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Transplanted Teaneck woman ‘in awe’ of being in Israel

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During 19 years in Teaneck, mother of four Zahava Englard raised awareness and funds for Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. In 2006, she and her family moved to one of those communities — Efrat in the Judean Hills, where they’d been building a house, on and off, for 12 years.

Englard’s frank, poignant, and often funny letters chronicling the ups and downs of the family’s first two years in Israel have been compiled in a book, “Settling for More: From Jersey to Judea” (Devora Publishing, $18.95).

Jewish Standard: You’d been dreaming of moving to Israel since you were 12. Instead, you came with 17-year-old and 14-year-old sons and a 10-year-old daughter; your oldest child chose to stay in New Jersey to finish college. Was there any advantage in making aliyah at this time in your lives?


Zahava Englard: There are no advantages in going with teenage kids over younger kids — it’s more of a challenge for them socially and language-wise — but there is always an advantage to making aliyah over living in galut [exile]. I was very lucky, because they’re well-adjusted and understood the importance of aliyah; we were talking about it since they were born, so it wasn’t a foreign concept. Making aliyah with younger children is definitely easier. However, if you cannot go earlier, go later anyway. There were many nay-sayers advising us not to do it, and I’m so happy I didn’t listen to them.

J.S.: Your parents are described as somewhat unhappy with your move. How have you handled your relationship with them to minimize the impact of the distance?

Z.E.: I call a lot, and I fly in to see them during the summers. They don’t have a computer, so I can’t e-mail them, but in addition to calling, I write them letters. I have one brother in Israel and one brother who lives 15 minutes away from them, and he’s a good, doting son. But it hasn’t gotten any easier for them. My mother occasionally says something to make me feel guilty, and I’m very firm in insisting that I did the right thing — especially having been raised in a Zionist home — and I will not be put on a guilt trip. If, God forbid, they need me to come there, I will.

J.S.: Your husband Artie commutes weekly to his medical practice in New York. Do you recommend this sort of arrangement for other immigrants?

Z.E.: I would recommend it as a viable, if not ideal, alternative to finding employment here. Had we left Teaneck in our 20s or 30s, we would not be doing this. But as a doctor in a socialized system, it would be very hard for him to get a decent-paying job in Israel at his age without “connections.” Thank God we’re able to do it, and since he travels every week he’s not in any place long enough to get jet-lagged.

[Oldest daughter] Jordana feels she still has some close family connection, because her father is there half of the time. We’ve been flying her in about four times a year while she is in school, but once she graduates in May she won’t be able to come as often — especially since she just got married and will be working full time without having the advantage of school breaks.

J.S.: Was it difficult to be involved in long-distance wedding preparations?

Z.E.: It wasn’t easy, but we have wonderful in-laws who took control of all the planning and were very considerate, not making a move without talking to us first. I got Jordana’s gown in Israel — she came during spring and winter breaks for fittings — and I also got the invitations here.

J.S.: In your book, you describe experiences such as hearing Arabs shooting as part of their wedding celebrations right near your home, or struggling to make yourself understood in Hebrew. Were you concerned that you might discourage readers from considering aliyah?

Z.E.: I didn’t want to paint a rosy picture. Nothing in life is rosy and I wanted to be realistic so people would know what to expect. People never spoke about the little mundane things that feel big to an immigrant and so I purposely wanted to talk about those things so that people know you can have a successful aliyah even if you have an anxiety attack on your first visit to the supermarket.

From left are Rommi, David, Artie, Nili, Zahava, and Jordana Englard.

When I describe [celebratory] shooting in the Arab town next door, it’s just one of those things you have to deal with, but it did not prevent me from moving to Efrat — and I wanted to make that point, that we should still make aliyah and not be afraid to live anywhere in our land. Similarly, I want people to have a realistic understanding that language doesn’t just come by osmosis, especially for adults. You have to make an effort. But that shouldn’t scare anyone either.

J.S.: What are your kids doing and how is their acclimation going?

Z.E.: David is finishing his first year in the army in an artillery unit. When he comes home for Shabbat or a few days off, he never goes back with a sad face. He is proud of what he’s doing and he believes in it. He’s adjusted so well. Being in the army, his Hebrew has greatly improved and he has Israeli friends.

Rommi is in his first year in Yeshivat Har Etzion, which is a hesder yeshiva [where students normally study three years and serve 18 months in the army] but he told them right away he wants to learn for one year and then serve the full three years in the army. He is hoping to get into an elite unit. Many of his American friends are here this year in Israel, and although he enjoys being with them, he sees the difference in their lives and appreciates the meaning in his.

Nili has little recollection of her life back in America. She doesn’t see herself as missing anything. When we went back for Jordana’a wedding, she was constantly looking at her watch and imagining what her friends were doing in Israel. She has a tutor — I think every American child [in Israel] should, no matter how brilliant they were in the States — and is doing beautifully.

J.S.: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment since moving to Israel?

Z.E.: Having done the entire aliyah process on my own. My husband wanted to be here, but he didn’t get involved in any of the packing or planning or bureaucratic matters. So I’m handling everything on my own, and sometimes I have to force myself to deal with situations from banking to getting the car serviced, all in Hebrew. It’s not easy, but if I can do it, anyone can. Of course, it’s also a big accomplishment to have published a book!

J.S.: If you could import one thing from North Jersey to Israel, what would it be?

Z.E.: [Laughs]. Two things come to mind. Even though there are similar stores here, I miss Bed, Bath & Beyond. I just really love that store and the way you could find anything under the sun. The second thing is the wonderful system of parking lots they have in New Jersey.

J.S.: Are you happy in Israel after all?

Z.E.: I’m so happy here. I’m living my dream. The first day was grueling, but I just picked myself up and after three months I got into a rhythm and it’s just great. Not a day goes by, after three and a half years, when I don’t bless the wonder of being in Israel. When I drive to Jerusalem and get stuck in traffic, it never bothers me because I’m stuck in Jerusalem. How cool is that? I’m in awe of being here.

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Giffords’ office in Tucson was ransacked in March following her vote for health care reform — a vote the Democrat told reporters that she would cast even if it meant her career. She refused to be cowed, but she also took aim at the hyped rhetoric. She cast the back-and-forth as part of the democratic process.

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