The Lennon family
The Lennon familyIngrid Muller

“If I’m being honest, I was very conflicted,” Tova Lennon said of her family’s decision to make aliyah (immigrate to Israel) and leave Skokie, Illinois for Modi'in. “We loved our community. We had family and friends. We figured we either do it now, or wait until we retire.”

The couple was at a crossroads.

“We were always thinking about making aliyah, but our professional training took a long time. Once we finished, we needed to decide: buy a house or take a chance and move to Israel,” Josh explained.

Ultimately, the pull of wanting to be “part of Jewish history” and start a family adventure of their own was enough to propel the Lennons to take a leap of faith and make aliyah with their four children.

Of course, with Josh being a physician and Tova a dentist, the idea of practicing medicine in a foreign country with a new language was a daunting one. Yet, the Lennons took doable steps to make it happen and, with the help of Nefesh B’Nefesh, which works in partnership with the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, The Jewish Agency, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, and JNF-USA, the transition was much smoother than expected.

The first major move towards making aliyah was attending the Nefesh B’Nefesh MedEx event, where potential olim (new immigrants to Israel) in the medical profession get face time with high-ranking officials in the Health Ministry who approve their medical license conversion on the spot. There, participants also participated in job interviews, network with other like-minded professionals and met with members of the Israel Medical Association in order to get their speciality recognized.

“The MedEx conference was a fantastic way to simplify the process of getting licensed,” Josh said.

“It’s the first step, and it’s made it much easier for medical professionals to make aliyah. You can get your license right away, which takes away a lot of the stress hanging over your head,” he said of the gathering, which will be taking place again this year in Teaneck, New Jersey, on March 27 and 28.

Once they arrived in Israel, they had some time to wait until all their paperwork was finalized, which gave the Lennons an opportunity to acclimate to their new life – that included finding the right schools for their children and enrolling in ulpan (Hebrew language classes for immigrants).

Tova embraced taking ulpan lessons with her husband, as it afforded the two busy professionals some rare quality time.

“It was the first time the two of us had been home together in daylight hours in years. We knew it would be at least a couple months before we started working so we planned for that financially and then used the time to get things done, do ulpan and enjoy.”

Josh had to work for six months in an Israeli hospital to get his medical specialties, internal medicine and pediatrics, recognized in Israel, while Tova completed her Hebrew learning. She had assumed she’d start working shortly afterwards, but, just a few weeks later, the couple’s professional and personal lives shifted in unprecedented ways due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Because of COVID, the kids were home from school and most dental offices were closed for a few months. I stayed home longer than anticipated,” she acknowledged.

She was finally able to return to work after several months of lockdowns and closures, and she has since been working at dental offices in Jerusalem and Ramat Beit Shemesh.

As for Josh, he now works in primary care for the Leumit Health Fund in Ramat Beit Shemesh. Reflecting on how his life has changed since moving to Israel, he noted that had he stayed in Chicago, he would have been working in a busy hospital on the frontlines battling COVID. Instead, in Israel he was on a different frontline in the community working with families in the clinic.

“I felt for my colleagues back in Chicago. If I had been there, it would have been a very stressful time working in the hospital. Being in Israel and working in the clinic was stressful as well, but I was pleased to be able to contribute to our new community during a time of need,” he said.

In general, the couple are happy with their decision to make aliyah and are quickly acclimating to life here.

“It was definitely helpful that we came with a foundation in Hebrew thanks to our Hebrew day school education as kids. We were rusty, but after ulpan and spending more time here, we can now follow news on the radio, read the paper (somewhat) and converse with patients,” Tova said.

While moving to a new country is a big adjustment, they found the bureaucracy manageable and their new community to be very welcoming, which has made it a positive experience.

Fortunately, their children are transitioning nicely, as well. Tova acknowledges that the move was initially a bit hard on some of their children but that it is amazing to see how quickly they have adjusted. The Lennons are pleased with how Israel has provided their children with a sense of independence.

“It's nice to see how comfortable our kids are doing things on their own. They will walk places on their own and take the bus with friends,” she said.

Tova recalls that the couple only had six months from their arrival in Israel until the outbreak of the pandemic. In that brief time, they were able to meet many wonderful families within the Anglo Modi'in community. Ironically, despite how COVID often limited social interactions, it was at the height of the pandemic that the Lennons had the opportunity, through their outdoor street minyan, to meet many more of their neighbors, from a wide variety of backgrounds.

“It was a truer representation of who lived on our block,” she marveled. “We had North Americans, Israelis, Ashkenazim, Mizrahim, British, French – it’s amazing to see Jews from such diverse backgrounds coming together, and we’re excited to be a part of that.”