From: Los Angeles
Currently lives in Netanya
Aliya Date: July 2015
Diagnosed at 12 years old with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) it wasn’t an obvious choice for Kaley Zeitouni to leave everything and everyone she knew and moved to Israel at 27 years old. But making Aliyah was the very decision that instigated her healing. “One week after moving to Israel it really struck me that I was alone in a new country,” Kaley said. “I was living a life with disease and limitations and I didn’t want to live like that anymore, I needed to be independent.”
This moment propelled her on a healing journey through the mind-body connection that led to a symptom-free life. This was unimaginable for Kaley, who at times couldn’t walk because her symptoms were so intense.
Also a licensed marriage and family therapist, Kaley currently runs a coaching business using the methodologies she developed that transformed her life. She leads group coaching for people who lost a spouse or partner, and an illness recovery program for people with chronic illness to get long-lasting relief from their symptoms through mind-body medicine.
Although her Israel journey led to her miraculous recovery from MS, that’s not what brought her to Israel. Her dad is Israeli and her parents raised her very Zionistic. “I’ve always believed that Israel is the place that all of us should be,” Kaley said. She also loves the way kids are raised here and wants that for her kids. “Even though the challenges we face (in Israel) can be very painful I love that kids here have freedom and independence and they grow up with a strong value for life, and a better perspective of it too.”
Praying at the gravesite of the Prophet Samuel
Before Aliyah, she was fundraising for Magen David Adom, raising money for ambulances for Israel. Kaley was pitching Israel all day and at a certain point, the message hit home. “It was getting more painful to be talking about Israel and the beauty and diversity of its people, and all the important powerful things happening here without being here,” Kaley said.
She went on a fundraising tour of the Northwest with her boss at the time and he must have picked up on her energy, because on the flight back to Los Angeles he looked at Kaley and said, “You’re moving aren't you.”
Kaley just smiled.
That night she returned home to an email with a job offer to be a COO of a company in Israel. She wasn’t looking for a new job, but they offered to move her and finance everything. Kaley received the Divine message loud and clear and decided to make the move. “I was getting to a point in my life where I was so comfortable that I felt like if I don't go now, I’m not going to go,” Kaley said. “I was loving my life in LA, so I knew it was now or never.”
Two months later Kaley was in Israel.
Since her dad is Israeli, she was also very aware of the challenges that come with making Aliyah and she was set on moving in a way that would set her up with economic stability. “I told myself I’m gonna make aliyah in a way that is comfortable for me,” Kaley said. “We think we need to come to Israel and live in a hole in the wall and it doesn't have to be that way. I made a commitment to myself that I wasn't going to rough it in Israel.”
So far it’s working out.
“My life here is actually much better than in America. My money goes so much further and I have a much better quality of life here,” Kaley said. In the US, Kaley felt like everyone, including herself, was on a hamster wheel and everything was about work. Here, she sees people going out for lunches and dinners with friends and family, generally living their lives more fully.
At a park in Jerusalem
One time, while her MS was still active, she went camping at the Dead Dea. The heat affected her so badly that within a couple of hours she couldn't walk. She knew she couldn’t stay there because it was just going to get worse in the heat. The only solution was to find a ride back to Jerusalem, but it was already very close to the start of Shabbat. They found a ride but then they realized that she couldn’t get dropped off at her house because cars couldn’t enter the neighborhood they lived in on Shabbat, and she still couldn’t walk.
They started telling the couple that picked them up what was going on. The couple turned to Kaley and her two friends and said, “You can come home with us for Shabbat.” They weren’t religious but they kept kosher and so they dropped Kaley off at their home, found an open makolet, bought challah, wine, and some other food for shabbat, and hosted Kaley and her two friends.
This story deeply influenced Kaley and now that she has a car of her own, always tries to look out for people in need of a ride. “That changed my life, perfect strangers literally saved me. What would I have done?”
As a very spiritual person and a lover of art history, Kaley melted when she went to the City of David and saw the places where our forefathers and the prophets were. “It is so profound to me and moves me so deeply that I’m walking where King David walked. It blows my mind that we are connected to thousands of years of history.”
Meditating in the Kotel Tunnels
It’s not all strawberries and cream, as they say in Israel. For many olim, adjusting to the culture is a big deal. Kaley suggests that it’s really important to come into it with a sense of exploration. “When I’m on vacation, I love learning about new cultures, but then suddenly I come here and feel frustrated that the system doesn't work like it does in America.”
There were two things that helped Kaley adjust more easily to Israel. “I learned in the beginning that if I’m constantly frustrated with the system, it's just because there's a learning curve,” she said. She also pointed out that when Israelis go to America, they also think it's a horrible system - not because it's bad, but because it's just a different system they aren't used to.
In addition to the mindset shift, Kaley also discovered that the sooner you can integrate into Israel the better. “When I started working with Israelis, for an Israeli company my experience changed completely.” Working with Israelis also confirmed her understanding about the learning curve. “I saw that they were able to navigate the system so much easier because they are used to it. They were able to do things easily that looked so difficult to me.”
Kaley still sometimes gets frustrated and fed up with the system here, but she always tries to recenter herself. “Sometimes I call my friends who came here because it was dangerous for them in their birth country. They don't pick up on all challenges that American olim do because they came for survival. They are just grateful to be alive and free as a Jew. When I meet Ethiopians that are like, ‘I was carried on my mother's back to get here,’ it really gives me the perspective that I need.”
Kaley knows she is in the right place and wouldn’t trade her Israel life for anything.
“Me being here is not random. Being here is part of generations of my ancestors doing everything they could to get here, at the darkest times when it seemed impossible to get here - that is something I never forget.”
Her advice to olim:
1) Come with the perspective that you are here to contribute and benefit the country.
2) Come with a plan. I love the vision of just coming and trusting that things will work out. But it’s not practical anywhere. I would never move anywhere else and say, ‘Whatever, I’ll figure it out when I get there.’Definitely don’t do that in Israel. Set yourself up for success!
3) Ask for help as much as possible and don’t be afraid. I didn’t ask for help enough when I first moved here. You don't know what you don't know, so just be open and ask everything!