Kim Attalai and Jennifer Madar both grew up in Marseille, France, but never knew each other. Then they immigrated to Israel and became close friends – though they never would have guessed how close their connection really was.
After making Aliyah separately, the two met while studying in an ulpan (intensive Hebrew study program) for college-educated young adult olim. Over time, they started to piece together their stories.
Kim, 21, explains that while she was happy in Marseille – where she enjoyed the sea and the year-round sunshine – she longed for adventure and independence, away from her childhood home.
Jennifer, 31, studied computer science and engineering at Lyon’s National Institute of Applied Sciences and then worked in software security for seven years. After going on a Taglit-Birthright trip to Israel and then visiting repeatedly, she decided she was ready to make Aliyah.
She then called the Jewish Agency’s Global Service Center, where staff at the hotline helped her prepare for Aliyah and enroll in Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem.
“The Jewish Agency made it so easy,” she says. “It’s harder to plan a vacation than to plan your Aliyah.”
Kim too, reached out to the Global Center. “Within a week, The Jewish Agency arranged for me to move to Ulpan Etzion. They took care of everything,” she recalls.
Despite the 10-year age gap between them, the two became fast friends at Ulpan Etzion. One afternoon, while talking about trips they were each about to make back to France for a bar mitzvah, they realized they were talking about the same event.
“We realized that we’re in the same family, cousins by marriage,” Kim says. “It’s a very Jewish story. But in France we had different circles of friends. We never would have met if we hadn’t made Aliyah.”
Learning Hebrew – and Much More
Kim and Jennifer are enjoying Ulpan as they prepare for the next phase of their lives.
“The atmosphere at Etzion is very dynamic,” Kim explains excitedly. “There are so many young people, each trying to find their way. We’re all starting new lives, missing our families, and learning Hebrew. We’re together all the time. It’s very special what we have here.”
Her circle of friends now includes people from all over the world.
Before making Aliyah, Jennifer took Hebrew lessons in Marseille through The Jewish Agency and completed level Bet (the second level) of Hebrew instruction. After deciding to move to Israel, she says, “I just gave [The Jewish Agency] my papers, and they took care of everything. It was like magic. And the staff at Ulpan Etzion takes care of you like your family does.”
Kim plans to enroll in university as a fourth-year medical student next year. She would like to become an army doctor. “My dream is to be a surgeon, and to have a Jewish family,” she says.
Jennifer is currently looking for a job in central Israel. She plans on continuing her ulpan studies.
While the road ahead has many unknowns, Kim and Jennifer are both glad to know that they will always have the support and friendship of a cousin nearby.
About the Programs
Ulpan Etzion offers residential programming and Hebrew study for young adult olim who hold college degrees. With five locations around Israel, Ulpan Etzion served nearly 1,300 new immigrants in 2016.
The Global Service Center Aliyah Hotline provides vital information to potential immigrants to Israel via the phone and internet, helping them navigate the Aliyah process. The Center operates 22 hours a day, six days a week, in seven languages. In 2016, it handled nearly 200,000 phone calls, 4,599 internet inquiries, and 18,450 new Aliyah files – representing a total of 31,585 future olim.
This article was written and reported by Sarah Bronson and edited by Daniel Temkin.