Why I’m here

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Yesterday outside of my daughter’s pre-school, I connected with another mom who I knew to be new in the community. We chatted for a few minutes, she moved here from Gush Etzion (yes, the area outside of Jerusalem where a few of the recent rockets hit). She asked me where I was from and how long I’d been here. “I grew up in NY, made Aliyah from NJ. We’ve been in Israel almost 4 years now,” I say in unfaltering Hebrew, with a little disbelief. This Chanuka will mark our fourth year in Israel. 

Her response was something I’ve heard a few times recently, “I am so impressed with those who choose to leave America and come to live in Israel. It must be so hard. It gives us strength when we see this.” And after 4 years, I have fashioned a response, “It’s not easy. Especially leaving family. But this is where the future of the Jewish people is, so thank God, we are here.”

Afterwards, I found out that her husband had just left to join the IDF reserves preparing to enter the war in Gaza. 

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We had only been here a few weeks when our 3rd child was born. Traditionally, the Friday night after a son is born a small celebration is held to welcome him to the world. (P.S. nowadays, I am pleased to say, many people will do this when their daughters are born as well!) We didn’t know that many people yet, not well. But many people in the community knew us – the new family that just moved from America! We were a sensation! A novelty. There hadn’t been English speaking Olim moving to Katzrin in many years. So there ended up being quite a turn out. 

Yoram spoke briefly in his broken Hebrew, thanking the community for their warm welcome and thanking God for our beautiful, healthy son. A man asked him why we came here. So Yoram told him. No matter what we had in the US, Israel is our homeland. This is where we are meant to be. And why specifically the Golan? We fell in love with it. Our souls told us that this is where we belong, and we stayed.

Several of our guests had tears in their eyes. They told us that we “strengthen them.” 

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The story of my Aliyah started before I’d ever even visited Israel.  I was in seventh grade. It was 1993, I was 13 years old, living in NY and starting to feel a little bit of freedom. Most days I rode my bike to school or took the city bus with my friend. On Sundays I was allowed to go to the mall on my own… the first signs of growing up. And of course, along with all that came the other side of finding my autonomy – fighting with my parents, struggling to do the right thing – even when it was also what my parents wanted me to do. I can remember a few mornings where I left my house after quarreling with my mother about homework, or housework, or boys, or music… feeling self-righteous, and wronged, and wrong, and sorry. And knowing that after recess, I’d see my mom in class and apologize (she was my science teacher that year!), or maybe when we got home if it had been really bad. We’d hug and say, “I love you,” it would all be ok.

When the terror attacks started in Israel, I started feeling very scared and unsettled. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. We were saying special prayers in school, and doing things to support Israel from afar. The international community started crying “Land for peace” and of course everyone had an opinion. I remember feeling frustrated hearing my parents and their friends discussing what Israel “should do” about the intifada. Easy for us to yell and fight around a Shabbat table 6000 miles away about whether or not it was worth trying to give the Arabs some of Israeli land in exchange for a promise of peace. Easy for us to discuss the lives of the citizens of Israel and of the soldiers and their families while we sat and drank Chivas and ate herring and gefilte fish (Ok, I didn’t drink the Chivas, but the grown ups did.). It just felt wrong.

And then one of the terrorist bombs was detonated on a city bus near Bayit VeGan in the morning. Almost all the victims were kids on their way to school. Like me. Had they fought with their moms for being late or not doing homework? Did they have any premonition, did they somehow know that this would be the last time they would board a city bus for school? The last time they’d have to worry about what they were wearing or if they would pass the test or get invited to a party or get that part in the play? Did they know?

When I was 13 I made a decision. If I’m going to learn about it, and I’m going to pray about it, then I’m going to do it. Am Yisrael, the Jewish Nation belongs in Eretz Yisrael. It’s not fair that Jewish kids my age living in our Homeland shouldn’t be able to get on the bus in the morning without fearing for their lives while I go about my own life happy and safe in NY. 

We had a cleaning lady at the time named Myrtle, a middle aged Black lady with whom I shared my deepest thoughts while helping her clean the kitchen, including my conviction to move to Israel as soon as I was old enough. She asked me why I would move to a war-torn country, if I’d be willing to leave my family, what was so important about it? I’ve grown a lot in 20 years, matured, seen some things, changed my mind about many many – most, of the ideas I had when I was 13. But the answers I gave Myrtle are the same answers I give now, if a little better articulated. Eretz Yisrael is all we learn about, it’s all we pray for. It is where our past and future resides. It’s the only place I can imagine raising my children. Eretz Yisrael is my Homeland.

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