Rosh Hashana in Israel. Jewish holidays in Israel in general. To experience this, not as a tourist (which I only ever did once when I was 10 years old, and spent Succot in Israel with my family & grandparents), is extremely special.
Yes the shops are packed, and there are crowds everywhere. Yes you may have to wait hours at the bakery for sweet round challah. Yes, the kids will have barely any school for the next few weeks. But YES, this is because it is the Jewish new year! It’s not some holiday for some other religion, that has little to no affect on us, other than to be inconvenient because the supermarket is closed when I need to go. It’s for my holiday! The buses say “Shana Tova” (Happy New Year) on them. You call the electric/water/gas company to pay a bill and they wish you “Shana Tova” before getting off the phone. This is our country, this is our homeland, and this is our faith, practiced in the land given to our forefathers by God.
We have been in Israel for 6 weeks now. Our lift finally arrived, Baruch Hashem, a week ago. What felt like an empty vacation apartment has suddenly turned into our home, with our furniture, our dishes, our photographs, our books, my nail polish… The dog has her patio table to sit under again. The kids have their clothing, their toys, their special things. I have proper coffee mugs. We are truly at home now. Having the lift arrive so close to Rosh Hashana was in many ways a blessing, as it motivated us to get unpacked as quickly as possible. While we do still have some closed boxes (that don’t contain Pesach stuff), we are mostly unpacked, we have found everything we need (except that brand new box of kitchen glasses from Bed, Bath & Beyond – they’ll show up when we move again), and I have been cooking and (attempting to) baking for Yom Tov.
As the Day of Judgement approaches, and we each have our own demons to face, I’d like to say publicly that I have faced mine. The biggest demon in my life was my reluctance to return to Israel. It was something that followed me for 16 years. Like a voice whispering in my ear, every time the prayer for Israel was said in shul, every time a friend made aliya, every time a friend went on vacation to Israel, every time Israel was in the news, the voice saying “you know you want to be there.” And my own voice always over powering that voice and saying “No I do not. I’m right where I want to be.” It took many years for my voice to become the whisper, and for the other voice to become louder. And while I can’t explain what exactly changed, or why I suddenly felt “ready”, it certainly feels like a demon has been conquered.
Making aliya is not easy. Making aliya with a family is even more difficult. As positive as my posts have been since we arrived in Israel, I admit that it’s not easy. There are challenges that you can’t imagine before you arrive, even if you think you know about them. I just listened to the community panel from the Boca Raton Synagogue from last Saturday night, about aliya , and it resonated with me. Even if you do speak good Hebrew (I do), you won’t understand how things work. Even if you have lived here before (I have), don’t expect to jump right in where you left off. Even if your kids are excited to be here (they were not), don’t expect them to immediately be happy at school. Even if the school is helping your kids with Hebrew (they are), don’t expect the kids to suddenly start speaking it (they don’t/won’t).
But don’t let these things be the reason to NOT make aliya. If aliya is in your heart, just do it. If you feel that Israel is your homeland, just come. Don’t tell me “it’s not that easy” – I know! Do your homework, move somewhere that has a network of people who can help you. If you need to, move to a city where there are lots of Anglos. If you want to move somewhere more Israeli, find out ahead of time whether there is any kind of Anglo community there, and if they are set up to help new Olim. Speak to as many people as you can, from Boca, from elsewhere, who have made aliya to those exact places that you are looking into. Even if they made aliya 5 years ago, they are still Olim. They can still remember what it was like in the beginning. They will give you the best advice about schools, shuls, supermarkets, apartments, cars, jobs – everything. Don’t be afraid to ask “stupid” questions. Understand that you WILL need those English speakers, even if you are fluent in Hebrew. It’s nothing to be embarrassed by. As great as Nefesh b’Nefesh is at coordinating the paperwork, and managing flights and ceremonies, once you arrive, you need to be in a place where, daily, you have people who can help you. Go on a pilot trip – even if you spend every summer in Israel and think you know where you want to be – you may end up finding a completely different place. We moved to Rehovot, having only spent a brief 30 hours here last December over Shabbat! And what a great decision it was.
Wishing everyone, in Israel, and in the Galut, a Shana Tov, and may we all confront our personal demons, and take them out in 5775.
אם תרצו, אין זו אגדה – If you want it, it’s not a dream (Theodore Herzl ז”ל)