This past year, my aliyah epiphany came while I was directing the Stand With Israel event that I founded three years ago at Manhattan Day School.
This student group was designed to have a strong impact on eighth-graders, for them to embrace Israel advocacy and become educated ambassadors for our homeland. The program and its subsequent events were lauded by many influential Israeli leaders and Israel advocates, including former Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz and Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon.
As I marveled at yet another successful community-wide student event, I suddenly asked myself the following questions: Why am I mentoring these devoted students who give up their lunch periods and classes to research and present so many significant topics — including the Biblical and historical connection to the land, the BDS movement, anti-Israelism on the American campuses, and Israeli innovation, to name a few — when I do not practice what I preach? I’ve organized numerous fundraisers for Israel both at school and personally, but where am I living? It was in that moment that I knew, the time had finally come.
Why aliyah? For those of us who have worked our entire lives in Jewish education and have committed ourselves to inculcate a passion in our students for religious Zionism, aliyah is a natural progression and mission. For me, it is a fulfilment of a life’s dream.
Schools and staff can have a tremendous impact on the life of a child. For me, that was Yeshivah of Flatbush High School in the 1960s. The fact that many of the Judaic Studies staff were Israelis who had fought for the state in 1948, or that Mr. Joel Braverman, the school’s noted principal and founder, was an ardent Zionist, certainly had an impact. Needless to say, when one begins the day reading excerpts from the Torah and pledging “im eshkochech yerushalayim,” “if I forget thee, Oh Jerusalem,” this experience makes a deep impression on an emerging young mind and heart. Certainly, my family of origin was made up of Zionists and firmly expressed their love for “medinat yisrael,” especially in times of crisis. I remember when my husband Shep was studying for the bar exam and the Six-Day War broke out, my mother called and asked, “So what are you guys going to do?” We were caught in a conundrum.
The Zionistic environment at Yeshivah of Flatbush had a strong influence on my brother, Herb, as well.
He, too, along with my sister-in-law Barbara, are educators — they founded the Tikvah camping program for special needs students. After running many trips to Israel for young adults with special needs, and after watching their own children make aliyah years ago, my brother and sister-in-law fulfilled their dream and did the same. Many of their grandchildren were born in Israel and some of them are currently serving in the IDF.
As teacher and later principal at Yeshiva of Belle Harbor, administrator for Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway (HAFTR), and associate principal for Manhattan Day School, “medinat yisrael” always stood in the forefront for me, along with the core curriculum and Torah studies. One of the results of having “medinat yisrael” always in mind was the creation of Stand With Israel, which brought me to the doorstep of making aliyah.
After I had questioned myself, I attended a Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah fair in Manhattan this past March, and found the answers to my soul-searching questions. With the help of an aliyah advisor — my personal mentor, Mr. Ari Weiss — and many others, I decided to realize my dream.
Of course, I knew that leaving my children and grandchildren in the United States would be difficult, but baruch Hashem, my family has been very supportive of my decision and my vision. To sweeten my experience, I secured a position at the Inbal Hotel, a five-star property in Jerusalem that attracts tourists from all over the world. It is my hope that I will use my experience to encourage others to follow my path of aliyah. I forever realize I am the educator who will try to instill in others the passion for “medinat yisrael” that burns within me.
Judy Melzer of New York, a longtime Jewish educator who most recently served as associate principal at Manhattan Day School, made aliyah as part of the Nefesh B’Nefesh charter aliyah flight on Aug. 14. A version of this article first appeared on ejewishphilanthropy.com.