the neighborhood” shared Boldor “and told me I would be perfect for his new video”. The theme of the video and name of the song was Live For Now. Boldor noted “live for now usually means do whatever feels good, this video had a deeper meaning. In life we have important choices, the video’s message was try to make the right choice, do the right thing. Being part of that video really had an impact on me”. How much of an impact she did not yet realize. (See the video below).
Live for Now was released on August 15th, 2013, by the end of that month Sarah was on a plane bound for Israel. Said Sarah of her seminary “Midreshet Yeud showed me the beauty of Israel. We learned about Judaism, but we also lived it. We did chesed (acts of kindness) projects, volunteering to help the less fortunate in so many ways”. Added Boldor” I loved being immersed in a Jewish homeland.
Sarah never tired of Shabbat in Israel “the whole country seems to be getting ready for Shabbat, people rushing around like crazy, you can smell the chicken cooking from the apartments, throngs converging on the Kotel. Then the siren goes off and all is calm, heaven.”
Sarah pondered “You know, there is this stereotype that Israelis are rude, and perhaps in some ways that is true, but what I experienced was warmth, openness and hospitality”.
As her year came to a close a persistent thought began bouncing around in Sarah’s mind. “I began to think about making Aliya” Sarah recalls “but I had no idea where to start, was I being impulsive? I didn’t know”. She had long talks with her Madricha (school counselor) who told her about Nefesh B’ Nefesh, an agency that helps “Anglos” make Aliyah. “My Madricha knew how anxious I was, I had talked it out with my parents, with my siblings and friends but I was in limbo, I couldn’t decide. She suggested I just start filling out the forms on the Nefesh B’ Nefesh website and that I was absolutely under no obligation. That helped a lot”.
As the school year drew to a close, Boldor’s seminary had organized a hike in the hills of the Galilee, not far from the mystical city of Tzfat. Sarah became overwhelmed by the beauty of her surroundings. “Around each corner was a view more breathtaking than the one before. There were shimmering mountain pools fed by waterfalls, I wanted to reach out, to touch each waterfall” said Sarah.
She and her friend Shimrit began running ahead of the group, excited at seeing what may lie around the next bend. “At some point I realized how quiet it was, we had separated from the group, we were lost”. We kept going, hoping to meet our friends at the end of the trail. We came upon more waterfalls, stunning scenery, there were quail, it was surreal.”
The sun began to set, the girls water had run out, they couldn’t get a cell signal. Were you frightened?” I asked. Sarah answered “no, I was exhilarated, I felt safe, I felt at home”. The two reached a fork in the trail, a choice had to be made. Says Sarah “I was overcome with this wonderful feeling. I thought to myself, this beautiful land is our land! Why would I live anyplace else? At that moment all doubt disappeared, I was going to make Aliyah”.
Just as the sun set over the hills of Tzfat, Sarah’s friend Shimrit found a signal on her cell phone. They reached their relieved Rabbi who directed them how to exit the forest, before long they were reunited with their classmates.
Sarah spent this past Summer working at a Cafe in the Catskills that caters to Chassidic clientele. There she met a woman who upon hearing her story set her up with a Jerusalem family for Sarah to stay with free of charge while she completes Ulpan. Sarah is awaiting her visa and plans to spend this Rosh Hashanah in Israel as an Israeli citizen.
“I know it will be hard, I still have to learn Hebrew, I really don’t know many people there” confessed Sarah, “but it will be a lot easier doing it now rather than later”. “It’s a new year, a new start, perfect.” I asked Sarah how she felt, she said “it’s scary, but I am happy, it’s the best decision I could ever make”.