Making Aliyah has always been a big part of the DNA in my family. Israel has been the focus of many of our family’s dinner conversations, our travel plans, and the hopes for our future. L’Shana Haba’a B’Yerushalaim had a special resonance in our family’s Passover Seder.
My family’s ties to Israel go back three generations. My grandparents (all four of them) found themselves in Nazi Europe and had to do everything in their power to flee. My dad’s parents were lucky and found passage to Costa Rica during the mid- 1930’s, where they settled and started a family. My dad was born in Costa Rica in 1941. My mother’s parents and maternal grandparents had to flee through the Russian border from Poland (leaving my grandfather’s entire family behind to a terrible fate at the hands of the Nazi regime), where they survived by being moved around between prison camps in Siberia and then in Uzbekistan. My mom was born in one of these camps in 1944.
As soon as the war ended, my mom’s family began searching for a new place to call home. My maternal great-grandparents moved to Mandatory Palestine in 1946. However, my mother’s parents found their way to Bolivia, where they tried to settle and start anew.
My grandfather had to make the difficult choice between Palestine and Bolivia. At the time, he believed that he had better chances of locating any surviving family members while living in South America, and so they moved to La Paz. Despite his choice, he was a true Zionist at heart and became very involved with the local Jewish community.
In time, both my mom and dad were pushed individually by their families to move to Israel as soon as their high- school was completed. Thus, they ended up meeting serendipitously at the Technion in Haifa in the mid-1960s. Both young and alone – two Spanish speakers in a Hebrew-speaking land and made – who made a lifelong connection.
My older brother was born in Haifa in 1966. My parents and my brother continued their lives in Israel until the Six-Day War and a subsequent challenging personal period forced them to reconsider a life in Costa Rica. As I was told endless times, my parents made a deal with each other: they were to “return to Costa Rica for a few years, to allow for better job opportunities and a more stable income for the family. Then, after they were able to save some money and become more independent, they were to return home to Israel.”
Sadly, that was never to be the case for my parents. They remained in Costa Rica where I was born a few years later, and then my younger brother came to complete our little Zionist family.
Meanwhile, my mother’s parents did make a successful Aliyah from Bolivia, after realizing that living in La Paz as Jews was just more of the same, and that they would never feel entirely safe or free until they lived in Israel. My grandparents arrived in Israel in the early 1970s, where they lived the rest of their lives in their home in Tel Aviv.
When I turned 12 I became obsessed with the idea of making Aliyah. I did not know when or how exactly, but I knew deep in my bones that my future and my happiness were to be forever tied to this country and its people. I had an initial, failed attempt at making Aliyah in 1990, when I proved too young to endure this new lifestyle all on my own.
My second and final (and successful) attempt was in November 1995, right on the heels of the murder of Itzhak Rabin Z”L. I remember the mixture of incredible sadness, loss and regret I felt while walking around Tel Aviv on the day of my arrival and experiencing the aftermath of that terrible act, which had taken place only a few days before.
However, there were other feelings filling my heart that day – a deep sense of realization, of true purpose – I had finally arrived home and to my people! I still get emotional when I remember the immeasurable of love and compassion I felt amid all the sadness, the helplessness and the anguish of the times; I was – for better or worse – where I belonged.
I will always remember the 15th of November 1995 as the day when I came full circle with my destiny, a destiny that began with my grandparents’ Zionist ideas and yearnings of creating a life for themselves and their family in Israel, some 50 years before.
Written by: Patricia Mikowski-Kahn