She’s Making Aliyah, Despite War and Others’ Worries

Friends, family and even a few strangers have told Julie Braman that it seems a little crazy — sometimes they even use stronger words like "nuts" or "insane" — to move to Israel now, by herself, with Israel and Hezbollah clashing in a full-blown war and hundreds of rockets falling daily in northern Israel as well as in the south near the Gaza Strip.

But the 38-year-old Glenside native — and by the time the paper comes out, former Willow Grove resident — always replies that she won't be alone. For the first few months, she'll be staying in the Netivot home of Maurice and Iris Bitton, her "adoptive Israeli family." And she's bringing along two trusted companions on her life-changing journey: her cats Sambuca, or "Sammy," and Snickers.

Then there's the intangible connection to the land and the people, an indescribable sense that even in the most difficult moments one is never truly alone in the Jewish homeland.

"I have this family that treats me like part of their family. I wouldn't be doing this without them," said Braman, taking a break from packing several days before she was expected to depart. "All I can do is go and see what happens. No one knows 100 percent until they have had the experience."

Braman is one of 230 North Americans expected to make aliyah on Aug. 9, all flying on a Jewish Agency for Israel/Nefesh b'Nefesh flight leaving from John F. Kennedy airport in New York City. Despite the current situation, more than 3,000 North Americans are expected to make aliyah this year, according to Michael Landsberg, who heads JAFI's North American aliyah office.

While Braman was expected to be the lone Philadelphia-area resident represented on the Aug. 9 flight, roughly 60 local residents are expected to move to the Jewish state in 2006.

Nefesh B'Nefesh is a privately run organization that works jointly with the Jewish Agency and offers North Americans logistical assistance in moving to Israel, ranging from subsidies to job placement to helping olim navigate the Israeli bureaucracy. The last point is particularly pertinent for someone trying to bring two pets into the country.

Braman — a former special needs teacher at the Perelman Jewish Day School who has also taught at numerous synagogue Hebrew schools in the area — first traveled to Israel in 2000 to visit friends she'd made while working at Camp Ramah in the Poconos.

But it wasn't until last summer when she attended the Summer Teachers Ulan — sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Israel and Overseas Center — that she truly considered making Israel her home.

"I did not want to leave. I was hysterical when I left," she admitted. "When I got home, I was crying all the time because I did not want to be here. Finally I said, 'I want to live there. I want to go back.' "

On the summer program, Braman studied Hebrew five days a week, toured the country with fellow teachers, and lived with a Moroccan-Israeli family — namely the Bittons.

She even managed to date an Israeli while she was over there. Braman said that while, regrettably, that relationship didn't go anywhere, the experience made her realize that she wants to get married in Israel.

Braman, who has worked as everything from a teacher to an office manager to a caterer, isn't quite sure what she'll do for a living in Israel. Her first goal is to improve her Hebrew and become completely fluent, while hoping to find part-time work.

She also hopes she will be able to help her new homeland in some small way during its time of crisis.

"I guess I have faith. When I was there last summer, I heard shelling every night and it didn't faze me," she recalled. "I guess I have to live with the same mentality that Israelis do."



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