Part memoir and part travelogue, Jason Alster with his Leaving Home, Going Home, Returning Home: A Hebrew American's Sojourn in the Land of Israel reminisces about his experiences when he made aliyah to Israel in 1984 at the age of twenty-eight, and where he lived until returning to the USA in 2007
Part memoir and part travelogue, Jason Alster with his Leaving Home, Going Home, Returning Home: A Hebrew American's Sojourn in the Land of Israel reminisces about his experiences when he made Aliyah to Israel in 1984 at the age of twenty-eight, and where he lived until returning to the USA in 2007.
term Aliyah in Hebrew means “going up” both spiritually and
physically. As Alster informs us, the geographic and spiritual
center of Israel is Jerusalem, situated on a high mountain, and thus
you need to go up to get there. It is an important Jewish cultural
concept and a key element of Zionism, which is enshrined into
Israel's Law of Return. Someone who makes Aliyah is called an
oleh, if a male or
olah, if a female and
olim if in the plural.
At the age of twelve, Alster had his first inkling that one day he would be make Aliyah to Israel. This came while attending Bible class at the Yeshiva of Hartford Hebrew Academy. It was not until sixteen years later that he actually took the plunge. According to Alster, the principal reason for his move to Israel was that he was searching for his real home and homeland and he didn't want to be a minority anymore. Later, when people would ask him why he moved to Israel, he would tell them that his father originally planned on making Aliyah and he came instead.
Leaving Home, Going Home, Returning Home is a deeply personal adventure, wherein Alster chronicles the process of his immersion into a society, culture and language far different from his native USA. Surprises were abundant, beginning with his initial meeting with an Israeli representative that tried to dissuade him from moving to Israel. After all, was this not the official policy of Israel to invite people to her land? As he later discovered, stated policy and reality are two different animals. Interestingly, Alster wasn't sure what he was going to do in Israel and perhaps this was the key to his adaptation. As he states, he expected to live a normal life, watch TV, go to the movies, work and raise a family-”Israel for better or for worse.”
Written in a highly readable style that is both enlightening and at times funny, this fascinating memoir provides the reader with a window and unique perspective of Israeli life. One of its principal strengths is the number of interesting fly-on-the wall anecdotes scattered throughout. One such account is the chapter entitled “Don't touch the shawarma, no matter how delicious.” Alster had a rude awakening when he discovered that his shawarma sandwiches were not one hundred percent meat but rather fifty percent pure fat and the remainder meat. Another was his agonizing experience with an Israeli builder-something, by the way, could very well have taken place in my home-town of Montreal. Also sprinkled throughout are interesting tidbits of information. For example, I have been eating tilapia for many years and I never knew that it was the same famous St. Peter's fish that my wife and I ate several years ago while visiting Tiberius. It is fished from the Sea of Galilee (Kineret).
Among Alster's many vocations is that of a biofeedback practitioner/learning specialist, who has over the years helped hundreds of learning challenged students with Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) dylexia, and test anxiety to succeed in school. Consequently, a great deal of ink, and perhaps a trifle too much, is devoted to his experiences in working in this field and applying his specialized knowledge while living in Israel. In fact, he was very much sought after, as he was one of the few experts in Israel during his sojourn.
Leaving Home, Going Home, Returning Home is a mosaic of vivid snapshots that clearly exhibits a remarkable insight into the heterogeneous and dynamic culture of Israel, while at the same time conveying to the reader the nuances of feelings, as well as the harshness of reality. And for anyone contemplating aliyah or even visiting Israel, this is a must read.