Despite the unrelenting rain, seven people made it to Pittsburgh’s first Pre-Aliyah Community Meeting on Tuesday. The purpose of the group is two-fold — to bring people together and create a network of those interested in aliyah; and to provide resources to the group from the Jewish Agency and Nefesh B’Nefesh.
After the meeting started on Jewish time — read: 30 minutes late — Leader Micah Toll, a senior mechanical engineering major at the University of Pittsburgh, explained that he’s part of a program at the Jewish Agency for Israel, called the Aliyah Campus Fellowship. There are between 20 and 25 Aliyah Campus Fellows at different colleges and universities around the country. Pittsburgh is lucky enough to have nine universities, and as such, the Pre-Aliyah Community is open to students at any of those schools, as well as members of the Pittsburgh community
The organization is meant to reach out to two groups of people: Those who know they will make aliyah, and those who want to learn more about the process. The room definitely reflected the diversity and the divide. Students from Carnegie Mellon and Point Park Universities, the University of Pittsburgh, and a high school senior were all in attendance.
Some, like Becca Yasner at Carnegie Mellon, are positive they want to make aliyah. She’s known since she was 13 or 14.
Others, like Samantha Vinokor, a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, are still unsure. Already president of PIPAC (Pittsburgh Israel Public Affairs Committee), Vinokor wants to continue to work in Israel advocacy after she graduates. She speculates that she might have more of an effect on people if she remains in the Diaspora. Similarly, Mia Jacobs, a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh is weighing her options. She’s an alumna of Nativ, a gap year program in Israel, and has been considering aliyah ever since.
In contrast, Eli Allswede, a senior at The Oakland School, spent three weeks in Israel as a high school sophomore and knew he wanted to live there for the rest of his life. He participated in a teen leadership program that took students to Poland for one week, and then to Israel for three. Walking along the train tracks near a concentration camp, Allswede knew he wanted to service in the IDF — and this was all before he touched in the promised land.
Elie Furman, another student at the University of Pittsburgh, spent over a year in Israel, at a yeshiva after he graduated high school. For him, it’s about being in the new majority, as he explained that over 50 percent of Jews now live in Israel. Also, he claims that Judaism is less commercialized in Israel, an appealing element for him.
Despite the two groups of people (those who’ve decided on aliyah and those who haven’t), Toll insists that “This is your community.” Each meeting (probably bi-weekly starting in the spring semester) will have a different theme and there will be a question/suggestion box for members.