From Boca To Israel – Laura Ben David’s Aliyah Story
Renowned writer and talented photographer Laura Ben David shared her journey from Boca Raton to Israel with us, providing inspiration for others who wish to follow in her footsteps. Through her writing and photography, Laura captures the beauty and spirit of the places she visits, allowing readers and viewers to appreciate them in a new light. Her work is a reminder that there is always something new to discover, even in places that may be familiar.
Our featured photo was taken by Laura highlighting how Jerusalem is both ancient and modern at the same time.
Laura Ben David is a renowned author best known for her book MOVING UP: An Aliyah Journal, a memoir documenting her move to Israel. Since then, Laura has been an outspoken advocate for Israel and Aliyah, touring the United States and Israel to spread awareness about the importance of these issues.
Today was a special day because we got to meet her virtually for an interview about her meaningful journey.
20 years ago, Laura Ben David moved from Boca Raton to Jerusalem. Looking back, what does she think of that move?
Laura described the move as “the best move ever.”
What’s so different about living in Jerusalem versus living in Boca?
“Just to make it accurate, I was actually in Gush Etzion, I will be moving to Jerusalem, but I’ve never actually lived in Jerusalem.
Israel is very different actually. It’s kind of funny, because when we moved to Aliyah we had been in in Florida for all that time in Boca Raton, and we specifically looked for a place that was not flat, not humid. It doesn’t really have obviously, the physical things.
We moved into the mountains where it was cool and comfortable. But it’s, it’s extremely different in so many ways. At the same time. You know, we had amazing community there in Boca, and that was something that we wanted to replicate, which we did.”
What was the adjustment like for you and for your family?
Adjusting from living to one place to another is kind of challenging and it’s also the same for Laura and her family.
“It was huge. It was definitely a huge adjustment,” she answered.
“To go from English speaking country, where everything is what we are used to, anytime you move to another country, it’s going to be a big adjustment. It was definitely a lot, figuring out work, figuring out schools, the kids, even like socially.”
Moreover, she stressed out knowing no one in the new place they moved in since most of their families are in Boca, which makes it another huge challenge for them.
“We had lots of family in America, everybody was there. You know, we had a lot of people right there in Boca and other places as well. We moved to Israel and had no family. So that was an enormous adjustment as well. That’s, you know, that was our personal story.”
Looking back on that period of time that you’ve been in Israel, are some of the highlights of your time there? What are those special moments that, like, wow, this could only have happened here?
“Oh, my God, there are so many. There’s really so many things. But I guess some of the things that really stand out, like an army Tekes ceremony. One of our kids, you know, went into the Army and finished a certain stage and had this ceremony where they had become a soldier defending our homeland. That’s really intense on many levels, and obviously, something that you can’t experience like that. Anywhere else could be in the army, but you wouldn’t be in our army. So I think that stands out.”
So on those special days, when the entire country comes to a standstill, everybody gets outside of their cars, what goes through you when you hear the sirens go off?
In Israel,Yom Hazikaron. starts at sundown with a one-minute siren all over the country. Everyone tends to stop whatever they are doing, as well as cars on the highway, to pay their respects and remember those who have died.
Laura, thought of this experience as “a powerful thing”
“First of all, when on those days, I try very hard to be somewhere were able to experience that siren like, it’s something. The whole thing is very special and very powerful.”
“Everyone in the country is stopping whatever they’re doing, and experiencing it together. You know that even if you’re standing in your living room, but you feel it when you are on a highway or in a city or someplace where you literally are seeing other people doing it with you. So I actually try to put myself in a place where I can experience it with other people. And yeah, it’s it’s really powerful and really important. You know, you literally are doing your life doing your thing. And you have that feeling of WOW, everybody is thinking about the soldiers that were lost the Holocaust victims, the Holocaust, and whatever it is, we’re all in it together. And it is a very, very powerful thing.”
Do you have any thoughts on the numbers of people moving in from the United States and from Boca drying up a little bit, any thoughts on that?
Laura Ben David formerly worked with Nefesh B’Nefesh along with Josh Fass as the head of social media. The organization promotes and facilitates Aliyah or also known as Jewish immigration to Israel.
In terms of the numbers of immigrants, Laura said that it’s always fluctuating and the number can go up or down but she thinks that the normalization of Aliyah is the most important thing.
“I don’t know specifically about the numbers, but I did work at Nefesh B’Nefesh for about seven years. And the numbers are was always fluctuating, there were things that brought it up, but sometimes it would, you know, dry up, as you say.”
“I think that the important thing about it is that Aliyah has become normalized. When we made Aliyah and we were literally on the first plane, we were literally the first people to get off the first plane.”
Laura reminisces the beginning of their Journey 20 years ago with as the first people who did Aliyah and the reaction of people about their decision.
“So, right there from the beginning, 20 years ago, with Nefesh B’Nefesh when I remember, we’re telling friends that we were making Aliyah. I remember this one particular friend, and she was like, “People still do that?” Like it was some 70s trend, like bell bottoms that went out of style, making Aliyah and that was like so shocking to me. But she was right. People weren’t doing it.”
“So what Josh Fass did was he normalized Aliyah and he made it something that people do and he created like now the 7075 75,000 person made Aliyah this week. That’s unbelievable from America, that’s unbelievable or from, the Nefesh B’Nefesh world that is like an incredible number and any created a situation where pretty much no one in the Jewish world in America doesn’t know people who have made Aliyah. So, it has become normalized.”
“Yes, there will be fluctuations. There’ll be ups and downs. And you know, we don’t have an endless supply of people to make Aliyah, so that’s a natural thing as well. But even if the numbers go down, they’ll go back up. And the numbers are continuing. They may not be the same kind of spikes that they had been in again, I don’t know, because I haven’t seen the numbers. But the fact that it’s normalized is I think that’s huge.”
Now yesterday, and updating this, I saw a fantastic picture taken in the Shuk by you and posted. Then, you said you waited and waited for this picture. You become quite a photographer recently. How was that come about?
“So I think that art is something that was always kind of my direction. It wasn’t the professional direction I chose. Anyone who knew me back in Boca knows that I was a nurse, and sometimes a teacher, nothing artistic at all, really. But there’s something that I really love is I love to see things and and capture them replicate them in some way, I really just enjoy it.”
“When I moved to Israel, I started writing. And that was like a way of sharing the beauty and incredible experiences of Israel. And I slowly discovered that photography was a much quicker way to do it, even if you have to stand and wait for your shot. But that, picture says 1000 words, you know, it takes a lot. It doesn’t take as much time to take a picture that it has to write 1000 words. But you’re able to really capture these moments and share them and I love that I really, really love experiencing the world that way through a camera lens. So this is something that was just kind of a natural progression for me to just move into photography. I really love it.”
Now, when something threatens Israel or threatens Jews in the world, people come together, and usually the centrality of Israel is what holds people together.
Recently, there was a Bar Mitzvah that took place, not far from the Kotel and I saw your name as the photographer, and then that bar mitzvah became an international incident. Can you tell us what you saw?
“So first of all, the Bar Mitzvah was technically at the Kotel, but it was at the southern part of it, which is the basically the egalitarian section of the Kotel. I was a photographer for a Bar Mitzvah, a family that came from America to celebrate their Bar Mitzvah.”
“It happened to be on Rosh Hodesh, the first of the Hebrew month. And that day in particular, every Rosh Hodesh is a day where there’s often demonstrations at the Kotel where people are trying to generate more egalitarian. There are definitely always a lot of demonstrations and so forth and passions, a lot of passions, which makes sense that a place that’s most revered holy site for Jews.”
“In any case at the egalitarian section which is set aside and designated for anyone who wants to worship in a way that’s different than the standard Orthodox, separate seating separate men and women can go there and those family was celebrating. When we got there, there were like a number of people of very religious people who were kind of sitting there looking at a place looking like, “why are they here?” They could have been invited guests of a anything but something wasn’t right. And we soon realized what they were there for. They were there to basically harass people who were worshipping in a way that was different from what they believed is correct. People because they were together mixed men and women because they maybe a little different. And they are group and there were three Bar Mitzvahs out there. And they’re all of us were literally surrounded by these young men, boys and young men, Haredi ultra orthodox, whatever, who were blowing whistles in our ears and calling us all sorts of horrible names. It was really bad. And, I actually engaged with a couple of them because I do that, you know, like, why are you doing this? Like, why would you do this to these people? I also felt very protective of my clients, like I’m the Israeli here. And they’re, you know, the Americans who don’t know what in the world flying.
“And I was very upset and aging with them, I realized that they really believed in their cause. They really believe that they are, I don’t know, somehow, the army of God, who are defending the world, from people who are doing things wrong.”
“It was really, really upsetting. It was I mean, upsetting and fitting like, just for us having that experience of being so harassed and literally they’re like blowing whistles in our ears. I mean, for hours afterwards, we heard the ringing in our ears. I mean, to me, that’s assault. But then you think about like, okay, but if this would have happened at the main part of the Kotel a group of worshipers being surrounded with whistles blown and named called and everything that wouldn’t have been allowed. There’s no way that somehow kind of like a little bit out of the way that it was allowed to take place. And I think that’s one of the things that got people so angry and so upset like, Why, How did this even escalate to this point? Why would this have been allowed to happen? Hopefully, at the very least, there’ll be lessons learned from from that awful morning, because it was really awful.”
And I understand the Prime Minister placed a call to the boy and his family to apologize for what had taken place.
Yeah, at least one of them since there were there. I don’t know if it was my client, but yeah, they the Prime Minister, Yair Lapid, I know got involved in a lot of organizations have really gotten up in arms about it, which they should, because it’s just not okay.
Switching back to is Israel as your home. I’m sure you still have lots and lots of friends who still are in Boca. You know, to them the idea of making Aliyah is still a dream. What would you what would you want to say to them about that dream?
“Well, if it’s actually a dream, like something that they want to do, as opposed to something that like, oh, wow, that would be nice, but it’s not happening. I would say to go for it, make a plan. It’s not an easy thing, but it’s worthwhile. It’s really just an amazing life change that it’s a way to fully actualize your Jewish experience or Jewish life.”
“There are things that you just can’t do anywhere else but Israel, like, for example, going on just a regular hike or going anywhere really, you’re stepping in like the footsteps of the forefathers, the Bible, the Torah, there’s so much richness and in Jewish.
The Jewish experience here also things like just the life cycles, the holidays, everything is according to the Jewish calendar. You don’t have that in America or anywhere else in the world. But I think that people, anyone who wants to do it, who feels like this is something that they want to do, you have to explore it and come for pilot trip, you know, see what it’s like talk to us who have done it, who have been through it. It’s just an amazing, worthwhile journey that it’s, I mean, obviously life changing. But, so worthwhile.
Laura shared with us how her experiences have shaped who she is today and what she hopes to achieve in the future. It was clear that she is passionate about making a difference in the world, and we are grateful to have heard her story.
If you are going to be in Israel and want a photographer, contact Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org