Jason Rozen got emotional in the supermarket last month. He lives in Israel, where all the stores were decked out for Passover, reminding him that his Zionist dream of living in the Jewish state had come true.
“The same feelings wash over me when I see sufganiyot for sale in every shopping center at Hanukkah,” said Rozen, 39, who made aliyah from Oakland in 2011 with his wife, Bruria, and their four children. Since settling in Beit Shemesh they have had two more children.
Other individuals and families from the Bay Area feel similarly fortunate and satisfied to have made the move to Israel. Adjusting to a new culture, finding good jobs and learning Hebrew have not always been easy. The new immigrants also miss the Pacific Coast’s majestic beauty and way of life. But none said they have regrets about their decision to make aliyah.
Rabbi Judah Dardik, the former spiritual leader at Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland, had long wanted to live in Israel.
“He had a policy of only dating Jewish women who wanted to make aliyah,” said his wife, Naomi Dardik, who taught at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay for nine years.
In August 2014, the time felt right for the couple, now in their early 40s, to uproot their five children and move to Neve Daniel, a settlement in the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem. They’ve had a sixth child since then.
The Dardik children go to religious public schools, the older ones in Jerusalem. The family enjoys living in a country where, as observant Jews, they feel part of the mainstream.
“At the same time, I miss the Bay Area’s diversity and being able to be myself without anyone making assumptions,” Naomi Dardik said.
“If I went to Trader Joe’s wearing my long skirt and beret, people might have just thought I was artsy, or a hippie. They wouldn’t necessarily have known that I am an Orthodox Jew. But here in Israel, my way of dressing automatically triggers assumptions about which sector of Israeli society I belong to,” she said.
The couple found work easily, with Naomi Dardik establishing a practice as a social worker and Judah Dardik assuming a senior position at the Orayta Yeshiva in Jerusalem’s Old City. Still, the transition from congregational leadership to educational administration has been more challenging for him than expected.
“I miss the multidimensional work of being a congregational rabbi. But there really weren’t any such opportunities like that in Israel. American synagogues are like JCCs with religious services. Here in Israel, a synagogue is where you go for a prayer minyan and that’s it,” he said.
Rabbi Andy Shapiro Katz and his wife, Emily, became active in San Francisco’s Mission Minyan after they moved to the Bay Area in 2005. When they made aliyah in 2010, they wanted to establish a similarly pluralistic, socially conscious Jewish community in Israel. The couple moved with their children to Beersheva and helped start Kehilat Be’erot, now an independent congregation with more than 40 families.
“We call it a ‘religiously pluralistic intentional community,’ which means that we are as inclusive as possible, with a commitment to be involved in the local Beersheva and Negev communities,” Katz explained.
As a result, their four children, ages 5 to 13, are growing up far from the more affluent cities where most native English speakers’ kids live. And as Ashkenazi American Israelis, they are a minority in their diverse Beersheva public school.
Katz, 46, who was an assistant head of school at Jewish Community High School of the Bay and is now director of North American Engagement at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, considers this a positive. The children (two born in San Francisco and two in Israel) are all fluent in Hebrew.
“They are bilingual and bicultural. I’m so glad we are not living in a large Anglo [English-speaking] bubble like in Efrat or Beit Shemesh,” he said.
While the kids pick up Hebrew relatively easily, that isn’t always the case for adult immigrants. Those who come with a good command of the language generally are able to function well in everyday life. Rozen, who was the middle-school director at Oakland Hebrew Day School and youth director at Beth Jacob Congregation, was proficient enough in Hebrew to jump into his work as master tea blender at Cérémonie Tea. He landed at the company after a period of unemployment when the educational program for which he was supposed to work folded within a month of his arrival in Israel.
Immigrants with no or little Hebrew take an intensive course called an ulpan. Kerin Jacobs, 35, did this after making aliyah from San Francisco in 2011. However, her lack of Hebrew did not interfere with her ability to support herself. Jacobs, who lives in Jerusalem with her husband, Jack, and their three young children, was able to transfer her work seamlessly from the Bay Area. She does consulting work and has a business in ethical gemstones and rough diamonds called the Raw Stone.
Some immigrants thrive without becoming fluent in Hebrew. Chef Rima Olvera, who has lived in Israel for 18 years, insists on speaking only English at her popular Tel Aviv restaurant Oasis.
“I may speak Hebrew to do some transactions around the city, or at the market with vendors, but at my restaurant I have the upper hand,” said the chef, 51, who lived in Mendocino and San Francisco and brings a distinct Northern California sensibility to her cuisine.
Another area where Olvera bucks the culture is on the topic of procreation.
“I have never wavered on not wanting to have children,” she said. “People constantly asking why I don’t have kids makes me mad and sad. It’s really none of their business, and it bothers me that despite all I have done in my life professionally, working as a chef all over the world, this is what they are fixated on.”
For many olim, or immigrants, being able to speak in English sometimes helps with retaining a sense of self.
Isabel Lipner assisted her husband, Rabbi Pinchas Lipner, in running San Francisco’s Lisa Kampner Hebrew Academy from 1969 until 2016. After the school was shuttered and the couple retired, they made aliyah in 2017.
Now settled in Jerusalem, the Lipners have many children and grandchildren nearby. That’s a big plus. But it’s not all roses, says Isabel Lipner.
“I can’t be precise, clever and witty in Hebrew. I miss being able to express myself, and I never get the punch line of jokes,” she said.
For every immigrant from the Bay Area, there are positives and negatives about living in the Jewish state. There are such everyday struggles as the high cost of living and relatively low salaries. And sometimes, liberal Northern California values can clash with Israel’s political and social creep to the right.
On the other hand, the health care is good and inexpensive, and the climate and people are warm.
Barry Rosekind, 27, grew up on the Peninsula, attended Kehillah Jewish High School and was a Diller Teen Fellow. After college in New York, he made aliyah in 2013 and was drafted a few months later into the IDF. He served for two years in Israel’s air force with the Iron Dome missile defense system.
“It was a given that I had to do my part to give back and protect Israel,” said Rosekind, who is studying for a master’s degree at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.
Both Israel and the Bay Area are home for him, and he doesn’t know where he will ultimately end up.
“But what I do know is that making aliyah was the most important thing I’ve done personally, professionally and for the Jewish people,” he said.