Among the friends in Kew Gardens Hills whom I’ve known for many years are Michael and Chipper Perlman, whose lives are as local as it gets. He grew up in Hillcrest and she is from Monsey. They attended Queens College, got engaged on the Brooklyn Bridge, and settled in Kew Gardens Hills. Last month, they moved out of their apartment and reappeared in West Hempstead, where many of their former neighbors have relocated.
But if any of them presumed that the Perlmans were joining them in the suburbs, it was only for a couple of weeks, as they prepared to go farther east, to Israel.
“It’s been nice to see all the expats from Kew Gardens Hills,” Michael said. “Our life has been taken apart to be put together again on the other side of the ocean.”
Raised in Zionist homes, the Perlmans felt the connection to Israel from a young age. But they have parents, siblings, and careers in New York that delayed their big move. “It’s always been my dream and we discussed it when we married,” Chipper said. When our oldest child was born, we said that it is not such a bad idea. Then when our second daughter Devorah was born, it became an added reason. It is more family-friendly in Israel and easier to be who you are.”
Devorah, 5, was born with Down syndrome, which requires a personalized education to prepare her for adulthood. The Perlmans said that in Israel there are more resources available for religious families with special-needs children; the larger society offers them more career opportunities, giving such individuals a sense of inclusion. “Israel is well-equipped and has a lot of services available. There are tons of programs for individuals with autism,” she said. “Devorah can serve in the IDF in uniform. How many other countries do that?”
The Perlmans’ path to Israel was guided by Nefesh B’Nefesh, a nonprofit founded in 2001 that assists olim from western countries with paperwork, applications, financial aid, and social integration. “They are the first stop in knowing which documents need to be certified or authenticated, and arrange your interview with the Jewish Agency,” Michael said. “Then you need to prove that you’re Jewish with evidence and a letter from a recognized rabbi.”
Having done their pilot trip to Israel last year, the couple cleaned out their apartment, noting that shipping furniture can take more than a month to reach their new home in Rehovot. Located near Tel Aviv, it was chosen by the Perlmans for its resemblance to Queens. “It is a warm, inviting community with religious diversity,” Chipper said. “I like seeing people with different kinds of hair coverings and dresses.” Kew Gardens Hills is home to Queens College, and Rehovot has its own academic community at the Weizmann Institute of Science.
Its population of recent immigrants includes Russian-speaking, Yemenite, and Ethiopian olim, along with a growing “Anglo” population. On their pilot trip last year, their oldest child, Bracha Leah, 8, recognized people speaking Russian on the street. Her familiarity with that language comes from having Bukharian neighbors in Queens and classmates at the Yeshiva of Central Queens. As in their old neighborhood, their corner of Rehovot is within walking distance to schools, parks, and shops. “There are good schools there for all of our children and jobs nearby – tech jobs for Michael, and I’m a teacher.”
Upon arrival, they will register for schools and choose from a variety of Ulpan classes based on social situations such as workplace, daily living, and teaching. “You get one Ulpan paid by your aliyah benefits and the rest are not so expensive. I have a friend who took seven types of Ulpan classes to feel comfortable in Israeli society.”
During their stay in West Hempstead, the Perlmans were hosted by their friends, and their time here coincided with a special visitor to the community, Rabbi Dov Lipman. Born in Maryland, he made aliyah in 2004 and dedicated his public career towards assisting American olim. He was elected to the Knesset in 2013 and served for two years. His host was Michael Mandelstam, also a former Queens resident, who runs a weekly chaburah from his home.
Michael Perlman attended Rabbi Lipman’s visit, where he spoke on the topic, “Is the State of Israel the Beginning of the G’ulah?” His lecture covered Israel’s Jewish identity and legal framework, which are the subject of a proposed overhaul of the country’s Supreme Court and massive protests in opposition to it.
Money raised at the event benefited Yad L’Olim, a nonprofit headed by Rabbi Lipman that advocates in the Knesset for recent olim and helps them navigate through bureaucracy.
The decision of a lifetime involved arranging documents, being interviewed, taking a pilot trip, going on a virtual tour of their new home, registering their children in schools, and applying for jobs. Having learned from them how aliyah is done, the dream of living in the Jewish homeland is not so remote anymore. At the least, with the Perlmans in Israel, I have a new connection to this land.
Keren and I built a close friendship with this couple, and our children also bonded in the same daycare, summer camp, and yeshivah. Our common memories were formed at Shabbos meals, vacations, and family events. We wish much success to Chipper, Michael, and their children Bracha Leah, Devorah, and Moshe Chaim in their new home.
By Sergey Kadinsky