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Aliyah Profile: Blossoming redemption

Ari Sher never felt quite at home in Corvallis, Oregon. As a boy, his best friend was a Chinese immigrant.

“We really bonded because we both felt like outsiders in white-bread America. I wanted to find my place where I belonged. And that was Israel,” he says.

The Shers were in Corvallis for 20 years while Ari’s father, Steven, was a professor of English and writing at Oregon State University and elsewhere. They became more religiously observant during that time. Steven Sher wrote a full-length volume of poetry, The House of Washing Hands (Pecan Grove Press), about family and Jewish life in America’s Pacific Northwest.

“My family was among the most religious in the community, and Zionism was always part of our mentality,” says his son, who changed the family name to “Yashar” after making aliyah.

His parents, Steven and Nancy, followed two years later and became known as Shlomo and Ora Yashar. His older sister, Chaya, and her husband and first child arrived in 2014, bringing the entire immediate family to Israel.

Ari Yashar majored in East Asian studies at Brandeis University, spending a year abroad in Japan during college and another afterward. Meanwhile, his parents had moved to New York, where Chaya was attending Barnard College. He lived with them after returning from Japan in 2009 and made aliyah in July 2010, a few months after a Taglit-Birthright experience in Israel that doubled as a pilot trip.

AT THE Beit Canada absorption center in Jerusalem, he learned how to speak Hebrew at Ulpan Etzion. “Before that I had never had a conversation in Hebrew. I only took a year of beginner’s Hebrew at Brandeis,” he says.

At 25, he was required to serve in the army for six months, though he continues to do reserve duty. “It was hard being a lone soldier, but having been at the absorption center helped because everyone there was in the same boat, dealing with new challenges.”
Yet it was not smooth sailing, as he had no close family or friends in Israel at the time.

“My grandmother passed away on my birthday when I was in the absorption center. It was hard not being able to get back for the funeral,” he recalls. “And it was difficult to get used to the culture in Israel. But no matter what, I realized this was where I wanted to be. It was my people and my place. And my being here is what enabled my parents to make aliyah.”

After his military service, Yashar began studying for a master’s degree at Hebrew University. There he met Ayelet, an Israeli woman of Yemenite descent. They wed in February 2014 at Moshav Ora.

“He spoke very good Hebrew when I met him, and it was hard for me to believe he was a new immigrant,” Ayelet says. “When we went to IKEA to buy things for our first apartment, an Israeli guy he knew from Taglit saw Ari and came over to talk to him. He said, ‘Your Hebrew is great!’ And I realized it was only a short time from when he didn’t speak Hebrew at all.”

His knack for languages has paid off handsomely. While still in graduate school, Yashar got to go on a trip to Japan to serve as the Hebrew-Japanese interpreter for a three-person rabbinic delegation headed by Rabbi David Lau, then chief rabbi of Modi’in and now the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel.

Today he is a translator and editor at Palestinian Media Watch. On the side, he founded and runs two projects: an independent National-Religious news commentary and analysis website called The Jerusalem Herald, which he describes as “a forum for ideas that are kind of marginalized by the media,” and Kakehashion, a video project meant to help Japanese people better understand Israeli Jews. The name combines the Japanese words “kakehashi,” a connecting bridge, and “Shion,” Zion.

He also enjoys Jewish studies, martial arts, and nature walks in Gilo, the Jerusalem neighborhood where he and Ayelet have lived for the past two years. Ayelet is now studying for her PhD in physics.

“Gilo has a fantastic view of Jerusalem on one side and Bethlehem and Judea on the other. There’s always a nice breeze because it’s the most elevated neighborhood in the city,” says Yashar.

The couple enjoys traveling around Israel, and Yashar hopes one day soon to take his wife to see the places in which he grew up in the United States.

“My favorite thing about being here is knowing how important it is that after 2,000 years of exile we’re back in our land,” he says. “Recently we went to Shiloh, the first capital of ancient Israel, and I felt a palpable sense of the holiness. You can’t replicate that anywhere outside of Israel.”

There is a prophetic verse in the Book of Ezekiel (36:8) that particularly resonates with him: “But you, O mountains of Israel, yield your produce and bear your fruit for My people Israel, for their return is near.”

Noting the Talmudic view that, based on this verse, there is no more obvious sign of the redemption than Israel blossoming and giving produce, Yashar believes this prophecy has come to fruition, no pun intended.

“The Ottoman Empire deforested Israel to build their railway system, and with the return of the Jews the land blossomed, becoming the only country with a net gain of trees in the last century. That kind of clear sign that we’re living in the time of redemption is very encouraging, especially when life gets challenging here,” he says.

For anyone thinking of making aliyah, Yashar offers this advice: “When you’re in galut [the Diaspora], you’re living a private life, while here there is a national life of the Jewish people once again being active on the stage of world history. It’s sometimes hard to remember that, when you’re trying to find the energy to deal with daily life in Israel. So, remember that you are part of something bigger than yourself.”

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