Note: In the third installment of “Aliyah Journal,” we report on three New Yorkers — one married couple and one single woman — who are leaving successful careers to start over in Israel.
She worked in Mayor Bloomberg’s office. He was a New York City cop.
Their lives couldn’t be more “New York” — until the Serkins decided to fulfill their dream of making aliyah.
For Yonit Serkin, 27, the move to Israel earlier this month was a homecoming. She was born in New Jersey, but spent much of her childhood in Haifa, until her family moved back to the New York area when she was 9.
Fast-forward to 2007, when Serkin graduated from Johns Hopkins and was working as a deputy chief of staff at City Hall. That was when she went on her first date with Yosef Serkin, the man who would become her husband.
“We sat in a restaurant, having just met, and talked about how both of us wanted to make aliyah,” Yonit said.
Unlike his wife, Yosef Serkin had only visited Israel for the first time when he was 18, on a Solomon Schechter trip.
“As I got older and I came and went, waxed and waned in my religious practice and level of observance, Israel was always the constant thing,” the Brooklyn native said.
College came first — then his first job in New York, as an EMT.
When his partner took the test for the police department, Serkin followed suit — despite the challenges that he knew he would face as an observant Jew.
“I didn’t ask for as many accommodations, because I’m training to be a police officer — there’s a certain amount of responsibility and duty that is pikuach nefesh,” he said. Pikuach nefesh is the principle that one may violate most Jewish laws, including the Sabbath, to save a life.
Once Serkin graduated from the police academy and started working in Brooklyn, he was able to get Friday nights and Jewish holidays off without a problem.
Yonit Serkin was also thriving in her job. She calls City Hall “one of the most exciting and engaging places to work.”
Living on the Upper West Side, they attended Congregation Ohab Zedek and enjoyed their community of friends — but Israel was still calling.
“There’s a Hebrew phrase, Im lo achshav, eimatai? — If not now, then when?” Yonit Serkin said.
Her colleagues at the Mayor’s Office were supportive — as were Yosef’s fellow officers. “People are very aware of Israel’s role in the world of counterterrorism and security, and pretty much know that Israel is the premier force in these fields,” he said.
Still, some were surprised.
“With the police department, if you don’t stay a certain amount of time, you don’t collect a certain level of pension,” Serkin explained.
“It’s a job that you can do for 20 years, retire with a 50-percent pension and go on your way, and still have a great life.”
Still, he said, “I never approached the job in that way. I never looked at it as a 20-and-out sort of thing.”
Instead, Serkin will study counterterrorism at IDC Herzliya, while Yonit will look for a job in strategic communication and government.
They spent their last night in New York eating pizza, and dedicated their final morning to bagels — the last, delicious vestiges of their Manhattan life.
Their advice for potential olim?
“Close your eyes and jump,” Yonit Serkin said.
In college, Tracey Goldstein started her own event planning company. At 22, she shut it down and moved to Israel.
With 40 New York-area events under her belt — the last one involving 300 people and costing several hundred thousand dollars — Goldstein was at the top of her game.
Shutting down Polka Dot Events was difficult, but she’s confident that she’ll start another business in Israel.
“I’ll get the same satisfaction again,” she said.
Growing up Reform in Westbury, L.I., Goldstein said she was “always in communities where I was one of the only Jewish kids” — in high school, and at Fordham University.
When she went to Israel for the first time on Birthright Israel, the free trip for those 18 to 26, “I felt at home.”
Goldstein started meticulously planning her aliyah — all while running Polka Dot Events and working as a property manager for an Upper West Side apartment complex.
“I don’t think [planning aliyah] is something you should do over a two-month period,” she said. “When I started the aliyah process, I was surprised that they told me I was doing it way ahead of time, because I would think that most people would plan this kind of thing years in advance.”
She moved out of her Upper West Side apartment in March, and saved money for the move.
Now, Goldstein’s ready to start her new life in Israel. She’ll study for her MBA in Tel Aviv University’s international program.
“I think I’m the youngest one in the program, and my GMATs weren’t even that high,” Goldstein said.
“They pretty much took me in because of my work experience” — a sign that starting her own business continues to pay off, even when it’s now defunct.
She’s not worried about making the journey alone.
“Israeli guys really like American girls, so I’m not that worried,” Goldstein said.
“I think the right way to [make aliyah] is to be completely independent and single, and have no one to have as a liability.”
With much attention devoted to Orthodox aliyah, Goldstein hopes to set an example for those who are not fully observant.
“I’d like to start getting more young people who aren’t necessarily so religious to start getting more into long-term commitments to Israel,” she said.
While aliyah has a spiritual component for her, Goldstein said her primary motivation is helping to build Israel as an economic power.
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