Shayna and Dovev Hefetz spent much of last summer’s war between Israel and Gaza glued to their television.
The Silver Spring couple stayed up late into the night, afraid that they might miss important news. When the conflict ended, the former Baltimore residents took note as the headlines shifted to acts of violence against Jews throughout Europe.
They also followed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement with concern, especially as it exists on some college campuses, knowing that the eldest of their three children soon would select a college.
One day, the Hefetzes “realized how much our hearts and our bodies belong over there” in Israel. Shayna Hefetz began looking into the possibility of moving to Israel. That quickly became “pretty much my full-time job.”
On Monday, the couple and their children, Dovev, Rena, 14, Nili, 12, and Moshe Tzvi, 11, will join 225 others from the United States and Canada on a Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight from New York to Tel Aviv, beginning new lives in Israel.
Yuval Luger, 17, also will be on that flight. A recent graduate of Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, she said she is going “on my own and enlisting in the military. I always kind of knew I would.”
She was born in Israel, and “pretty much all my family is there,” except for her parents and younger brother, she said. She admits to being “a little bit nervous” about joining the Israel Defense Forces, but is undeterred. “I just want to serve my country,” adding that she is following in the footsteps of her older sister.
Hilla Singerman, 19, also intends to join the IDF. The Pikesville resident has had an Israeli passport all her life. She was graduated from Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Baltimore and spent her gap year in the Nativ program, which is run by United Synagogue Youth. Her first five months in Israel will be spent with the Olim program, learning to become fluent in Hebrew.
Living in Israel “was never this dream” she looked forward to coming true. But her time with Nativ was so positive, she knew she belonged there. “In Israel, I just felt so natural, myself. I found a place to be happy.”
She has one regret: She said she will miss shopping at Target.
Daniel and Sonia Bataller of Washington also will take part in the Olim program. Daniel Bataller, 27, wanted out of corporate life. “I am tired of sitting at my desk all day in front of a [computer] screen.”
His first impulse was to work the land here, but he feared that moving to a farm in the middle of the country would make it difficult to stay connected to Jewish life. In Israel, he could experience both, he said.
His wife, who taught fourth grade general studies at the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital, hopes to find a teaching job in Israel.
Aaron Juni hopes to land a job in his field of clinical neuropsychology. His wife, Rena May, already received two job offers during a recent two-week visit to Israel for her niece’s bat mitzvah.
The Baltimore residents will move to Israel with their three children, as well as his parents, who are coming from New York. His sister will make aliyah as well, later this summer.
Living is Israel has always been in the not-so-distant back of Juni’s mind, but that recent trip convinced the couple it could happen.
Their children, Hadassah, 10, Ariella, 8, and Leora, 6, are “super excited” and have begun studying Hebrew with a tutor, adding to what they have already learned at Ohr Chadash Academy in Baltimore, he said.
Jonathan Meola and Eva Goldstein-Meola spent much of their school years attending Zionist programs and camps. Aliyah was something they both dreamed of, but it wasn’t until they married in September 2012 that they realized it might become a reality for them both.
They honeymooned in Israel. When they arrived, an airport official asked the purpose of their trip. “My wife started to say ‘honeymoon’, and I said ‘pilot trip’,” he said.
The Sabbath-observant couple said they sometimes don’t feel like they fit in at home. Eva Goldstein-Meola said she often is asked why she doesn’t answer emails for her business during weekends. Her work is helping students improve their writing, a career she plans to continue in Israel.
Explanations will not be needed there, she said, adding she is looking forward “to being part of something bigger.”