There’s a difference between being in your twenties and being a millennial. Being a millennial carries all sorts of negative and generic connotations. “Millennials are narcissistic and lazy, they don’t settle or invest in cars or houses, they need to be coddled in the workplace.” The term millennial itself is starting to lose its cultural credibility. But being in your twenties is something real, it’s an experience we all go through, not a reflection of a behavioral trend. For many, this time period is a circumstantial culmination of rapid professional, emotional and psychological growth. So much about life in your twenties comes down to uncertainty and the search for some sense of security, whether its personal, financial or otherwise.
If you’re lucky enough to graduate college, move into your own place, and get your first salaried job, you’re doing pretty well by most measures. But at the same time, it seems as though it is just when you think you’ve “made it” and found that stability, that things can get tricky. And, when you add on the layer of wanting to end up in Israel, giving up a stable life in America can get especially problematic. But what I have learned is that not taking a risk is sometimes the riskiest thing of all.
My story might resonate with some of you. I grew up in a religious household (my dad is a rabbi). I visited Israel in my teens and fell in love with the country. I went to a Jewish high school that only reinforced my Zionism. I attended seminary before college and wanted to stay in Israel forever. My parents convinced me to come back to North America for college. I loved college and received free housing in exchange for being a resident advisor. I got a great job in New York working in the Jewish community, which allowed me to visit Israel a few times a year. Things were not just good, they were great.
In the abstract, I still wanted to one day make Aliyah and move to Israel, but I had no pressing reason to make the leap. I was totally in my comfort zone. My life was well-planned and driven by the pragmatism that had gotten me to that point. Why should I shake things up? I had a level of certainty that so many of us are striving toward in our twenties. But I slowly realized that I wasn’t doing anything that made me nervous. I wasn’t taking chances, and as a result, I wasn’t growing or really putting myself out there in a meaningful way.
The idea of Israel started to loom larger than ever, but I still had so much fear about Aliyah. I had heard endless anecdotes about the struggle for new immigrants to find a good-paying job and a livable apartment, and to integrate socially. Not to mention the political tension and waves of terror that are a tragic reality of living in the Middle East.
But if I wasn’t going to do it now, when else was I going to have the opportunity? After all, isn’t this the time in our lives when we get to take risks?
I made Aliyah in 2013, and soon realized that moving to Israel in your twenties is not the risk I had thought it to be. I came in with desired professional and language skills, and there are real career opportunities in this country. And yes, there is bureaucracy here, it’s not like native Israelis aren’t dealing with the same things. New immigrants are not the only ones who argue with their landlords or have to deal with ridiculously long lines at government offices. Israel is not a perfect place by any means, and some things are hard. But when you’re surrounded by people who genuinely want to be here, and have made sacrifices to be here, you can’t help but feel lucky to be living here.
Whether it’s knowing that 99 percent of the people you see walking outside in Tel Aviv on Friday evening are headed to a Shabbat dinner, or feeling the city come back to life and the cafes fill up with people come Saturday night, it’s hard not to appreciate the unique qualities of this place.
Moving here was something I was terrified to do, but it has paid off tenfold. I met my husband, I got my dream job (one I wouldn’t have even thought about applying for in America), and I’m living a lifestyle that I could never have imagined before. I finally feel the freedom to be the type of Jew I want to be, and to lead the life I want to lead.
At the time, making Aliyah may not necessarily have been the most practical decision, but it made me a stronger person because it took me out of my comfort zone. Spending your twenties not doing things that challenge you or that make you nervous can be convenient, but it can also be risky.
Rebekah Friedman lives in Tel Aviv and works at the Israeli public transportation app Moovit. She made Aliyah from New York in 2013. The New York community can learn more about the Aliyah process at the Nefesh B’Nefesh Aliyah Mega Event on March 6.