Updated: Apr 29, 2021
Aliyah Date: July, 4th 2017
Made Aliyah from Atlanta, GA
Currently living in Amirim
In 2014 Birthright Israel had an age limit of 26 for trip participants. When Maddie De Silva considered going on Birthright she was already 26. Although Maddie was a young professional with a successful yoga business, she wanted to travel and Birthright was a unique opportunity that she wanted to take advantage of before it was too late.
After she signed up, she knew she was going to have a fun trip, but she didn't know it was going to change her life. “I immediately fell in love with Israel and Israelis - I felt that I belonged here like this was my tribe.” Although she grew up in a pretty secular home, celebrating Christmas (her mom is Jewish, and her dad is not), her family always had a basic Passover Seder, they lit Hanukkah candles, and went to the synagogue on Yom Kippur. Overall, she was very integrated into American culture, only had a very basic understanding of major Jewish holidays, and didn't know what Shabbat was until she came to Israel on Birthright at age 26.
When she came on #Birthright, Maddie was living in Missouri, where she earned her Bachelor's degree, in a place with no Jewish community. When she arrived in Israel she suddenly felt recognition and familiarity.
“I always felt like my Judaism made me different and here I have a home country, I feel like this is where I’m from, this is my people.”
Maddie immediately felt a sense of belonging even on a physical level, “Here I saw pieces of myself reflected back to me in the features, dark curly hair, the vibe and the look of Israelis. I felt like just fit here, whereas in the States I always felt like I was different, funky or I stood out.”
After the one-week Birthright trip, Maddie wasn’t ready to leave Israel. This wasn’t a simple decision because back in the States she already had a successful and established yoga career, was in a six-year relationship, and even had a dog. But this was the first time in her life that she had been around more than a handful of Jews and she felt like she needed to keep investigating what this place meant to her.
Her Birthright trip was a little different than the typical programs. Maddie went on a program called Shorashim (roots), where participants spent their entire trip with the Israeli soldiers that were assigned to them. Maddie was struck by the poise and maturity of the young female Israeli soldiers who accompanied them, “As they told me about their army experiences it was clear that they had faced significant responsibility and they reminded me of the women I knew in the states who were 28 - but they were only 18! It wasn’t until later that I got to know more Israeli youth and wanted the same for my kids.”
A year after her Birthright trip, Maddie still wasn't done exploring Israel and so she did what felt like the next natural step and made aliyah. “I want to raise my family here, I want to raise my kids to be connected to their heritage and to the land, and to Jewish and Israeli values and lifestyle.”
Maddie loves how connected everything is and has seen such perfect alignment in her journey here. While she was in the airport for her #aliyah flight, another girl who was on the same flight tapped her on the shoulder and introduced herself to De Silva. They only talked for two minutes and they didn’t see each other again.
Months later, Maddie went to a kibbutz off the beaten path and suddenly she bumped into the girl from the airport at the Kibbutz ulpan! They ended up going to seminary together, moving to Tzfat at the same time and even ended up working in the same place. They have become life-long friends just from that two-minute conversation in the airport.
In her exploration time, Maddie was blown away by the culture of giving, family, and sense of responsibility towards one another in Israel. “There’s a sense of caring for one another that I have never experienced in my life. People invite you to their home for Shabbat after just meeting you. People give each other charity and help you with everything.” The culture of giving and caring extends to strangers and friends alike. “Sometimes people get in your face telling you your baby needs a hat, or to find out how much money you make and tell you how you can make more. It’s actually sweet - it feels like one big family of lots of Jewish mothers.”
Even with all the generosity of spirit here, one of the challenges of living in Israel is being far from family. “Even if you move here, super gung ho and independent, at some point you're going to miss home and you're going to wish you had help and your family support. I got married and had a child during corona so I couldn't leave during the time when I really needed to.”
The challenges are real, but Maddie has found many resources that are available for #olim that helped her get through some of the rough times, “There is enough support for Olim in the form of agencies and organizations that I feel brave enough to strike out and make a life here - the country has really supported me.”
That support has empowered her to build a new yoga practice here and establish herself, teaching both group and private classes. Maddie feels like has developed herself as a person and a woman, has become wiser, keener, more capable, and more discerning through living in Israel. Partly due to the challenge of living in a place where she didn’t grow up in and that speaks a different language, and partly because of the many types of people she has gotten to meet here that has enriched her, her sense of the Jewish story and what it means to be Jewish. “I feel that the world has opened for me, I've opened into someone who can step out and go into the world.”
The chesed (generosity) that she received and experienced has inspired her to give back. “I want to open my tent to others the way they opened their tent to me. That has become a huge value for me and I'm certain that would not have developed if I stayed in my hometown.” She has also been able to develop a deeper relationship with Judaism during her time in Israel. “I've tasted almost every flavor of Jewish living, spirituality, and expression, both modern Jewish life and those who are staying connected to ancient Jewish tradition and I’ve been able to figure out what kind of Jewish woman I want to be and what kind of Jewish home I want.
In addition to her yoga practice, Maddie is also becoming a doula as she wants to extend her mothering and the warmth of her home to work as a healer in the community, primarily with women, especially pregnant women. “The entire process of becoming a mother was a profound experience for me. I want to provide the most supportive, sweet, comfortable pregnancy, birth, and transition into motherhood that’s possible.”
Maddie’s Advice for Olim
1. Stop thinking in dollars as early as you can, you earn by the shekel.
2. Having some backup savings is a really good idea. You don’t need to have it all worked out, you don’t need to even know Hebrew or have a job lined up, but you need to know that you’re going to be okay for a couple of months while you figure it out.
Identify some free programs or places you could stay at for free if needed. Hostels, youth programs, options that you identify with. When I came to Israel I had some savings, a list of options and I had some people that cared about me that I knew I could stay with, or turn to if I needed.
3. Have some idea of what you want to do for the next six months to a year. If you’re not sure how to make it happen, talk to people! People here love to help!
4. Go Shabbat shopping! Many people in Israel love to host guests for Shabbat. Tell people you're new here and that you would love to come for Shabbat. It’s totally normal to invite yourself to people’s homes for Shabbat.
“Make it your mission to go around and see most of the country as possible through Shabbat meals. I met so many people that way, and you learn about different flavors of Judaism - it will transform your experience here!”