• Nir Kafri, The Jewish Agency for Israel ©

From Athens with Love

Four years after touring Israel as part of the first Taglit-Birthright group from Greece, today sisters Aela and Lydia Liveriou call Israel home. This is the story of their transformation from tourists to full-fledged immigrants.

For many young adult olim, the hardest part of making Aliyah is doing it on your own. Not so for Aela and Lydia Liveriou. In the past four years, the two sisters from Athens have participated in Taglit-Birthright Israel, spent more significant time in Israel on a Masa-affiliated program, and made Aliyah – and they’ve done all of it together.

Today, the two sisters live in Tel Aviv’s Beit Brodetsky, a live-in ulpan where young, single olim from around the world study Hebrew and get acclimated to life in the country they now call home. Not surprisingly, the two are roommates, sharing an apartment with fellow immigrants.

While this living situation is just another shared adventure for the sisters, it’s also a chance for them to build a network of friends sharing the experience of Aliyah with them. “We have good roommates from Turkey and Spain,” says 25-year-old Lydia. “It’s good to know we are not alone. Two hundred other people are in the same situation.”

But their support system isn’t only made up of fellow olim. “The vibe from everyone who works here is that they want to help you, with any problem, big or small. It’s nice to have that, in a different country,” says 24-year-old Aela.

From Greece to Israel – as Tourists

Growing up in Athens, Lydia and Aela participated in Jewish life. “We went to Jewish school for elementary. There is no Jewish high school in Athens. We went to Jewish camp during the summer, as teens,” Lydia recalls. “Our father is Christian. We do the Jewish holidays. We did bat mitzvahs.”

It was that experience of Jewish education that introduced them to the country they now call home. At age 12, they each participated in a 10-day school trip to Israel.

In 2013, they returned to Israel – this time together – as participants in the first Taglit-Birthright Israel session from Greece. They arrived as tourists – but by the time the short-term program ended, their journey toward Aliyah had begun.

A year later, they returned to Israel, again making the journey together – but this time, it was for a more in-depth Israel experience. As participants in the Masa-affiliated Real Life Israel program, they both interned in Jerusalem. While Lydia worked in product design, Aela began an internship in makeup before moving to a position in a bakery.

Becoming Israeli

By the end of their Masa program, it was clear to Aela and Lydia that their time in Israel had just begun.

“The more people I met here, the more I learned the language and the mentality, the more I wanted to stay,” Lydia recalls. “After Masa, Aela went back to Greece and I stayed five more months, in Tel Aviv. I worked in a restaurant. Then I went back to Greece.”

Her plans when she left Israel?

“I knew I’d come back,” she says.

Sure enough, the two sisters decided to come back to Israel one more time, this time to experience the country as Israeli citizens. And at Beit Brodetsky, that’s exactly who they’re becoming.

And their next steps?

“’Forever’ sounds very big, but it’s a good experience to live in the center [of Israel] and be Israeli,” Aela says. “I always wanted to try. I still don’t have a plan.”

“I kind of have a plan,” Lydia explains. “To study here. Maybe industrial design at Bezalel [Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem]. I also like environmental studies. For now, we are focusing on Hebrew.”

As the two sisters continue acclimating to life in Israel, their family in Greece supports their path. “Our parents are excited and happy for us. They understand that this [living in Israel] is better for us. There are more opportunities here,” Lydia says.

Of course, having a partner along the way has helped them – both as they experienced Israel as tourists and as they now begin putting down roots here. “We did everything together. Not on purpose. We just wanted to do the same things,” Aela reflects. “It’s better not to be alone.”

25 May 2017 / 29 Iyar 5777 0
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