Oakland family of six pulling up roots to plant in Israel

Rabbi Jason Rozen, his wife, Bruria, and their four young children live in Oakland. But not for long. In July, they will be making aliyah to Israel and setting up a new home in Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem.

“We are making an important step in our lives that will carry us into the next stage,” Jason said. Moving to Israel, although it is a big change, seems natural to the family. “Years of Jewish education have instilled in us a love for the Land of Israel and the value of living in the State of Israel,” explained Bruria. Moreover, they will be joining many extended family members who have made aliyah.

Rabbi Jason Rozen and his wife, Bruria, with children (clockwise from top left) Avigayil, Nachum, Yedidya and Bayla.

When Jason, 32, the middle-school director at Oakland Hebrew Day School for the past seven years, and his wife, 31, married nine years ago, they made what they called their “10-year Israel plan.” In other words, they hoped to make aliyah within 10 years of their wedding date. “It was always a dream,” he said. “But it became much more of a practical reality when I was recently offered a work opportunity in Israel.”

Immediately upon arrival, he will begin his job at a new gap-year program called Imadi, working with Ahron Glazer, a former Oakland resident who ran the East Bay teen group NCSY. Imadi will offer students college-level courses at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Rothberg International School, Jewish text study, travel and other Israel experiences. Although it has an Orthodox orientation, Imadi is open to all post–high school Jewish students. Rozen expects the program to begin this fall with 30 students (see www.imadi.org).

The rabbi, who also serves as the youth director at Oakland’s Beth Jacob Congregation, is confident Imadi will be a good fit for him. His wife, meanwhile, will focus on getting the family settled in their new home. “We chose to live in Beit Shemesh because it’s a community we can see ourselves in,” she said. “There are a lot of American olim [immigrants] there, good schools and lots of kids.”

The Rozens are hopeful that Nachum, 7, Avigayil, 5, Yedidya, 3, and Bayla, 1, will be happy with their new environment. “They see our aliyah as an exciting thing,” Jason reflected. “We have always talked about and valued Israel — both at home and at school. Our older two, especially, are very proud and know that moving to Israel is a big deal.”

The children naturally have been asking questions about whether they will stay in touch with old friends and whether they will meet new ones. “They want to know what it is going to be like,” Jason said.

“We’ve been telling them about how all the food is kosher there and getting them excited about that,” Bruria added.

Their dad, who has a penchant for eating shwarma at Israeli gas station restaurants, has been joking with the kids that they will be eating hummus-flavored breakfast cereal when they get to Israel.

Both Rozens spent time in Israel earlier in their lives, but other than a short work-related trip Jason took a couple of years ago with the Bureau of Jewish Education’s BASIS program for Israel education in Bay Area day schools, they have not been back since they were married.

The Rozens consequently are grateful for all the assistance and support they have been receiving from Nefesh B’Nefesh, an Israeli-based organization whose goal is increasing aliyah from North America.

“They’ve been amazing, so helpful. They have made everything crystal clear,” Bruria said. “They really do make aliyah very simple,” Jason said.

The couple also has been working with Nir Wittenberg, the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Pacific Northwest regional director for aliyah in San Francisco.

“Our aliyah will be bittersweet,” Bruria shared.

“We are really feeling a mixed bag of emotions,” echoed Jason.

On one hand, they are looking forward to being nearby four of Bruria’s siblings, as well as Jason’s sister — all have already made aliyah.

In addition, Jason’s mother is Israeli, and her entire family lives in Tel Aviv. The nearness to so many relatives is a big draw, especially since the Rozens have no family in the Bay Area (Jason is from New Jersey and Bruria is from Boston).

On the other hand, it is hard for them to leave the “close-knit, positive” Jewish community they have found in Oakland. They admit it will be a bit challenging to figure out where they “fit in” in Israeli society after being used to the Bay Area’s characteristic pluralistic Jewish scene.

“But we’ll have some time to start figuring that out while we camp out for six to eight weeks in our new house while waiting for all our belongings to arrive,” a laughing Jason said optimistically.

Renee Ghert-Zand
Renee Ghert-Zand

Renee Ghert-Zand is a Jerusalem-based freelance journalist. She made aliyah from Palo Alto with her family in June 2014.