Eye on the prize

Pesach is over, the temperature is rising, the sun is shining. Tourism Season has begun. So has Aliyah Season.

With summer fast approaching, so too are the dates of Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flights from the US to Israel for those taking the plunge and making Israel their new home. Summer is aliyah season, especially for families with school aged children, because it makes more sense to come in time for the new school year. Just five years ago, we stood in your shoes. We waited for confirmation from the Jewish Agency and NBN that our status had been approved, and that we could be on the flight of our choice. We waited to hear from our realtor in Rehovot, that he had seen apartment that would work for us. We waited for the shipping companies to give us estimates. We waited for confirmation from schools that our children had where to go on September 1.

Five years in (feels like more), I’m offering advice to those arriving this summer. Keep your eye on the prize. Remember why you’re doing this.

You’re not making aliyah for the paperwork and bureaucracy.
You’re not making aliyah for the socialized medicine.
You’re not making aliyah for the superior education system.
You’re not making aliyah for the bigger house or car.
You’re not making aliyah for the higher salary.
You’re not making aliyah for the premium online shopping.

You are making aliyah because no matter where in country you choose to live, you will be no more than a few hours away from Jerusalem.
You are making aliyah because no matter where you walk, you are walking in the footsteps of your ancestors.
You are making aliyah because you will no longer be a minority, but part of the majority.
You are making aliyah because even in a non-religious school your children will celebrate the Jewish holidays.
You are making aliyah because your children and grandchildren will defend our country on behalf of Jews around the world.
You are making aliyah because you can live the life that previous generations could only dream of.

There will be days when you wonder why you did it.
There will be days when you feel like a complete alien.
There will be days when you cry.
There will be days when you get yelled at.
There will be days when you do all the yelling.
There will be days when your kids tell you they hate you for bringing them here.

But remember this: Keep your eye on the prize.

להיות עם חופשי בארצנו, ארץ ציון וירושלים

 

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Letter to my daughter in Poland

My eldest daughter has spent the past week in Poland with her school. From the time we arrived in Israel and she learned that most schools here make the trip to Poland in 11th or 12th grade, she said she wanted to go. Since last May, when she signed up for the trip, the school has spent days and weeks educating the girls, both historically and psychologically, what to expect. They left before dawn last Monday morning, arriving in a cold, wet Warsaw around 8am, and went immediately to a Jewish cemetery. They have traveled the routes traveled by our own ancestors, visited towns and cities where Judaism once thrived, and seen the horrors of Treblinka, Majdenak, and the woods of Zbylitowska Góra where there are mass graves of Jews, including thousands of children, shot to death by the Nazis. Tomorrow, Sunday, is the final day of the trip, one that is spent at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Parents were asked to send a letter to their daughters for them to read over Shabbat, which they spent in the city of Krakow. Below is an edited version of the letter that I wrote to my daughter. It was originally written 2 weeks ago, but I have modified it slightly to reflect the anti-semitic murderous attack that killed 11 Jews in Pittsburgh just one week ago.

<<I am writing this on Erev Shabbat Lech Lecha, when Hashem commanded Avram to leave his homeland and his birthplace, and to go the land that Hashem would show him. In the parasha, we see Avram’s blind faith in Hashem, how he was willing to leave behind everything that was familiar to him, to follow Hashem.

For thousands of years, the Jewish people yearned to return to Zion, to the Land of Israel, after the exile and the destruction of the Beit haMikdash. The area that makes up the Promised Land has been controlled by so many different powers during these years of Diaspora, and each of these governing people played some role in making sure there was no official Jewish homeland.

Finally, in 1947, immediately following the genocide committed in Europe by Hitler and the Nazis, the British Mandate came good on the Balfour Declaration of 1917, to give the Jewish people their own state. There are those who believe that the only reason the modern state of Israel exists is due to the guilt felt by the world following the Shoah. These people believe that if it weren’t for the Shoah, we would never have our State of Israel, and we would not have been able to establish a Jewish homeland in the Biblical land that was promised to Avraham our patriarch in Parashat Lech Lecha.  I choose to believe differently. I believe that while the Shoah was a factor in us getting back our homeland, the realization of the dream, the establishment of the state, is nothing short of a miracle. You see, as soon as Israel declared independence, all Arab nations surrounding us declared war on us. We had no proper army. Our army was made up of various underground movements who had resisted British, a haphazard group of people with little military training. We had newly arrived immigrants from Europe, (many of whom had arrived illegally, due to British limitations set on the number of Jews allowed to land in Israel in those post-war years) survivors of horrors worse than anyone could imagine, recovering from years of starvation and illness and mistreatment at the hands of the Nazis, who immediately joined forces to fight for their new homeland. It is only by God’s Hand that Israel won that war. As you know, that was only the first war, many more have followed, and still our enemies try to wipe us from the face of the Earth.

When I asked if you were anxious about your trip to Poland, you answered that you were not. You said that you hoped to get some clarity from it, some more understanding of what happened, and to find some connection to your past, to our past.

I have never been to Poland, nor do I have any desire to go. From what I understand from others who have made the trip, the last day is the hardest day.  Auschwitz-Birkenau is always described as devastating – people who didn’t know they could feel such deep emotion, describe how it is impossible not to feel the souls of all those murdered there. Just the sheer size of the place, makes it impossible to digest how many were murdered there.

Yours is the second generation to grow up with the State of Israel as fact and reality, rather than a dream and a prayer. It is difficult to communicate to you and to your siblings and friends, the true meaning of Zionism and why it is so important. Your great-grandparents, and even your grandparents, remember the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948. They remember the 1967 Six Day War, which resulted in a unified, free Jerusalem, giving us access to the Old City and the remnants of the Beit haMikdash. It is easy to take this for granted today – that you can hop on a bus and then the light rail in Jerusalem, and show up at the Kotel whenever you feel like it. But we must never take any of it for granted. We must always remember the days when we didn’t have a country of our own, and when we had a country of our own, but no access to the holiest of places for the Jewish people.

Today’s fight is different. We have to continue to fight the BDS movement which does its best to put Israel in a negative light all around the world. When we hear people saying that Israel is an apartheid country it is up to us to show the world that this is not the case.  The Palestinians do not want a 2 state solution – their vision is a single state that is devoid of all Jews. As a Jew, and as an Israeli, it is your job and your duty to educate others, to make sure that they see the truth, the real Israel.

As we learned last Saturday night, anti-semitism is alive and well. Exactly one week ago, eleven Jews, praying in their synagogue on Shabbat morning, just as we do every single week, were murdered, in an act not unlike those carried out by Nazis nearly 80 years ago. It can happen in Pittsburgh. It can happen anywhere. Where there are Jews, there are anti-semites.

I have no doubt that you will return from this trip changed. How can anyone visit Poland, and see what was lost, and not come back feeling changed? When we meet up at the Kotel on Monday morning, look at it with new eyes. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t see an ancient wall. Look again, and see all that is left of the Beit HaMikdash. Look again, and see the miracle that enabled us to reunite Jerusalem in 1967. Look again, and see how God is a part of everything that happens in Eretz Yisrael and Medinat  Yisrael. Look again, and see how the existence of the State of Israel is not a direct result of the Shoah, but the realization of a promise, and of a dream of thousands of years.

I can’t wait to see you on Monday morning. I am sure tomorrow will be a tough day, but hopefully you will return empowered, and believing that God exists, even though we may not understand how He works, and why He makes things happen the way that they do.  I pray that this trip has been all that you expected it to be, and that you return feeling proud to be Jewish and proud to be Israeli.>>

 

Friends Make My World Good

I’ve learned a lot about friendship in my 44 years.
I’ve learned that you have to work harder to maintain some friendships.
You have to decide which ones are worth the effort.
I’ve learned that some friendships will last the geographical distance, whereas others will simply fizzle out.
You have to decide whether or not this hurts you or makes you stronger.
I’ve learned that your best friends are not necessarily the friends with whom you agree with on everything, sometimes they are the ones with whom you frequently disagree. But because they are your friends, you can agree to disagree over and over and over again.
I’ve learned that my closest friends are the ones who are there for me, day in, day out, through thick and thin.
They may be the friends I have known for decades, or they may be the friends I’ve known for 6 months.
But they are there when I need them, and I want to be there for them when they need me.
I’ve learned that friendship is when I feel heartbroken along with a friend who is going through a difficult situation, and it is when I feel elated along with a friend who is celebrating something wonderful.
True friendship is being able to show up at a friend’s house unannounced, and that friend doesn’t care that she is in her pyjamas and hasn’t showered, or washed off last night’s makeup, and her house is messy, because she knows if you just showed up, you need to be with a friend right then.
True friendship is dropping everything, without a second thought, to rush to help your friend in need, no matter what the reason, no matter what your plans were.
Nothing has happened that prompted me to write this.
I just feel blessed that I am surrounded by true friends.
I feel lucky to have friends to whom I can turn when I need to.
I am grateful that with my friends, I do not have to hold my tongue and refrain from saying what I really think – even if I know that not a single one of my friends agrees with my opinion.
That’s okay, our friendship will survive our conflicting views.
To all my real friends reading this, you know who you are. I love each and every one of you, even when I think  you’re being a crazy paranoid hypochondriac (not necessarily all at once)

Reactivated

If you knew me 25 (okay, a little more) years ago, you might remember me a little differently to how you know me now. Most of the people I have met since 1998, when I left Israel after 7 years of living here, likely think of me as a passive, somewhat liberal person. Certainly no one would think of me as a political activist. No one who has known me only post 1998 could imagine me, standing  on a hill opposite the Knesset, or standing in the street near the Prime Minister’s house in Jerusalem, surrounded by like minded people, demonstrating against something we believed would ruin us.

When I arrived in Israel at the tender age of 17, I had minimal knowledge of modern Israeli history beyond the basics. Ottoman Empire. British Mandate. 1948. 1967. 1973. Lebanon War. Gulf War. I came here eager to learn Hebrew, not history,  but history classes were mandated as part of the Mechina (preparatory) programme for overseas students at Hebrew University, so I chose classes I thought would be easy. Within a few months I had learned so much more about this  country we Jews call home.

Towards the very end of my first year there were elections. I remember staying up until the early hours of the morning as the results came in, watching in disbelief with a small group of friends, as it became apparent that a coalition would be formed headed by Yitzhak Rabin and his Labour party. This government brought us the Oslo Accords.

In the weeks leading up to the signing of these accords I spent my every spare moment demonstrating against them. Every night we stood in large groups, for hours, protesting that there would be no peace. How can there be peace with people who don’t recognize our right to exist? How  can there be peace with people who chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”?

Our voices weren’t heard. The accords were signed. The Prime Minister of our Jewish country shook hands with the leader of a terrorist organization, a man with so much Jewish and Israeli blood on his hands, that no amount of bleach could clean them. What has Oslo brought us? Only more  violence, more hatred, more senseless murders, suicide bombings on our buses, in our malls, hotels. More recently, since the complete Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip in 2005, rockets hitting deep into Israeli territory, tunnels allowing terrorists to infiltrate into Israel, and since earlier this year, Molotov cocktails attached to kites and balloons.

Somewhere along the way, between September 1993 and October 1998 I stopped fighting. I gave up. I became passive. What’s the point in constantly arguing when no one is listening? Why waste my time, my breath when all around me there is terror. So I just stopped. I moved away. It took me 16 long years to find my way back. I remember watching from far away the protests before the disengagement from Gaza. I cried while watching Jewish soldiers forcibly evict Jewish people from their homes. And I wondered “why are they bothering to resist? Their voice will never be heard. It’s not worth it. Give up”

I barely knew Ari Fuld z”l. I  met him a couple of times when he came to speak in Boca when we still lived there. I ran into him a few times since we moved back to Israel. We chatted on Facebook at length, about 5 years ago when he was considering a trip to the UK to fundraise for Standing Together, and I was trying to get him some connections in London. I would see Ari post on Facebook and wonder “does he never sleep?!” because on the same day he would post photos of the sunrise in Efrat, and then videos from the Kotel in Jerusalem in the middle of the night. His video messages were so passionate and full of energy, you couldn’t help but smile, and I just wished for a little bit of that energy. I can’t quite put into words the shock I felt Sunday when I first heard that it was Ari who was stabbed in the Gush. I got a message on whatsApp from a friend, but it wasn’t until I actually heard his name on the news an hour later that I began to process.

Like so many others, I have spent this week grieving, praying on Yom Kippur perhaps with more fervor, but also with more questioning (why? why do You always take the best ones?). At the end of Yom  Kippur, when we sang “Next Year in a rebuilt Jerusalem” I meant it more than ever before. I’ve also spent this week thinking about what I can do. I can share Ari’s messages, I can post on social media, I can donate to the fund set up in his memory. But I want to do more.

Something inside me has been reactivated. The me from 25 years ago is fighting her way out from deep within. I no longer want to be regarded as passive. I don’t know how to start, but I’m going to find a way. Last night I went to the Kotel. It was late, it was easy to get up to the old wall and touch the stones as I davened, and from the angle I looked up, it was like there was nothing on top, just an empty space waiting for the Beit haMikdash to be rebuilt. May it be Your will, God, that the Temple is rebuilt soon, and that Mashiach comes to redeem us all.

Kotel at Night

Empty space on Har HaBayit just waiting for the 3rd Temple to be built

Home is where the?

One of my clients asked me yesterday “where do you call ‘home’?”

It’s not a simple question for anyone who lives someplace other than the place they were born and/or grew up. My husband, for example, was born in Detroit, but if you ask him where he’s from, he will say “Florida” or “Miami”, because that is where he grew up from the time he was a baby. Ask me where I’m from, and I will counter with “originally, or where did I come from this time?” But the answer to the question “where are you from?” is not the same as the answer to “where do you call ‘home’?”

We are in the midst of my favourite time of year in Israel. Spring. Spring doesn’t last long here; the pleasant, sunny, warm days with breezy nights, quickly become the never ending, humid, hot summer. But it’s not just the season of Spring that I love. It is everything that Spring in Israel brings on the calendar.

The blue and white starts to appear just before Pesach. The city streets get decorated with flags and streamers. There is something in the air. Slowly but surely, more flags show up on apartment buildings, office blocks and cars. The pre-Pesach sale of wine and matza becomes a sale of disposable grills, beer and blue and white marshmallows.

This year is particularly special, this the 70th celebration of our little country’s independence. All year in school, the kids have been doing special projects to commemorate 70 years of the State of Israel. My parents’ generation saw it happen, watched a 2000 year old dream become a reality.  My generation is the first to grow up with the State of Israel as an established fact, a vacation destination for many, the place so many of our friends came for a “gap” year after High School, and for the rest of us, the country we have chosen to call “Home”.

It’s been almost four years since we arrived as a family. I can say with absolute certainty now that this was the best decision we ever made. I can say with complete clarity that my children have been successfully absorbed. They switch easily and flawlessly from English to Hebrew. They  have that air of confidence that I thought was only possible in Sabra kids. They have trekked across parts of the country that I have yet to discover and slept under the stars. The older two have already compiled lists of their preferences for the army. The youngest walks all over the city alone, coming home only when it’s getting dark, something I cannot imagine allowing a 10 year old to do elsewhere.

Where do I call home? There’s a little bit of home in each of the places I have lived.

Dublin, where I was born and grew up until at 17 I came to Israel. I have no family left there now, and only a few friends. I haven’t visited for more than 5 years, and have no plans to return right now.

London, my second home for so long as a child, and the place I lived for 3 years after my first stint in Israel. With my parents and all my siblings and nephews and nieces there, the pull is strong, and I love to visit. The feel of “home” is strong there, but I think it’s more a feel of familiarity. I didn’t enjoy living there.

Boca Raton, my home for thirteen years. I recently returned for the first time since we came back to Israel. I love Florida, I can’t lie. It was great to be back. It was wonderful to see Keith’s grandparents and so many of our friends. I really really really enjoyed driving a minivan for a week, on wide, six lane city streets, and easily parking it in any parking space. I had fun at Target, at Ulta and Marshalls. But you know what? I spent most of the time at the wheel of that minivan thinking “was this really my life for so long?” and then laughing. It seems so foreign now, so different and so not really me.

Israel. Grand total of almost 11 years living here. Most definitely Home. No explanation – none necessary. But this is just it. It’s just where we’re supposed to be.

Where do I call home? Home is where the heart is. And my heart is right here.

 

Celebrating Immigration

Most of what we read in the news at the moment about immigration isn’t positive. But here’s something truly uplifting about a specific type of immigration, to a specific country.

Immigrants to Israel are called “olim” – “those who go up”. Immigration to Israel is called “aliya” – “going up”. It’s a concept that exists only in Hebrew, and only when talking about immigrating to Israel. Those who leave Israel to live elsewhere make “yerida” – they “go down”.

Last Friday, 7 Cheshvan, we celebrated Yom HaAliya in Israel. Yom HaAliya, or “Day of Aliya” is a national holiday that was declared by the Knesset in 2016, to mark the importance of Aliya  to the Land of Israel, as a basis for the establishment of the State of Israel. The actual date for Yom HaAliya is 10 Nissan, which is traditionally believed to be the date that the Jewish people crossed the Jordan into the Land of Israel under the leadership of Joshua Ben Nun. However, as the Knesset is in recess, and schools have already broken up for the Passover vacation by that date, it was decided instead, to mark Yom HaAliya in the week when we read Parashat Lech Lecha, which is when God commands Avraham to leave his homeland to go up to the land of Cana’an, which he later gives to Avraham and his descendants.

A year ago, we celebrated my son’s barmitzvah on parashat Lech Lecha, and I spoke in our shul about the connection between the parasha and making aliya.

Last year was the first year that Yom HaAliya was observed, and I was disappointed that our local elementary school did nothing to mark the day, in spite of the many olim that they have absorbed in the last few years. I made a remark about this on Facebook, and was contacted immediately by one of the amazing mothers on the parent’s committee. Within a few weeks, a brand new sub-committee was formed in the school, the Olim Committee. Made up of a group of parents who had made aliya, and had children in the school, our goal is to make the absorption of Olim families into the school an easier process. We have facilitated a number of changes, including a booklet that explains in English (and will be translated into other languages as necessary) everything you need to know about putting your child in this school. We also created a “buddy system” where Israeli families help out new olim with communication difficulties, homework and more.

Another project that we undertook, was to guarantee that Yom HaAliya was recognized and celebrated at school this year. So we put our heads together in an effort to come up with something that would involve the entire school, and not only the children who had made aliya. The results were fantastic! Friday morning saw a wonderful tekes (ceremony), in which the whole school took part. There were a number of different parts to it including two movies – one where children were interviewed about their own aliya experience, and the second where Olim vatikim (Olim who have been here a long time), with children/grandchildren in the school, spoke about their experiences.  In addition, the children learned about “who is an oleh?” and “what is Yom HaAliya”.

In preparation for the day, all children in the school were sent home that week on a mission – To find out if they have Olim in their families – parents, or grandparents who were not born in Israel. For some children, this was the first time that they learned that a grandparent (who perhaps had come as a young child) was not a Sabra! By far the most exciting part of the morning, was when the principal of the school asked all the children who had made aliya to stand up. It was a relatively small group. He then asked all the children whose parents had made aliya to stand. Quite a large number of children joined the standing kids. Finally, he asked all the children who had a grandparent that had made aliya to stand. At that point, there was almost no one sitting down – practically the whole student body was standing up. It was then that they were able to see for themselves, how our little country is made up of immigrants. If not this generation, or the one before, certainly the one before that.

I am so happy to have been part of this committee, and to have had the opportunity to show what aliya is, and why we must continue to recognize the importance of aliya in the continued growth of the State of Israel.

Jerusalem of Go(l)d 50 years on

Tomorrow is Jerusalem Day. 50 years since the reunification of Jerusalem, since the liberation of the Old City from the Jordanians, and the ability to get closer to the site of our Temple Mount. Closer, and yet not quite there.

Last week I read a blog post by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg of my former shul in Boca. I have tremendous respect for Rabbi Goldberg, and enjoy reading what he writes. However, this time I don’t quite agree with him. Rabbi Goldberg laments the attendance at a recent shul event celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut, and asks why so few people came. He is 100% correct that a religious Zionist is someone who says Hallel on Yom HaAtzmaut and on Yom Yerushalayim, and that sending your kids to a school where daglanut is performed is not enough.  He goes on to ask what does make a “Religious Zionist”. Rabbi Goldberg lists what he believes to be the key factors  Belief in the centrality of Israel, Gratitude (to Hashem), Israel Consciousness, Aliyah, Community.

Under Israel Consciousness he writes (emphasis mine): “Feeling like a resident of Israel even while living in the diaspora means following the news from Israel closely, sharing in its successes, and being pained by its challenges.  It means advocating and lobbying on behalf of Israel.  It means contributing our resources in a meaningful way to Israel.  It means raising our children to think about Israel like their hometown, rather than like another foreign place they don’t live.”
This is where I disagree. In my opinion, it is not possible to raise children outside of Israel to think of Israel like their hometown. Even a family who is lucky enough to vacation in Israel for holidays and summers cannot achieve this.

Of course Israel should always be on our minds, whether or not we live here or in the Diaspora. Of course Hallel should be recited on Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim. Of course Aliyah should always be somewhere in the consciousness of those who currently live in the Diaspora. But vacation in Israel is not the same as living in Israel. And to truly feel Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim a lot of people need to be here physically, not just spiritually. Can July 4th be fully celebrated outside of the United States?

Until I lived in Israel, Yom HaAtzmaut was just another chag that I spent at school, albeit saying Hallel in davening, and usually with some sort of Israel-centered activities. Yom Yerushalayim was celebrated even less, but noted as of great importance. Once I had lived in Israel, and spent seven Y’mei Atzmaut and Y’mei Yerushalayim here, nothing would ever compare again. For 16 years I “celebrated” those chagim in the Diaspora, and for 16 years something big was missing. For most of those years I chose not to attend local celebrations, because nothing lived up to the real feel, the excitement of celebrating either of those holidays in the country.  It’s just not the same. To daven at a shul IN Israel on the eve of Yom HaAtzmaut, is not the same as davening in a shul in the Diaspora. To wander the streets of Israel with your family and friends, watching an entire country celebrating our continued miraculous existence of this little piece of land surrounded by enemies is not the same as gathering with a few hundred other Jews in a Federation field or a local shul hall to celebrate, even with top Israeli musicians performing.

In the almost 3  years that I’ve  been back, I have celebrated both these days to the full. It is so easy to feel the miracle of our existence here. How blessed am I, to have the freedom to go to Jerusalem whenever I feel like it? Last Thursday night my daughter’s elementary school had their annual cultural evening at the local theatre. The theme this year was Jerusalem. Sitting in that theatre, watching our Israeli children sing and dance to well known songs about Jerusalem, and having the honour of Shuli Natan sing “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” as beautifully as she did in 1967, I felt Jerusalem. Tomorrow Jerusalem of Gold will shine as always, she will be filled with people celebrating her unity. The festivities for her Jubilee year have already begun and will continue around the country for a while yet.

I am not saying that Zionist Jews in the Diaspora shouldn’t celebrate. I am not saying “if you don’t live in Israel you shouldn’t celebrate”. But many people can’t celebrate fully without being here. And while communal efforts in the Diaspora should be supported in every way by the communites, it’s not a realistic expectation for these days to take precedence over their daily Diaspora lives.

Raise your Diaspora children to love Israel as the home of the Jewish people. Raise them to view an undivided Jerusalem as her capital, and Har HaBayit as the holiest place in Judasim. Raise them to aspire to making aliyah as soon as possible. If possible bring them here at every opportunity, so that they will know parts of Israel as well as they know their hometown. So that when they get here, it will already feel like home.

For 50 years Jerusalem of Go(l)d has been a unified city again. Be’ezrat Hashem, within 50 years from now we will have the merit to see our third and final Temple on Har HaBayit.

Chag Sameach!

 

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