Meira and Yaakov Sacks thought for a long time about making aliya (moving to Israel as an Israeli citizen) but their deliberation came to a head last winter when they realized their oldest child, 6-year-old Nava, would start first grade in the fall.
That’s when they decided that if they were really going to make the move, now was the time.
“We know that Israel is our Jewish homeland,” said Meira Sacks, “and we feel that as part of our contribution to Israel — to her survival and well-being — we need to be a part of her.”
The Sacks family, which also includes sons Izzy, 4, and Jeremy, 1, will fly to Israel later this month and settle in Modiin, a community about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. While Yaakov works in Israel for his family’s American medical supply business, Meira, who is a teacher, will look for a job.
Although Meira is “a bit nervous at the unknown,” she said she feels confident that her family is moving in the right direction.
“I’m most excited about the opportunities we are able to give to our children,” she said.
The Sacks are among 19 Pittsburghers who have made aliya so far this year, and they may be part of an emerging trend. Fifty-nine people immigrated to Israel from Pittsburgh from 2002 to 2010, with 13 making the move in 2010.
Like the Sacks, Eva Dubinsky, a 21-year-old recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, is sure of her decision to make aliya. On Aug. 15, she will leave her Pittsburgh home to begin a new life as a graduate student at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv.
Dubinsky has known that Israel eventually would become her permanent home since she returned to Pittsburgh after a year of study at Midreshet Harova Seminary in Jerusalem.
“When I came back, about four months later, I woke up one day and I realized that I really couldn’t live in America anymore,” she said. “I realized I couldn’t survive with what America could give me spiritually. It feels like I’ve been in withdrawal. Since I made the decision [to make aliya], everything I have done has been geared toward making aliya a practical reality.”
Although she will leave her family behind, and move to a new school in a new country, Dubinsky says she is not anxious about the changes.
“It doesn’t feel unusual to me,” she said. “Israel is home to me. It’s like walking in my front door.”
Following graduation, Dubinsky, who plans to teach English as a foreign language, says she would like to move north, maybe settling near the Kinneret, but she will go wherever there’s a job.
Recent immigrants to Israel can find help with employment through an organization called Nfesh B’Nfesh, which provides a range of social services to those making aliya.
“They provide tremendous resources,” Dubinsky said. “They offer flights, and work with the government to streamline the process. They make it possible to make aliya.”
And the organization, which began in 2002, is busy these days. There were 14 percent more immigrants to Israel from around the world in 2010 than in 2009, for a total of 16,633 immigrants. Most of those immigrants came from Russia and the United States, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.
“Since 2002, we have seen an upward swing,” said Yael Katsman, director of communications for Nefesh B’Nefesh. She believes Birthright, which provides free trips to Israel to young adults, is responsible for an influx in young single professionals making the move.
“For families, the majority of immigrants — about 65 percent — are Orthodox Jews,” she said. “But for singles, or young professionals, over 60 percent are non-Orthodox. We are seeing a lot of Birthright graduates coming. They are integrating nicely socially, and the job market is good. There are also a lot of singles coming to join the army.”
Such is the case with 19-year-old Eli Allswede, a May 2011 graduate of the Oakland School, who says his “passion” for Israel began in 2008 when he took an organized tour with Tzipora Gur.
“It changed my life,” Allswede said. “Israel just blew me away. I completely fell in love with the country.”
Allswede has made a three-year commitment to serve in the Israeli army through a program called Garin Tzabar, joining young people from throughout the United States to serve the Jewish state.
While Allswede says he does have “certain fears about joining the army that everyone has,” mostly he is just excited to be headed to Israel.
“I’m finally getting to do what I really want to do,” he said.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)