Mindy Rubenstein: An Aliyah Story in Progress

Mindy Rubenstein: An Aliyah Story in Progress

Just as the Children of Israel wandered the desert, making over 40 stops before finally crossing the Jordan and coming home, Mindy Rubenstein made many stops before arriving in Israel ten months ago and joining Israel365 as a writer.

Mindy grew up on the West Coast of Florida in an area that did not have a Jewish community.

“I was always searching,” Mindy told Israel365 News. “We went to a reformed temple and I always knew there was something more but I didn’t know exactly what it was. I asked my reform rabbi and he suggested I become a rabbi. I became active in the synagogue but it wasn’t the full answer.”

When she went away to college, she delved into other spiritual disciplines but nothing really fulfilled her. She was still searching when she met and married her husband. A few years later, Mindy and her husband were invited by a Chabad rabbi to his Shabbat meal, and right away, Mindy knew that this was an introduction to something that would lead to what she was searching for. 

“We went with our two toddlers,” Mindy related. “The wall was lined with holy books and the Shabbat meal was amazing. They were so warm and accepting and asked us questions. We talked the entire time. And I thought, ‘This is it’. My soul just literally lit up.”

The very next week, Mindy began lighting candles and having Shabbat meals at home. At first, her husband was not on board with the changes but gradually, he became equally enthusiastic. In retrospect, the pace of the changes may seem impulsive but Mindy described her moves as “decisive”. Traveling forward toward one goal, she didn’t quite know what the goal was.

“I grew up having zero awareness in Israel,” Mindy said. “It was I knew it was a place and I knew that it had something to do with being Jewish.”

But Mindy had never visited and had no idea what Israel was like. As part of her search into Judaism, she began to investigate Israel. She moved to Atlanta and, coincidentally, several people from the community made Aliya, putting the subject on her radar.

Once again, Mindy followed her truth and in a characteristically decisive move, in 2012 Mindy went online and filled out an application for  Nefesh B’Nefesh. 

Nefesh B’Nefesh is a nonprofit organization, that promotes, encourages, and facilitates aliyah from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The organization aims to remove or minimize the financial, professional, logistical, and social obstacles that potential Olim face.

But the family was not ready until her son led the way, opting to attend high school in Israel as part of the Naaleh program in 2021. Naaleh offers a free high school program in Israel.

“We sent him to Israel by himself at 15 during the pandemic and he couldn’t come back,” Mindy explained. “We couldn’t visit him because of the pandemic and it was really torturous. But he ended up doing well. He was having the full experience of spending Shabbat throughout Israel at different places. When it came time to decide what he was going to do for the next year, I realized that he couldn’t come back to high school in America. There was nothing for him and there was so much for him in Israel.

“So that was it,” Mindy said. “We had to go to Israel. So I started filling out the application again. I  sat down with my family to talk about it, to my husband and kids, and I was crying. I explained that we had to do this now.”

Moving to a different country was difficult and Israel is even more so. It is literally on the other side of the globe and surrounded by unfriendly countries making transit a tricky affair. Mindy spent one month making painful decisions about what possessions to bring with them and what to leave behind. Much time was spent online, selling what couldn’t be brought. 

“So many people get stuck in their material things and everything surrounding that,” Mindy said. 

“The first time I came to Israel the first time I stepped foot in Eretz Yisrael was when I made Aliyah,” Mindy said. She wrote a blog about her first visit to the Kotel (Western Wall) that describes the experience in transcendent terms.

Many of the Jewish cultural aspects from the US, like bagel shops, were absent but so many things made her aware that she was in her Jewish homeland.

“The Israeli flag is so powerful for me,” she said. She related how she was surprised to find unfamiliar Dreidels (spinning tops) for sale before Hannukah. In the exile, the letters on the Dreidel are nun, gimel, heh, and shin representing the phrase, “A great miracle happened there”. In Israel, the Hebrew letters are nun, gimel, heh, peh, representing the phrase, “A great miracle happened here, since the Hanukkah miracle happened in Israel. “

She is still amazed at the availability of kosher food and the fact that non-kosher food is so rare. 

“Everyone knows it is Yom Kippur and there is no bread anywhere on Pesach,” she said.

One difference was less pleasant. While Mindy feels generally safe, one morning, she was riding the train when the conductor announced that rockets were falling nearby. At first, Mindy did not understand the announcement until a man sitting across from her calmly explained. 

“Even then, I was thinking, ‘God, do what you will’,” Mindy said. “But I was also thinking that all the people on the train were Jews, my people, and this is my home.”

Sirens, even ceremonial like on Israel independence day, are still difficult but she is thrilled to be living among her brethren.

“I grew up going to a public school where l was one of two Jews out of 2000 students,” she explained. “It’s really hard to describe what it’s like now, to not be in the minority. It never really bothered me to be in the minority but in Israel, I know that I have a different type of soul and a different mission. Hashem sent us here for a purpose.”

“I never felt at home, that I was in my place in America,” she explained. “In Israel, I know this is where I belong.”

The experience has not been easy. Israeli bureaucracy challenges everyone’s patience. But Mindy and her family are still enthusiastic. One of the more challenging aspects finally came to a close as her two dogs, Mavis and Diego, arrived in Israel.

“After months of vet exams, bizarre tests, seemingly endless amounts of paperwork, and then 18 hours of travel, our dogs have finally joined us in Eretz Yisrael,” Mindy said.  “The process began before we made Aliyah, and now that they are finally here, it feels even more like home.  I’m so grateful to my husband for traveling back to the U.S. to finish the process.”

(Photo courtesy)

Making aliyah as a couple required aligning life aspirations but Mindy and her husband navigated this challenge as well. 

“I was the one who pushed at first but my husband came along. Now he is enthusiastic. We both realized that we want to live by Torah. That’s what we’re supposed to do. And we are supposed to be in Israel. So we both agree on that and that’s where we’re holding.”

“If I could tell people one thing it is that it’s never as bad as anyone may tell you,” People say to me, ‘Oh, you are so brave’. But that’s not true. People sometimes make their fear bigger than it needs to be, bigger than the situation actually warrants. Whatever their fear was, whether it was financial or something about the kids or job, everyone has their own fears. Making aliyah was hard and scary. Life is hard anywhere,” she explained. “But aliyah wasn’t impossible, And it has really been worth it.”

“After 2,000 years of exile, I’m living in the Holy Land with my husband and children,” she added. “It went from a dream to reality in just a few months. I still can’t fully believe that I’m actually here. My exiled great-grandparents could only dream of being able to live as Jews in this land.”

She has one unfulfilled aliyah aspiration.

“I feel like I need to be more intimately connected with the land,” Mindy said. “The land thrives with us when we touch it when we work with it. A Jew makes the land bloom. I haven’t learned how to do that yet. I appreciate the trees and I appreciate nature. I don’t grow food yet.”

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