Aliyah Lessons from Sylvester Stallone

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13 Jan 2014

My wife and I have developed a profound love of pajamas. It is deep and unconditional. We are also quite fond of each other. The alignment of these two factors translates into a strong preference for “nights in” (rather than out on the town) complete with movies and popcorn on our comfy couch.

(At present, society does not recognize pajamas as acceptable evening wear. But the winds of change are blowing. We shall overcome.)

During a recent pajamagnificent evening (yes, I just created a word – use it well), we enjoyed the company of our closest friends (Ben & Jerry) while watching “The Expendables 2,” a shoot-‘em-up extravaganza written and directed by Sylvester Stallone.

The franchise’s second installment was as much fun as the first, owing largely to nostalgia and great on-screen chemistry between Stallone and his crew of pre-geriatric action giants, including Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Dolph Lundgren.

It was clear to the viewer that they were having the time of their lives.

After years of being forced into roles that didn’t suit him (yes, I am being generous), one couldn’t help but be happy for Sly that he was finally able to make the movie that he wanted to make."The Expendables" Los Angeles Premiere - Arrivals

As the credits rolled, we threw away the empty carton of Ben & Jerry’s (don’t judge us) and assumed we would deposit the film into our mental recycling bins as well. After all, it seemed like the quintessential “throw away” action flick.

But I couldn’t seem to shake it.

I kept thinking about the film and its production back story, marveling at the many important take home messages. Against all odds (and logic), Sylvester Stallone had quite a bit to teach us about life. Having discovered an anomaly of this magnitude, I decided that I had to share my findings with others.

As I broke the life lessons down for this blog post, I realized that they were actually quite compelling as tips for a successful Aliyah. As a gift to this winter’s olim (new immigrants to Israel), I have adapted them accordingly:

(1) Make the “movie” you want to make – With a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and more than 40 action films under his belt, no one would have questioned Stallone had he decided to retire in 2008 following the tepid reception of his fourth installment of the “Rambo” franchise. But he chose to give it one last shot.

“The Expendables” marked an important turning point in his career. It was the first time since the original “Rocky” (a period of 34 years!) that Stallone was writing and starring in a movie that he wanted to make, unswayed by “the Hollywood machine.” In so doing, Stallone rebooted his confidence and career, making more films between 2010-2014 than any previous five-year period.

By bucking “the Diaspora machine” and starting over in Israel, olim make a similar, life-altering decision. However, the key to their successful absorption is making sure that they are resolute in their desire to live out their Aliyah dreams on their own terms.

(2) It’s never too late – At the age of 64, after spending more than three decades “going through the motions,” Stallone decided to start over. He realized that something was missing in his life, that he felt unfulfilled, and took the necessary steps to rectify the situation.

Often, prospective olim convince themselves that they have missed their window of opportunity to make the big move. Older olim sometimes believe that a difficult start in Israel is a sign that they should never have taken the leap in the first place. But the truth is that age and stage of life do not factor into the Aliyah equation nearly as much as attitude.

Successful olim are those who seize the day and never look back.  When it comes to Aliyah, doubters never prosper.

(3) Surround yourself with friends (old and new) – There is nothing more important to a lead actor than his supporting cast. By surrounding himself with old friends, aging action stars whose careers shared similar trajectories with his own, and new friends, like Jason Statham and Jet Li, who understood the inherent importance of the task at hand, Stallone cemented his success.

Similarly, it is essential that olim embrace their new start by reuniting with old friends who already live in Israel and going out of their way to make new friends. Having made the move themselves, “veteran olim” understand what newbies are going through and appreciate the importance of a strong support system throughout the absorption process.

When new olim make the effort to reach out for support and guidance, a strong supporting cast will happily fall in to lend a hand. We are all in this together.

(4) Have standards and set boundaries – With moments of extreme violence, “The Expendables 2″ is by no means a family film. However, fans of action films will intuit the PG-13 rating without ever visiting IMDB. The absence of sexual content and strong language is glaringly obvious throughout the film and speaks volumes about the standards Stallone set for his project.

Aliyah can be a very difficult transition. The experience requires olim to begin thinking differently (at times, nonsensically) and become more flexible than they ever thought necessary. However, true success lies in finding the perfect balance, figuring out how to be flexible without jeopardizing their best laid plans or reaching the breaking point.

It’s a sure bet that Israeli society will push new olim around. But they should never let it become a bully, stealing their rose-colored glasses and giving their idealism an atomic wedgie.

(5) Laugh at yourself – The “secret sauce” of Stallone’s successful franchise is its self-awareness, doled out in generous helpings of self-deprecating humor. The actors poke fun at their own film careers, the action-adventure genre in general, and the film they are busy creating.  Because nothing is sacred and no one is taking themselves too seriously, the viewer is drawn to the film and willing to accept it for what it is.

Without question, the most important Aliyah tool is a great sense of humor. New immigrants are bound to make mistakes (lots of them!), and many of those slip-ups will be jarring and embarrassing. But olim who can make fun of themselves and keep on truckin’ with a smile will always be headed in the right direction.

Now, is it possible that I am reading way too much into a simple popcorn flick?


Or perhaps I’ve gone out of my way to prove that Aliyah inspiration can be found just about anywhere. If you’re “feeling it,” said encouragement will be everywhere you look.

Yup, pretty “Sly.”

This article originally appeared in the Times of Israel.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.