Rachel Lichtenstein talks with Aviva Zacks about her life in Detroit and what finally prompted her aliyah.
Each month, we’ll feature a Metro Detroiter who has made aliyah.
Q: Tell me about your life in Detroit and what your connection was to Israel.
Rachel Lichtenstein: I was born in Israel, but I was raised in Detroit from the age of 3. I went to Thompson Junior High [Southfield] and Vandenberg Elementary [Detroit].
Although I was raised in Detroit, I used to come back and forth to Israel all the time. I enlisted in the Israeli army when I was 18, and I served for two years. It was an amazing experience, and that was the beginning of my finding religion. My father had become religious prior to that, and I had wanted nothing to do with it. But being in the army gave me a sense of something bigger than myself, and when I finished the army after two years, my first college experience was at Tel Aviv University.
Then, I went back to the States and worked for National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) and started going to Oakland County Community College and Wayne State. I came back to Israel and went to seminary for a year, then I went back to Detroit and met my husband, Moshe. We lived in Israel for two years and then we went back to Detroit for 12 years before we made aliyah.
In those 12 years that we were in Detroit, I had six boys. All of them went to Yeshiva Beth Yehudah. My husband was a board member of Congregation Beth Tefilo Emanuel Tikvah in Southfield. We lived two blocks from my parents and across the street from my brother. It was a good life.
Q: What finally prompted your aliyah and what was it like?
RL: I had always yearned to be here. It had always been a goal of mine, and it took 12 years of convincing my husband to finally get him on board. I started the process of aliyah even before my husband agreed.
My kids were automatically Israeli because I was born here, so I got them all their Israeli passports, and I had already applied for aliyah with the consulate in Chicago. Then one day, out of the blue, my husband said, “I’m ready to give Israel a try.” The minute he said he was ready, I said, “Hold that thought.” I called the consulate in Chicago and said, “Okay, process!” Within nine months, we were here.
We made aliyah on the first Nefesh B’Nefesh flight of 2002, so it will be 19 years this August.
My husband and I came with our seven boys, and I was pregnant with my daughter. We settled in Ramat Beit Shemesh and rented two different apartments until we bought our home.
I have not once regretted that decision. I feel we are living the life that Hashem expected of us to live.
Q: What have you been doing besides raising your family here in Israel?
RL: I had a playgroup in my house for a number of years. During that time, I also went back and took a course to become a life coach. Because I had been an advocate for olim and helped them with bureaucracy, I became a life coach for olim and for at-risk youth. At the time that I took the course to become a life coach, I also opened a ceramic studio with a friend, and we were in business for about a year.
My husband has been working for a wills and estates company here in Israel for more than 10 years. We have four married kids and soon-to-be seven grandchildren, and my parents live near me now.
Q: What do you miss about Detroit?
RL: The people — whether it’s family or the few close friends that I’m still in touch with today, even though I don’t see them. That is the only thing I really miss.
Q: Do you have a message for the people reading this interview?
RL: If you’re Jewish and you identify as being Jewish, come home. And do not let anything stand in the way.