Extended Far Rockaway family, in rare move, heads to Israel — and new life — together.
Three generations of the Wurtzel-Entel family were on board for the move of a lifetime.
Chana Wurtzel and her husband Yitzi, who live in Far Rockaway, Queens, were acting on years’ worth of dreams to finally make aliyah to Israel. They would be accompanied, of course, by their four children, ranging in age from 10 to 18 months. But Chana’s parents, Joan and Eliezer Entel, it turned out, were just as enthusiastic about the move as she and her husband were.
Then there was grandma — generation No. 4.
“I had no intention of ever going to Israel or living there or ever anything like it,” Mimi Glaser, 94, told The Jewish Week. In fact, Glaser, who also lives in Far Rockaway, had never even left the country.
But the weight of family ties ultimately wore Glaser down, and after a pilot trip to Israel last month — Glaser thought the country was “awesome” — the fourth generation had her plane ticket. Next month, the Wurtzel-Entel family will mark a rarity in the annals of aliyah when its four generations, from 18-month-old Yakirah to her 94-year-old great-grandmother will uproot their collective lives and start over in Israel.
Asked about her decision to reconsider the move, Glaser spoke of the pull of family. “I’ve become attached to my great-grandchildren,” she said. “Where they go, I want to go.”
“Four generations [making aliyah at one time] — this is something very rare,” said the Shai Melamed, the family’s emissary from the Jewish Agency, the group helping to facilitate its aliyah process. “But we see more and more young families with three to five kids making aliyah.” Many hail from the New York area’s large Orthodox population.
This summer, Melamed expects to see a dramatic increase in American olim from last year, which had already risen 20 percent from the year before. While he feels that the sluggish American economy is certainly playing a role in the increase, he says most of these families have had a long-term desire to come to Israel. But he warns families that their transition will by no means be easy.
“When we speak with families we try to get beyond the tears of joy in the movies,” Melamed said, referring to often emotional orientation films of others making aliyah shown by the Jewish Agency. “Sometimes we find families don’t know what to expect. Although it’s our interest to have people make aliyah, we think it’s our job to prepare them.”
Chana and Yitzi Wurtzel seem to be clear-eyed about the challenges of moving to Israel, and perhaps a bit anxious.
“We’re really starting our whole life all over again,” Chana, 33, said. “You have to get a new identity. You get there, and you’re like, ‘I’m still me even though I can’t speak the language and I’m not part of the culture.’ That’s what I’m most nervous about — lost of individuality and loss of capability.”
Her husband, 36, agreed. “It is a dream come true, but on the other hand there’s always going to be difficult days,” he said. “It’s not like a fantasy. Hopefully this really will be a dream. I’m sure it will be difficult.”
For the Wurtzels, the dream had been nurtured for some time. Yitzi actually grew up in Ramat Beit Shemesh, his parents having made aliyah when he was a child. So the thought of returning was always a possibility after he and Chana were married.
But the two began feeling disillusioned by America and no better than “complacent” in their Far Rockaway Orthodox “bubble.” They decided that now was the time to make the move, to seek out a place that carried more meaning for them. Little did they know that their entirely family would follow their lead.
“When we dated, my husband and I knew that this was something we’d do one day but the pieces didn’t fall into place until now,” said Chana, who grew up in a traditionally Conservative home but becam e Orthodox with her parents and sister toward the end of high school. “Everyone thought we had forgotten about it.”
The Wurtzels ultimately decided on the heavily Anglo-populated Ramat Beit Shemesh, and Chana was prepared to separate from her parents if she had to. But luckily, her parents, Eliezer and Joan Entel, ended up being just as enthusiastic about the idea as she was and immediately hopped on board.
“As soon as they told us I went on Nefesh B’Nefesh’s website,” Eliezer said, referring to the aliyah advocacy group. “They had been working on the application for a few weeks, but I finished it before them.”
“We decided we were going to do this, so we got Grandma and brought her here,” he continued. “We said, ‘We’re moving to Israel, Chana’s moving to Israel and you’re going to Israel.’ She said, ‘No, I’m not.’”
The pilot trip in May won her over. Once she touched down in Israel for the first time, there was no turning back for Glaser.
“We said to mom after the trip, what’s one word you’d use to describe Israel — so what did you say?” Eliezer Entel asked his mother-in-law.
“Awesome,” Glaser responded. She noted that she passed the sleepless hours watching the plane inch its way toward Israel on the LCD map projection. “It’s a big trip but I did it — I had an adventure.”
Ramat Beit Shemesh is too hilly for Glaser, but she and her family found an assisted-living residence just a short bus ride away in Jerusalem –Tovei Ha’ir Residence. Glaser found the place to be beautiful and was excited about the picturesque view she’ll have of Israel’s capital, as well as the fact that most of the residents are fluent in English.
“I don’t know any Hebrew, but I hope to learn,” she said.
Adjusting to a new culture is something the whole family will have to confront. The Wurtzels and Entels participated in Jewish Agency-run seminars where psychologists offered advice on easing the transition.
The Wurtzels were particularly concerned about the idea that aliyah can and will fail for many people.
Chana said she has some concerns about adjusting her daily life routines, from getting groceries to making sure her kids are comfortable at their new school. Though she teaches both ESL (English as a Second Language) and piano here in the U.S., Wurtzel says that she’ll likely ease into a new career in Israel; her husband, she said, will continue working for his computer firm.
“For myself as the homemaker, I’m nervous about not being able to be in control,” Chana said. “But the fact that my husband is Israeli is a huge positive factor for us.”
“We’re lucky that we have the one less challenge of leaving our family behind,” she continued. “So many people say we wish we could go but we can’t leave our parents.”
Chana’s parents are equally enthused about the move, though they know things won’t be perfect.
“We’ve experienced challenges in the past,” Joan Entel said. “We made a whole life change [when the family became more religious] and that was a big challenge. This is just another step up for me.”
As for the children, they can’t wait for the move. Eliana, 10, is eager to meet new people and see her American friends who have already made aliyah, while her sister Talia, 6, says she gets tears in her eyes every time she sees one of the aliyah videos. Orah, 5, is happy she’ll have the opportunity to visit the Kotel whenever she wants, and Yakirah, 1 1/2, just ran around her grandparents’ living room in Far Rockaway climbing on laps.
“Everyone has to do one big thing in their life and for my husband and me, this is it,” Chana said. “My parents became religious — that’s big. People make a move or a career change. For us this has always been the big thing we wanted to do.”
For Chana’s grandmother, the move is just one more “big thing” in a whole line of challenges and opportunities she has encountered over the last nine decades.
“I’m 94 years old and I’m going on an adventure,” Glaser said. “I don’t feel old.”
Signup for our weekly email newsletter here.
The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.