08 Feb From India to Israel
From India to Israel
Leya made Aliyah from India in mid-2022, joining The Jewish Agency’s Ulpan Etzion program in Haifa to help her learn Hebrew, make friends, and acclimate to her new home.
Leya, 30, was born in Cochin, a city in southwest India. She moved to Mumbai to complete her Master’s degree and stayed there to work, first at a Public Relations agency, then at an NGO, and then at El Al. In mid-2022, she made Aliyah after beginning to think about it during COVID, when the aviation industry was majorly affected by the pandemic. Her sister had already made Aliyah eight years ago and Leya had long felt connected to her Jewish identity.
“I participated in different Jewish youth groups when I was younger and my dad was a kosher butcher, though there weren’t many Jews in Cochin,” said Leya. “When I got to Israel, Hebrew-wise, I knew some prayers, though I didn’t know their meanings. And I could read a little but never learned the written modern Hebrew language.”
To help with her Hebrew skills, Leya enrolled at Ulpan Etzion in Haifa, where her sister lives. The Jewish Agency’s Ulpan Etzion program is Israel’s flagship intensive Hebrew learning program designed specifically for young immigrants who hold college degrees. The five-month-long experience provides a solid academic Hebrew foundation for those who wish to develop their language skills in Israel and also gives young adults the opportunity to meet other Jews from around the world who are newcomers to Israel as well.
“Ulpan Etzion is the best. The teachers were amazing and getting to learn another language was incredible. I met so many new people which was exciting and made great friends,” Leya shared. “And the madrichim (counselors) were so helpful and nice. Even if it was late at night, you knew there were people who are looking after you if you needed anything so you felt really safe and cared for. They made me feel really at home.”
Coming from India, and from a city with so few Jews, acclimating to Israel was quite an adjustment for Leya. During ulpan, she was very busy with classes and a part-time job, but tours organized by the program offered Leya the opportunity to explore and discover Israel more.
Once her ulpan program ended, Leya stayed in Haifa with her sister for a few weeks. In October 2022, she moved to Tel Aviv to complete a two-year MBA program at Tel Aviv University, during which she will keep developing her Hebrew skills and taking in the fact that she is actually living in the Jewish State.
“Everyone here understands my Jewish identity as opposed to how I was in the minority in India, so that’s really special. And during ulpan, I tried to bring my Indian culture into some activities since many other students didn’t even know there were Jews in India,” explained Leya. “Every day, my connection to Israel keeps growing. I’m just so happy to be here.”