July 17, 2020 – By JACK COPELOVICI
The last few months have witnessed a remarkable increase in interest from Jews in English-speaking countries in making aliyah. The reasons for doing so include Israel’s relative success in dealing with the COVID crisis, the rise in antisemitism around the world, and the desire to live a more meaningful life in Israel as a Jew.
However, some of the big questions holding back potential olim (new immigrants), especially those who are 50-plus and are already settled, may be the following:
“My Hebrew is almost non-existent. What am I going to do with myself when I get to Israel? Will I be able to find an English-speaking community in which I can feel comfortable or that has the same values as I do?”
One of the best ways to help solve these dilemmas is by joining ESRA (English Speakers Residents Association). My wife, Ida, and I are good examples. We made aliyah in June 2016 from Toronto when we were in our early 60s. We had two immediate priorities: To find an English-speaking community in which to live and to get involved in Israel by finding meaningful volunteer opportunities.
Fortunately, we found ESRA.
ESRA was established some 40 years ago. It has roughly 2,700 members in about 21 chapters in north, south and central Israel, stretching from Eilat to Nahariya and beyond. Members originate from North America, the UK, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. Programming, all of which is in English, encompasses social activities, outings (when conditions permit), educational mentoring and tutoring programs, charitable and welfare activities and volunteering. In addition, and because of COVID, a majority of our social activities – talks, visual tours and cooking classes – have been and may continue on Zoom.
Through ESRA, Ida and I are involved in tutoring Israeli students in English in schools in Ra’anana, raising funds for charitable causes, and organizing Zoom lectures on various topics. Prior to the COVID outbreak, there were numerous tours to such places as the Blaustein Institute; Zichron Yaakov, among Israel’s first Jewish settlements; world-famous wineries; Jerusalem antiquities and museums; the Agam Museum; the Weizmann Institute, Abraham’s Well in Beersheba; and a Bauhaus walking tour of Tel Aviv, to mention a few. We have also done cutting-edge environmental research in the Negev.
However, ESRA is not just for those planning aliyah.
Many people living abroad want to be able to see and hear about Israel generally and/or participate in English language programs, which address various aspects of life in Israel. ESRA is the perfect vehicle for that.
A look at the upcoming ESRA calendar will show a number of topics, ranging from finance, current events, Jewish historical topics, the environment and pure entertainment, like our National Trivia Quiz, as well as an assortment of other topics available for viewing.
In short, you do not have to be here to feel like you are enjoying what Israel has to offer. ESRA can help you do this wherever you are in the world. You can join an ESRA program even when visiting Israel.
When you look at the ESRA website, you can see many types of clubs, including bridge, photography and knitting. For the hardier types, there are monthly hikes, which have recently restarted.
Bottom line: When considering whether to make aliyah, remember that ESRA is one way you can make your experience of Israel immensely more meaningful and enjoyable, both from afar and when you arrive.
Simply go to the ESRA website and follow the prompts to join. We look forward to meeting you.
Jack Copelovici was born and raised in Toronto. He was a lawyer for 34 years before retiring and making aliyah in 2016 with his wife Ida. He lives in Ra’anana. Ida and Jack volunteer in a number of areas, including mentoring Lone Soldiers, assisting in English classes in area schools, and in ESRA, which Jack chairs in Ra’anana.