Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Journey Home

Aliyah Journal Part II

I write this as we begin our actual travels. As I think back over the past few months since we returned from our pilot trip, I realize how invaluable that trip really was. Our boys are excited to finally be on our way, they know where they are going and already have friends awaiting them. We made many contacts around the country, but especially in our city of choice, Modiin. We were able to get on a community email list that introduced us to some of the issues going on in our city, and allowed us to interact with people there, before we even arrive. I also truly believe that our face to face interviews with Nefesh B' Nefesh personnel in Jerusalem was key to that organization's belief in our ability to be successful Olim. Within in month of our return to the states we received out acceptance letter and were allowed to chose passage on a charter flight.

While back in the states we were able to pull together the last few missing items to complete our preparation, Travel Visa applications, procuring a residence in Modiin, arrangement to ship our goods to Israel, and arranging for travel from our home in Kansas to New York. Each of these pieces were relatively easy, given the prep work we had already done.

The Visa Applications were a matter of advising our Shaliach we'd been accepted on an Aliyah Flight. She sent us the paperwork, which we filled out an overnighted to the Israeli consulate in Chicago along with our passports (that was a little scary – but worked out with no problems), and a small fee to pay for return shipping. Our passports arrived back (with the Visa's stamped inside) in less than a week.

Through our interaction on the Modiin community email list, emails with several Realtors, and some web investigation we were able to determine a fair price for rentals in the area where we were looking (Buchman). After looking carefully at our budget I quickly realized we needed a furnished apartment, as we would not have the funds to purchase appliances as soon as we arrived. Earlier in the year I had seen a listing for an absolutely beautiful townhouse right on the street we wanted to be on. But I had passed it up thinking we didn't want a furnished place because we were bringing our own furniture. But once we realized how expensive it was going to be to send our belongings we quickly scaled back our list. (More on that later) Still, at first glance at this property again, I thought it was too expensive. But John David emailed the owners anyway. Turns out they had been back in the states for a year, teaching on the east coast, and wanted to stay another year (possibly two), but their current tenants had built a home & were not renewing their lease. The owners came down in price a thousand shekels & we immediately agreed. We were so glad to have signed a power of attorney agreement with Aryeh Racklyn when we were in Jerusalem. The owner emailed us the lease, & I emailed it to Aryeh, along with some suggestions and questions. A couple of days of emails going back & forth between the three of us & things were easily agreed to. Aryeh emailed us the final copy , we printed it off, signed it, scanned it back in, emailed copies out to everyone, and dropped our originals in the mail to the owners along with a check for the 1st month's rent & a separate check for a security deposit. I am sure the money part would have been harder than that if the owners had been in Israel, & I'm not sure exactly how we would have worked it out. Regarding fees owed to our attorney, he suggested we wait until we arrive in the land to settle up, allowing us to avoid the troublesome issue of having to wire money to him that would then have to be converted to shekels & pay extra fees for the trouble. (We later learned at our bank that it can be done, the wire transfer would have cost around 30.00, and I believe the bank on the other end would also have had a fee to convert to sheklem (which of course we would have had to cover). All this business taken care of we then emailed our new address to Nefesh B' Nefesh, our Shaliach in Chicago, and Cherie Albucher, the community Aliyah coordinator in Modiin. Shortly thereafter we were assigned a buddy family, who assisted us in arranging for a transfer of house keys from the previous tenant, and helped us find a cleaning lady to spruce the townhouse before we arrive. Our Buddy, Chen, also got the names and ages & grades of our boys for the purpose of determining who in the immediate neighborhood they would want to meet and make friends with. She had many helpful suggestions, and I know her assistance will be invaluable in the days to come.

Shipping our goods was not as easy a process as I had hoped. There are 3 parts to the bids we received, one carrier would pick up our goods in Kansas, pack everything, create a customs manifest (we would need to create an insurance manifest), and transfer our goods to the international carrier. The first carrier came to our house to get a general idea of the goods we intended to ship. They had an industry standard program into which they would enter a count of our items. The program provides for a rather generic list, i.e. Table, large = to about 40 cubic feet = to 7 lbs per cubic foot. If your table is smaller, it's hard to adjust the program to compensate. A perfect example of why this program simply did not work for us was a bakers rack I wanted to bring. It was about 75 inches tall by 45 inches wide by 18 inches deep. But mostly it was all open shelf space – with one 4.5 inch drawer about 36 inches from the floor. The program claimed the rack weighed over 400 lbs, in actuality it only weighed about 40 lbs. Realizing the disparity I asked the shipper if they were charging us by weight or by volume. The answer, much to my dismay is both. The shipper who packs the goods will charge by weight, the shipper who transports overseas (& the one who delivers to your door) will charge by volume. The first shipper we talked to advised we could not pack the goods ourselves, Homeland Security would not allow the goods to travel without a shippers certified manifest. This is only partially true. We must have a certified manifest, however we can pack the goods ourselves, thereby saving a lot of money. Not only do we save on the labor hours to pack the items, but we did find a shipper who will allow us (or our representative) to supervise the packing of the container (or lift truck as the case may be). Lucky for me, my sister-in-law has moved overseas several times & is quite experienced at using every last little space in a container. Not only does that mean a smaller shipment, but it also means a more secure one as things are packed so tightly that no matter what type of weather (50 ft swells???) the ship may encounter, my load will not shift & cause breakage. All this to say that at the time of our scheduled departure we had not shipped our lift, but with the help of family, had most of it packed & ready to go to the warehouse to be packed in our container. And that my sister-in-law had volunteered to take on the task of supervising the packing (Bless you Annetta Marie!).

As the days drew closer to our departure to New York (we planned to spend Shabbat with friends of friends – more about that wonderful experience in a bit). We realized there was no way to get all the things done that we needed to get done. We ended up hiring a very reliable contractor to finish the work on our house to prepare it for sale, listed the house with a Realtor on the stipulation that it would not be shown until all the work was done so that we could get the best price for it. We made arrangements with a friend of ours who is an attorney to draw up a power of attorney contract so that he could handle the sale of the house, and any other miscellaneous loose ends we had. I confess that we left our house an absolute mess, and John David's family jumped in to coordinate and hold a garage sale of all the items we opted not to ship & work with the shipper and contractors to finalize all our pieces in Kansas. Not the best way to do this, but Baruch HaShem for them and all their hard work!

(As I'm writing this we are over Brussels & 3.75 hours from Tel Aviv!!!)

The night before our flight to NY we were up all night packing. My son Chaim came to take us to the airport at 4:30 am & we were out the door by 5:30 to be at the airport at 6:00 in time for our check in. We had 11 bags to check & 8 to carry on. Luckily with Southwest we only had to pay for more than 2 bags each (that meant 3 for us). We were exhausted by the time we boarded & most everyone dozed a little at least (Ari never has any trouble sleeping on the plane – I never seem to be able to relax enough to. ) We actually flew into Philly because we couldn't get a good flight in Islip (Long Island). The airline had lost one of our bags in flight (still not found at the time of this writing – I have no idea at this point what was in it & despair we will ever see it – in 5 weeks we can make a claim for the contents if I ever figure out what they were). The baggage clerk was kind enough to store our luggage & we took a taxi into Philly for a couple of hours (we arrive at 10:00 am & were not expected in NY until 6:00pm). We saw the liberty bell, and independence square, and the 2nd oldest synagogue in the US (not the original building, but the one the congregation is currently using). We lost our camera (sigh) and then found the diamond district (so obviously Jewish) and an incredible kosher restaurant. Finally we headed back to the airport to catch our ride to NY & met our hosts for Shabbat, the Gononsky's. You know the wonderful thing about Judaism is that your friends will have friends, who opon a recommendation from your friends will take you into their home & their lives & in 1 weekend you have wonderful new friends of your own. This happened to us. Our hosts were warm and wonderful, helpful and fun. They loaned us an extra car for touring on Friday and Sunday, fed us wonderful meals, played with our boys, introduced us to their community & in general made us feel like family. Thank you Jeff & Debbie, come see us in Israel soon so we can do the same!! Our Shabbat in NY was incredibly restful & the days before and after allowed us more time to take care of yet more loose ends (calling all our creditors & getting our address changed over, online statements set up & services suspended as necessary).

Monday the 21st dawned bright and clear & we finished up our repacking from the weekend just as our driver arrived to take us to JFK. He was Israeli and had all kinds of good advice for us as new Olim, I can summarize it as Be Patient & Be Feisty. Never take the first price offered & don't be offended by the curt manner of most. Israeli's speak their mind, but they won't be nice to your face & then talk behind your backs. We arrive at terminal 4 and checked in with Nefesh B' Nefesh right across from the El Al counter. There were lots of “Olim to be” there & everyone had lots of luggage. Turns out there are 310 people making Aliyah on this flight, the youngest 3 months & the oldest is in her 80's. In fact this is her second attempt at Aliyah, the first time she came into port on the Exodus & was turned away. This time she's going to make it! There was all the normal hassle of checking luggage and then we got to attend a short ceremony (& enjoy some delicious cake!) where we were reminded to not get caught up in the mundane bits of the trip, but to really recognize what an auspicious occasion this is.

So I do take the time to think back on the long journey this has been for me. Some highlights for me: The deep yearning to be part of a community to which I always felt drawn. The long hours of study, and extensive research into family history. The joy in my first mikvah, and seeing the triumphant look on my son's faces as they also emerged from mikvah. Circling my groom and husband of over 20 years, my best friend, as we (finally) stood under the Chuppah. The excitement we all felt as we got a message on our answering machine from our Shaliach with our TIK number. Compiling all the paperwork, attending tons of webinars, scrapping together the money for our pilot trip (first installment of this journal). The final approval letter from Nefesh B' Nefesh giving us our official login to our own Aliyah page. What a thrill then to be greeted at their counter with “Oh, the Cubines, we've talked on the phone, I'm......”

So now we are here, flying over Milano & only 3 hours from our destination. We've done paperwork on the plane with the ministry of immigration & will be citizens when we arrive. What a miracle, I am in awe of the occasion and the fulfillment of my ten year long dream.
Now the journey....... Begins!

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