Mt. Lebanon woman on last aliya of 2009, and it’s a singles flight
The acrylic painting inside Fortuna Fridman-French’s living room reflects a life’s journey. Aztec pyramids, an American flag and Israeli postage stamps stand together on the canvas.
“It was supposed to be a temporary move,” said Fridman-French. “For my husband’s profession, we left Israel.” Like many Israelis abroad, she continues to regularly visit her family in Israel, with dreams of a permanent return.
This week, her daughter Danit, 26, is making the dream a reality, joining 209 passengers aboard an El Al flight chartered by Nefesh B’Nefesh, the nonprofit created to promote aliya, or Jewish repatriation to Israel.
“I’ve always wanted to go back, but things were stopping me — school, college, job,” said Danit Fridman, a Mt. Lebanon resident. “My brother made aliya three years ago, but parents are more protective of their daughters.”
Sammy Fridman, 29, made his return privately.
“He did not go with Nefesh B’Nefesh,” said Fridman. “It was such a headache with paperwork, running from office to office.” In contrast, Danit will have much of her paperwork complete before touching down at Ben Gurion International Airport, with support from NBN.
While the common image of American olim is of young, religious couples, Fridman is an example of outreach to nonreligious Israeli expatriates seeking to return to Israel.
Born in Mexico, Fridman made aliya as an infant, spending her first 9 years in Rehovot. Her unexpected departure for Pittsburgh happened in 1993, when her stepfather, Michael French, received a job offer in the local steel industry. As the industry shrunk, he found a new job driving limos. But his ties to steel remain strong.
“Now I drive Steelers players,” French said.
Fridman’s mother studied at Carlow University, finding work as a therapist at UPMC. While keeping some Jewish traditions at home, the family sought a quiet, suburban community.
“It’s important to marry Jewish,” said Fridman. “But there aren’t too many Jews in Mt. Lebanon.
Fridman’s aliya flight is not only the last one for 2009, but geared largely toward singles, who comprise 62 percent of its passengers, with prospective partners awaiting them at the other end.
“Our last charter flight had so many singles, and our switchboard went crazy,” said NBN spokeswoman Yael Katsman. “People were calling, Israelis wanting to meet Americans.”
NBN sprung to action, partnering with JDate Israel to connect sabras with olim. “They’re excited about meeting someone from a different culture,” said Katsman.
Similar to her parents’ generation, today’s Israelis remain excited about meeting English-speakers, and welcoming Jews to their homeland.
Through JDate Israel, NBN will also seek to connect single olim to each other. “For singles without families, this is a social, nurturing environment,” said Katsman.
Though Fridman is unsure where she will settle in Israel, she seeks to continue her work with autistic children, by enrolling for a master’s degree at Haifa University.
While she expects plenty of jetlag from the long flight, she will be greeted with a festive ceremony, attended by Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.
Since 2002, 62 Pennsylvania Jews have made aliya, with 15 percent coming from the Pittsburgh region. Using the Internet, NBN holds weekly online seminars on various topics, and in-person seminars throughout the year.
“Israel is growing so fast,” said Fridman. On each visit, her childhood street in Rehovot looks more developed. Now, she will have the chance to see it grow before her eyes.
“You view the world so differently at age 10,” she added. “But now, I know what I want. I’m going back.”