Recently Mrs. Tzippi Rimel’s sister sent her a video clip from Mrs. Rimel’s first grade siddur play in Israel. At the end of the presentation, they asked all the students what they wished for, to which Mrs. Rimel replied, “I want Mashiach to come and for all of Am Yisrael to make aliyah.” This cute story is very telling of a young girl’s hope and dream for the Jewish people from an early age.
Mrs. Rimel has always felt a strong connection to Am Yisrael. At a young age, she volunteered in Israel with Ethiopian and Russian Jews. She believes this connection stems from where she grew up, a small moshav called Tzsafaria. This moshav was established by a group of Holocaust survivors, with her grandparents being one of the founding families. Growing up in Israel on this moshav and attending Bnei Akiva regularly, Mrs. Rimel always felt connected to Eretz Yisrael and Torat Yisrael. Yet, she felt slightly disconnected from one portion of the Bnei Akiva mantra, “Am Yisrael, b’eretz Yisrael, al pi Torah Yisrael”–and that was, Am Yisrael. Mrs. Rimel felt there was something more she hadn’t seen there, and needed to experience firsthand.
Shortly after she and Rabbi Ephraim Rimel married and finished university, they decided to take a time out, put their lives on hold, and come on shlichut. With little regard for their careers or the difficulty of leaving their families behind, they packed up and moved to Chicago with the sole purpose of being a part of the Chicago community and contributing to Am Yisrael. Mrs. Rimel came as a teacher, and Rabbi Rimel came as part of the YU Torah Mitzion Kollel. She reminisces about her preconceived notions, thinking what it would be like living in a community chutz l’aaretz, but so many of her experiences surprised her, due in part to the rich Jewish culture she found at the Academy.
Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut at the Academy was certainly one of those eye-opening moments. Mrs. Rimel was certain she wouldn’t be able to experience Yom Hazikaron or Yom Haatzmaut in chutz l’aaretz. Though, she admits, the experience wasn’t the same, she experienced it through a different lens, in a way that she wouldn’t have been able to in Israel. Mrs. Rimel was fortunate to be born and raised in Israel, and was obvious to her that she would want to give back to Eretz Yisrael. She was shocked and humbled to see how her students related so naturally to the tragedies of the soldiers and cried for families they never met, all because they were a part of Am Yisrael. She feels the Academy is largely responsible for imbuing a real sense of love and responsibility for Israel in students. She understands more deeply that although her students are not living in Israel, their hearts are truly in their nation’s homeland.
Mrs. Rimel reflects on some of the differences in education in Chicago versus Israel. She says, “It’s a different ballgame.” She uses a basketball analogy to better understand these differences, “In Israel you’re on offense and here, you’re on defense.” She explains Jewish education isn’t as obvious here as it is there. Even the public schools in Israel give a student great exposure to religion and tradition, and school is not in session for the Jewish holidays.
The level of devotion to Jewish life at the Academy continually amazes her. She revels at her students’ accomplishments, and is astounded by their dedication to Jewish organizations and their passion for various Jewish causes. This is what makes the Academy so special–the students and faculty are bonded by a cohesive goal: to strengthen their connection with Hakodosh Baruch Hu and the land of Israel.
More than anything else Mrs. Rimel enjoyed, she says, “I just love my students. They are open and honest with me in conversation, the way they think through concepts and situations and ultimately make good decisions.” She is going to miss them tremendously, but she explains, “they have given me so much pride in what I do.”
With a bittersweet feeling, the Rimels are packing their bags to return home. She feels grateful to the Academy and its students for letting her into their lives and for investing and believing in her, especially knowing her family always planned to return to Israel. After four years, she believes she gained more than she gave, and she can return to Israel with a “full lift,” not just literally with years of accumulated possessions, but emotionally, they leave with very full hearts.