“Life in Argentina is simpler, but Israel is worth the hardship”
Since the inception of the Amlat program at Midreshet Lindenbaum about a decade ago, 30% of its participants – about 100 young women – have made aliya. “It is true that my family does not live in Israel and it’s difficult being alone,” says Michal, who got married this week. “But my friends and teachers from Amlat have become my family.”
Just like youth from English-speaking countries abroad, young women from Spanish-speaking countries around the world also wanted to come to Israel for a year in which to focus on Torah study, touring the country and self-sustainability. The Amlat (“America Latinit”) program at Midreshet Lindenbaum is the only such program; its establishment a decade ago opened new vistas for young women, aged 19 -21, from Spain and eight countries in Central and South America. For the first time, they too had an opportunity to learn in the beit midrash and connect to Israel, under the guidance of a Spanish-speaking staff which guides them from the time they leave their homes abroad, throughout their year of Torah study, military or national service, and even help in finding a new home in Israel, if they so wish. Since the inception of the program about a decade ago, about 300 girls from eight different countries took part in the program – of which more than 100 have made aliya – or 30%.
In the class of 2017, there were 15 girls from Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Spain. They started learning Hebrew in an ulpan in the Midrasha, joined Israeli chavrutot in learning and spent Shabbat with everybody. Aliza Goldberg, director of the Amlat program, says: “They came to Israel with the objective of studying and growing, and making aliya didn’t really cross their minds. However, after six months of learning in the Midrasha, which turned out to be a very successful and special experience, they started talking about making aliya. In the last two months of the program, a few of the girls formed a group and decided to rent an apartment together in Jerusalem. Since then – 12 of them have formally made aliya.”
A week ago, they reunited to celebrate the wedding of Michal to the man of her dreams, the son of one of the teachers at Amlat. “Life in Argentina is different from life in Israel,” Michal said. “I went to Bnei Akiva ever since I can remember, but it recently closed down because there is not enough religious youth. People in Argentina love Israel but they don’t make aliya because life there is much simpler and people live well. Here in Israel every day is a new struggle, but once you live here you realize the struggle is worth it. My family is Zionist and so I came to Israel for studies… and behold, nine months later I’m about to get married here in Israel with a man who has also made aliya to Israel. If we were not both here, we would never have met.”
Michal continues: “Suddenly I find myself living in Israel – and it’s really a dream come true. When I arrived here, I loved everything, the good and the bad. My family lives far away and it’s not easy being alone, but my friends and teachers from Amlat have become my family. We visit our former teachers in their homes, especially Aliza, who helped us with our aliya – and with everything, as a matter of fact. I am so grateful for this new family of mine. Now I feel truly at home.”
Esther Amar, who also attended the wedding, says: “I lived in Spain for 18 years, but there is hardly any Jewish life there. We didn’t have a Jewish school, so I learned in a public school and had just one Jewish friend. My parents are religious and I grew up in a Zionist home and always wanted to live in a country where there are lots of Jews. When I came here to study at Midreshet Lindenbaum, I understood that Israel is my home.” Esther joined the Amlat program three years after her cousin from Venezuela studied here. “I came, I loved, I stayed. I learned about Zionism and now I see Israel in a whole new light.” Today she lives in Israel and is learning Business Administration in the Ono Academic College. Her family still lives in Spain.
“My parents live there because of their jobs, and my brother is still in school. It is hard moving to another country, and it’s even harder if one doesn’t have family in the new country. But I’m here now and it’s worth all the hardships because, after all, this is the Land of Israel.”
Goldberg explains: “There are a few short-term programs for Spanish-speaking girls, who come over for a week or even a month, but no other program offers young Spanish-speaking women extensive and profound Torah study in a beit midrash. Midreshet Lindenbaum and Ohr Torah Stone understood there was a need to fill and they took initiative. Today, a decade after its establishment, Amlat is still one-of-its-kind in Israel. And the fact that more than a third of the girls end up making aliya and raise full-fledged Israeli children is truly exceptional.”
“Israelis keep asking me – ‘Why did you come here? Why did you make aliya? Spain is a great place to live,'” says Esther. “And I tell them they have to understand how fortunate they are to be living here. We have to be here because this is our home; there is really no other country.”