Although she has been to Israel many times — nearly a half-dozen in the last two years alone — the prospect of quitting her job and moving alone to Israel was daunting for Ilana Rabinoff of Forest Hills, Queens.
“I don’t have a family there, which makes it harder to go,” said Rabinoff, 34, a lawyer for a Jewish not-for-profit organization here. “The process is overwhelming — moving to another country with another language.”
So with help of the Jewish Agency and Nefesh B’Nefesh, which together assist those making aliyah, Rabinoff spread the word that she was starting a group for single young professionals preparing to move to Israel. It’s called the New York City Aliyah Coffee Group, and it meets once a month on a Sunday usually at a Starbucks.
“I wanted to meet other people who were making this same decision and going by themselves,” she said. “There are a lot of steps you have to go through, and it’s nice to have someone you can speak with, share advice and tips and discuss the whole process with.”
Rabinoff started the group in February for those who were planning to move to Tel Aviv and its suburbs. But it merged in May with another group, of people planning to move to Jerusalem.
Members of the new group are part of a record-breaking 4,000 North American Jews expected to make aliyah this year, a 25 percent increase over last year. Many attribute the surge to the bleak economy in the U.S.]
“This is more beneficial than just one city,” said Lauren Gelnick, 24, of the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx who is planning to move to Jerusalem. “I’m sure I’m going to end up in Tel Aviv and that some of those in Tel Aviv may end up in Jerusalem. Who knows where people will move?”
In all, about 10 single young professionals joined the group. They include the Modern Orthodox, Conservative and secular, and nearly all plan to take an ulpan course to improve their Hebrew.
Although they are meeting here, they plan to keep in touch with each other and meet again in Israel. Two in the group have already made aliyah; another 10 young singles went last year and have been in touch through the Internet.
“Everyone is in the same boat — we are all single and have degrees and we have no clue what we are going to do when we get there,” Gelnick said.
A licensed occupational therapist in the New York City public schools, Gelnick said she would like to do the same work in Israel. She had planned to make aliyah this summer but delayed the move for six months to “learn some more Hebrew.”
“I have occupational therapy papers in Hebrew because I need to learn the terminology in Hebrew,” she said. “And I want to save a little more money here, because I don’t know if I will pass the Israeli [licensing] exam on the first try. I can’t take the exam until I make aliyah.”
Rabinoff said she would like to continue her legal career in Israel working for a nonprofit, but she said she was told “you can’t do anything from here to get a job.” She is scheduled to leave Aug. 10.
“I’ve done some business development and marketing, and I have a lot of experience with grants and contract work,” Rabinoff said. “I also co-run a fellowship program.”
Nevertheless, she said she would be “going with little money, and I have two years of student loans left. Most of the people in the group are going with substantial loans, and that definitely is a concern — paying them off from there. Salaries are significantly less there, and Tel Aviv is one of the most expensive cities in the world. But if you are young and single, the place to be is Tel Aviv — or Jerusalem, if you are religious.”
Nachum Lamm, 33, of Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, said he too is a lawyer and has distributed his resumé to different places in Israel. He is planning to leave Aug. 18.
“The Jewish Agency is going to have an online job fair and it is helping to facilitate connections,” he said. “I want to get admitted to the bar there if I can.”
Dana Naim, 25, of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, said that although she does not have a job, she is an English teacher “and I’m told they are desperate for English teachers.”
Naim said her mother will fly with her Aug. 25 to help find an apartment; she will stay with an aunt in the meantime.
Naim said she has been flying to Israel by herself each summer since the age of 5 because of the large family she has in Israel.
“My dad has four sisters and a brother, and my mom has three sisters and all of them have a dozen kids,” she explained. “So there are a lot of cousins my age and a large support network. They have been calling me asking what they can do to help, and they are very excited.”
Asked why she joined the singles support group, Naim said: “I wanted to go knowing that there are some familiar faces that are experiencing the exact same thing. I wanted to know people here who I could continue meeting over there. After a while, I looked to Ilana as a guide — she knows the answers to everything.”
Naim said she is hopeful that her parents — Israelis who came to the United States 35 years ago and were “so impressed that they stayed” — will move back to Israel at least part of the year.
“They have a business here and it’s hard for them to leave,” she said. “They always thought they would go back, but they started a business here and had kids and they considered themselves stuck here. I’m hoping my going will push them.”
Helping to make up her mind about moving now, Naim said, is the failing health of her two grandmothers in Israel.
“Both are very sick, and that was the No. 1 thing that convinced me to go now before I regret it,” she said. “Both of my grandfathers are deceased.”
Although Rabinoff said her mother would fly over with her to help her settle in, her parents have not made any plans about moving to Israel.
“My mom is sad, but very happy for me and thinks it’s a wonderful idea,” she said.
Gelnick said making aliyah is something she has dreamed of since taking a Birthright Israel trip in June 2003.
“I really, really loved the country,” she said. “I felt very comfortable from the moment I got off the plane. I had gone to Zionistic schools, and Israel was so much a part of my education.”
Lamm, who said he plans to move to Jerusalem, said he hopes his parents will one day also move to Israel. He noted that one of his three married siblings is already living there.
“The fact that she is there brought it [aliyah] more to the forefront and made me think about it,” Lamm said. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do.”