A friend had a "50th anniversary of aliyah" party tonight and invited her friends to come and join her for a celebration. She came in 1961, a very different time in the country.
I find it touching that people still want to come and live in Israel as much as they did years ago, when it still seemed "romantic' and "challenging". It still is, of course, and olim today have that same sense of excitement and wonderment at coming to live in their country as I did in '83, and others did before me.
We went around the room, with each person telling their aliyah story. One woman said that she had just wandered into the Jewish Agency office in London because she was out shopping and thought that it was a shop for Jewish clothing. Another came even though her mother "sat shiva" (mourned) for her for when she came, and a third said that her father refused to talk to her for 2 years after her aliyah (we suggested matching up this mother and father).
The woman who hosted the evening said that when she first thought about aliyah, in 1960, she went to the Israeli Embassy to ask about the options, and the clerk (and Israeli!) asked her "why do you want to go to Israel? It's dirty, the people are rude, there's not enough to eat (this was in the days of rationing), there aren't enough jobs......" and then she got misty-eyed and said "I'm sorry that I'm crying. I guess I'm just homesick!"
One woman, a convert, said that she was born Protestant and converted to Catholicism, then Greek Orthodox, and then something else before converting to Judaism and coming to Israel. Another woman, an African American, said that she's always wanted to come to Israel and be Jewish (her ancestors were from Jamaica and she remembers her grandmother lighting candles on Friday nights!)
Everyone has a story. My dream is to get some free time and write a book about people who came to Tzfat -- each and every one has an amazing story.