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#Meet_The_Oleh Orly Wahba

Aliyah Date: March 6, 2020 Made Aliyah from Brooklyn, NY Currently living in Jerusalem

Orly Wahba has been dreaming about Israel since she was four years old and her journey to get here has been nothing short of miraculous.

Orly Wahba taking a selfie at the Western Wall in Jerusalem
Orly Wahba visiting the Western Wall.

At four years old, while most kids were dreaming of their new toys, Orly Wahba dreamed of coming to Israel. It wasn’t the beautiful Tel Aviv beaches or the delicious Israeli cuisine that inspired her, it was her longing for Mashiach (Messiah) - for a world of peace and kindness.

It wasn’t until 30 years later that Orly got to actualize her dreams.

“I always prayed to have a front seat to this exciting time in history, and that’s exactly what I got! We’re living in a very special time and I feel honored to be a small part of the fabric that is Israel, that is Jerusalem, that is the history of Am Yisrael (Jewish nation).”

Orly was born and raised in the close-knit Syrian community in Brooklyn, NY, but since her Dad is Israeli, she and her siblings spent many summers in Israel which increased her love and connection to the country. “My community is super Zionistic and connected with Israel, but moving away from the community, even to Israel is very rare. The expectation is to grow up, get married, move within a few blocks of your mom, and start building your family.” Orly had expected the same for herself, but Hashem (God) had other plans.

Orly taught middle school for seven years before taking a leap of faith to pursue her dream of creating a world of kindness and peace. In 2011 she founded Life Vest Inside, a nonprofit organization to spread kindness in the world. She became a full-time volunteer, hoping that her organization would enable her four-year-old dream of world peace to come true. Not everyone shared her enthusiasm and although many people questioned why she would leave her steady job to pursue a “pipe dream”, Orly was on a mission and pushed forward.

In 2016, Orly and her family came to Israel for her nephew’s bar mitzvah. A two-week trip turned into six weeks and with that Orly’s yearning to make the journey “back home” was sparked yet again.

“As a people we have been crying over being cast out of our country for close to two thousand years. We’ve gone through exiles, pogroms, the Holocaust and endless hardships, while wishing, yearning, and hoping to return back to our country, to our home. The tefillot (prayers) we say three times a day talk of our desire to return back to Israel. Our prayers were finally answered, yet oddly enough I found myself living 6,000 miles away and I couldn’t understand it. Why?”

It wasn’t until the following summer that Orly found herself drawn back to Israel and a shift happened.

“Often moments of hardship bring clarity. They push us outside of our comfort zone to a place where we’re no longer surviving but thriving.”

At the time Orly was dealing with obstacles in all aspects of her life.

“Being a 34-year-old single girl is not simple especially when most people in my community are married with children in their mid 20’s. That, coupled with the continuous discouragement and pressure I was receiving to find a “real job”, and financial burdens of keeping my organization afloat, left me feeling beaten and exhausted.” Being in Israel that summer allowed Orly to connect deeper with herself and ask some hard questions - where was she going in her life and what did she want for herself.

One of her considerations was that she hadn’t found her soulmate in NY and that pressure was weighing on her. There’s a Jewish expression that says, “Change your place and change your luck/destiny”, and Orly needed a change. She also thought that Jerusalem would be a great place to expand Life Vest Inside, “They say that light shines forth from Jerusalem, so it seemed that Jerusalem would be the best place for me to share this mission with the world. Additionally, if I can make a positive impact in Jerusalem, an area that many associates with strife, the rest of the world will follow suit.”

Her Israeli cousins encouraged her to move to Israel, even just for 6 months - no commitment. She was conflicted and also knew that even if she decided it was a good idea, it would be hard for her family to accept it.

After praying at the Kotel (Western Wall) and during her long walks on the beach, Orly received her answer, it was time for Orly to live for Orly. “I wasn’t thinking about aliyah, but rather a need to create a new adventure for myself, a new storyline. What better place than Israel."

Orly Wahba wearing an orange life vest jumping with her arms raised inside the Mahane Yehuda Shuk
Orly Wahba in the Mahane Yehuda Shuk

However, as a full-time volunteer for her non-profit, she had essentially been working for nine years with no income stream. How could she afford to live in Israel? Orly was never one to give up. Her motto is, “If you know your why, your how will come to you,” - and it did.

She calculated how much money she needed to live in Israel for one year and then started to pray. She made a deal with God, if she could earn the funds she needed by January (it was August), she would make the move. Through a series of incredible happenings, from finding an apartment through “an angel”, to miraculously stumbling on paid speaking engagements - she no longer had any excuses and the road was clear for her to make the change she had hoped for.

As she promised, Orly booked her flight to Israel. It was only supposed to be a year, but as the plane touched down, something clicked in her. She cried from happiness, feeling as though this was the start of something new. “I must say that I felt like a little kid, excited and moved by everything I saw walking down the streets of Jerusalem. I never expected that Jerusalem would fit me like a glove, but since I arrived in Israel, I stopped surviving and finally began thriving.”

Fast forward two years and Orly is still in Israel. Almost exactly one year ago, on March 6th, 2020, just before Israel shut down due to Covid, Orly made aliyah and returned home. In reflection, Orly recognizes how her life journey brought her to this moment. “If certain things had not happened to me, had I not have been struggling and questioning the many aspects of my life that summer in 2017, I don’t know that I would have had the courage to make the journey and the courage to stay.”

To Orly, the best well-kept secret in Israel. “I’m not saying it isn’t hard to pick up your life and move, but even if I have a really bad day, I remind myself that I’m living in Israel and suddenly nothing is that bad. There is an energy in this country, and in Jerusalem especially, that makes you feel connected to something much greater than yourself.”

If you’re considering Alyiah, Orly’s advice is not to put so much pressure on the move itself. “I can’t speak for families considering the move, but for singles - simply telling yourself that you are setting off on a short-term adventure will take the pressure off and then you can truly see what you feel about it. At the end of the day, it’s about taking a leap of faith. Is it scary? Yes! Is it worth it? Definitely! It was the single greatest decision I’ve ever made.”

It’s also really important to set yourself up for success by creating the opportunity to build community. “The way I see it, you need to open yourself up to see everything around you as though you are looking at the world for the very first time.” Orly didn’t have any friends in Jerusalem when she moved and she decided to do several things to meet new people and build her own community.

She joined a local basketball league, where she met incredible people, including one of her best friends (who happens to be Israeli). She joined a Torah learning program in Matan, a co-working space, and signed up for JIC events, an organization that creates events and opportunities for singles to connect. “These things made a huge difference in my experience. Before I knew it, my Shabbat table was filled with incredible friends who I am close with until this very day.”

Orly Wahba posing with a crowd of smiling young women with raised arms
Orly Wahba among a crowd of young women.

So, what is Orly up to now?

She is continuing to expand her reach with Life Vest Inside. Since arriving she organized two Dance for Kindness events in Jerusalem, the first featuring Yishai Ribo, and the second with the Shalva band. “There I was this girl from Brooklyn, trying to organize a massive event in Jerusalem. So many people came to my aid to make it the success it was. That’s what this country is about - support. There is never someone far away from rushing to help out.”

Shortly after her first event, the Ministry of Education reached out and decided to incorporate Dance for Kindness into the Israeli PE program. The next year 26 schools all over Israel participated.

But that’s not all. After completing a 40 Day Kotel Challenge, where she prayed on behalf of over 500 people at the Kotel for 40 days, Orly launched Abraham’s Legacy in memory of her grandfather. The app is a social network for prayer to unify and connect people through the power of Tehillim (Psalms), who oftentimes complete the entire book in seconds. Her launch event was in October 2019 at the Tahana Rishona, with Rabbi Shlomo Katz (musician and educator) and drew in over 500 participants.

There are currently 8,000 people on the app. It’s a free app available in Hebrew, English, Spanish, and French. You can download it on the app store for Android and Apple phones and follow them on Instagram for more inspiration @abrahams_legacy.

She also started a company called Netillah, which creates gorgeous, pure copper handwashing cups to promote the Jewish tradition and educate people about its significance. You can check them out on Instagram @netillah_inc.

In case it wasn’t clear, Israel is really lucky to have Orly here and the four-year-old in her that had the vision and inspiration to never give up on her dreams.

"I suddenly felt a deep desire to be part of building this country. I no longer wanted to sit on the sidelines, I wanted to be called into the ranks."

“All I know is that I was built to serve and I plan to do just that. My story is far from over and I only hope I can successfully give back to this country, my country, as it’s given to me, and that I (and my future family) will be part of building up this nation, my nation.”


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