|Local family makes aliyah|
|Written by Carol Katzman, Contributing Writer|
|Thursday, July 05 2012 09:49|
Until a few weeks ago, 9-year-old Nehemiah Merdinger wasn’t thrilled about his family’s upcoming move to Israel. “I understand Hebrew, but I can’t really speak it,” he said in a recent interview with his parents, Dr. Eliana Megerman and Michael Merdinger.
“I’ll miss my friends here, so I don’t want to go.”
The Megerman-Merdinger family sold their home in the Pinehurst sub-division of Overland Park early this spring and moved into the basement of a friend’s home nearby. They’ve already given away or sold boxes of clothing, books, toys and small appliances. The moving truck has come and gone and the family is scheduled on a flight to Israel chartered by the aliyah organization Nefesh b’Nefesh on July 11.
But when his parents told Nehemiah he would be on a flight only with other American families making aliyah, his resistance faltered. “There will be kids my age on the plane?” he asked. “And they’ll be speaking English?”
Now he’s already planning on how he can contact them once his family moves into their apartment in Mazkeret Batya, a few miles southeast of Rehovot and about 16 miles outside of Tel Aviv.
Eliana and Michael have been dreaming of making aliyah since 2002. “Michael was working as a rabbi in Tennessee and we were on a Jewish Federation trip. We had been married for just over a year; on that trip, we started looking around and wondering why we weren’t living in Israel,” she recalled. “At a certain point several years ago, we decided we wanted to make aliyah, but we had to wait to until we paid off our student loans.”
Michael is fluent in Hebrew (and Spanish, too). In addition to smicha (rabbinic ordination) obtained in 2000 at Yeshiva University, he also earned his law degree from New York University after graduating from Yale. He practices law in Missouri and Kansas and hopes to continue doing legal work in Israel, looking for a job in corporate law, probably in Tel Aviv.
Eliana, who graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s six-year BA/MD program, is an emergency room physician at Overland Park Regional Center. While she hopes eventually to practice in Israel, she’s actually scheduled to return here in August for a three-week stint in the ER and again in February 2013.
“I can’t start looking for a job in Israel immediately,” Eliana explained. “Olim (new immigrants) have to pass a Hebrew proficiency test, so in between my visits back here, I’ll be taking ulpan (an intensive Hebrew language course). After passing the test, I’ll also have to work a three-month internship before I can work as a doctor in Israel, but I will probably continue to come back here once or twice a year to work.”
Of course, it’s also a good excuse to visit her parents, Esther and Charles Megerman, who understand their daughter’s and son-in-law’s desire for aliyah. In 1972, while pregnant with their oldest daughter Rachel, Esther and Charles hoped to become residents of the State of Israel. Though it didn’t work out for them (they returned to Kansas City in 1973), they’re supportive of their daughter’s family’s move, even though they’ll miss Nehemiah and his sisters, Lital, 7, and Ariella, 3.
“You can’t really know what it will be like until you do it,” Eliana admitted. “But you have to be willing to take chances in life.” Two years ago, Eliana and Michael took Nehemiah and Lital for an “exploratory trip to Israel,” she said, recalling an encounter with a salesman at an Ahava store. “We casually mentioned that we were thinking about aliyah. He told Michael and me that the first two years would be rough, but that there’s nothing like living in your own country.”
Michael agreed, noting, that while “It is impossible to prepare in advance completely for all the challenges of living in Israel, you can never know a place until you live in it. Life is always an unknown.”
Eliana and Michael interviewed for aliyah here in Kansas City. It was one of the last interviews conducted by Lilach Nissim, the shlicha for the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, before she returned to Israel due to health reasons. The staff at the Jewish Agency listened to the interview via speakerphone from the Chicago office.
Though the couple has been contemplating aliyah since 2002, Nefesh b’Nefesh only takes applicants within 12 months of making aliyah. “That means a rush to obtain all the documents, visas, birth certificates and the rest of the paperwork,” Eliana said, all while decluttering, downsizing, trying to sell a home, and packing up in between 12-hour shifts in the E.R.
Eliana is excited for their children to “know and speak Hebrew, to participate naturally in the Jewish life cycle, and for their freedom to explore on their own.” And yes, they understand their children will participate in the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces.
There’s also the issue of their education. “People warn you about schools in Israel — that there are 30 kids to a classroom and there are strict rules and regulations,” Eliana said. “But that was our experience in the Shawnee Mission school system, which has been amazing. Now in Israel our kids will merge the public school experience with the Jewish education and environment.”
Making the move several months before school starts will help ensure that the kids have time to pick up some Hebrew, too, especially on the playground and local parks, which Israel has in abundance.
Michael anticipates the experience of living in Israel will be uplifting, but in an everyday way — “through the process of living in an environment that attempts to build a moral and just society as a Jewish people.” He, too, recalled an incident from their 2010 trip: “We were in a jewelry store and observed a conversation between the owner and an American woman. She was indecisive about a purchase so the owner told her to take the piece home. She argued that it was too much trouble to buy it and then get a credit if she returned it. The owner said, ‘No, no … just take it home! If you don’t like it, bring it back.’
“That was very moving to me,” Michael continued. “You see that in Israel day in and day out. It’s not perfect but the Israeli government, its people and its military act with ethical behavior. Of course there’s still room for improvement, but there’s a dedication to justice and righteousness — values that are at the core of the raison d’être of the Jewish people.”
Nehemiah’s one disappointment, however, is that Israel is such a small country, “There won’t be time to watch DVDs in the car since the trips are too short.” He was reminded, however that his parents could take him skiing on Mount Hermon in the north and drive seven hours south to the beaches of Eilat … all in one vacation.
Hearing that, Nehemiah smiled. American kids on the charter flight next month. Skiing. Parasailing at the beach. Even American-style baseball. Maybe this 9-year-old would agree that aliyah will be a great adventure after all!
|Last Updated on Wednesday, July 11 2012 11:12|