Rena Spolter talks with Aviva Zacks about what motivated her to make Aliyah and what she misses about Detroit.
Catching up with my friend and former rebbetzin Rena Spolter, 46, I got the chance to ask her all about her aliyah, 13 years later. Anyone who knows her is aware of how inspirational she is, and her aliyah story and message are wonderful examples.
Q: What motivated you to make Aliyah?
Rena Spolter: The first time I visited Israel I was 13 and in eighth grade when my grandmother took both her daughters and all her grandchildren to Israel for two weeks. When we left at the end of the trip, I remember this sinking feeling in my chest area when the plane took off. It felt like how you feel when you are leaving home. After that, every time I visited Israel, when I left to go back to America, I felt the same visceral connection to the land.
When I was dating my husband, Reuven, he said he wanted to be a shul rabbi, which is not a full-time job in Israel. I wanted to only date people who wanted to make aliyah, but there were other great things about him, so, in the end, we got married, and I kept the aliyah dream in my mind.
When Young Israel of Oak Park member Joe Weiss died in a car accident, my husband and a few other men started learning from a book that was very dear to Joe. It was all about the yearning for and the connection to the Land of Israel. After studying the book together as a group, they came to Israel to celebrate finishing studying the book together. He came back and he said, “You can’t learn a book like that and not want to go.” So, we started planning.
Q: How was your aliyah announcement received in Detroit?
RS: We lived a very public life in Detroit as the rabbi and rebbetzin of the Young Israel of Oak Park, and we knew that when we made aliyah there would be questions, like what we were going to do professionally; how we were going to make money; and what kind of job we were going to get. For our aliyah flight, we even made T-shirts with the four most-asked questions on the back and our answers.
Q: How old were your kids then, and what are they up to now?
RS: Simcha was going into sixth grade — it was the year before his bar mitzvah — and he is now 24, married and a father. Bezalel was going into fourth grade and is now 21 and volunteering in the Israeli Air Force. Leah was going into first grade and is now 18 and finishing her first year of two years of national service. Petachya was 3 and is now finishing 10th grade. Moriyah, 11, is our Sabra who was born here. Moriyah is one of the names of Jerusalem, and she was born right around Yom Yerushalayim at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.
Q: What have you and the rabbi been doing professionally since you came to Israel?
RS: My husband works at Herzog College as the coordinator for a teacher training program for Judaic teachers in the diaspora. In addition, he has started an online Jewish learning platform, called Kitah (kitah.org), for junior high school kids, teaching Jewish subjects to children around the world.
For the first two years, I taught at a seminary. I was a Judaic Studies teacher at Akiva (now Farber), so it was a natural progression. Eventually, I retrained to be a high school English teacher, which I have been doing for the past 11 years.
For the past two years, I also have been in an intensive program training to be a yoetzet halachah where I am learning to answer halachic questions pertaining to women.
Q: What do you miss about Detroit?
RS: I miss the people. We had very warm connections with different generations. Here, it is not as natural to have relationships with people in different generations. I also miss Jerusalem Pizza, especially the barbecue chicken pizza. My husband misses the kishka pizza.
Q: Do you have a message that you would like to share?
RS: People who make aliyah miss the people from home. We, including your family and friends who live here, appreciate and need your support and love. On a national level, Israel needs every voice of support it can get. I encourage each and every reader to be actively involved in Israel-related activities. It really does make a difference.