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!


Memories of INS at Miami Airport

In August of 2001 I entered the United States as a legal alien with a conditional, two year green card. I came exactly 2 weeks before the September 11 terrorist attacks. I arrived with my American  husband of 21 months – less than two years, hence the condition attached to my green card.

With all the talk about the latest immigration policies and current upheaval in the US surrounding immigration from certain countries, I started thinking about my own immigration to America story. Leaving aside refugees, my thoughts are mainly about those people who hold valid green cards, and who have been living in the United States for a period of time, or who have recently received their green cards and wish to move to the US within the time frame they have been given. Once you receive your green card, you have a limited amount of time within which you must physically arrive in the country.

I applied for my green card before September 2001. Even so, it took a year and a half for the process. At the time we were living in London. In order to simply file the application we had to provide an incredible amount of paperwork, including police reports from all countries in which I had lived for more than 6 months after the age of 16. For me that was 3 countries – Ireland, Israel and the UK. This was proof that I have no criminal background. In addition, we had to provide multiple copies of birth certificates, marriage certificate, proof of current employment in London etc. My husband had to provide proof that he could afford to support me in the United States financially – green card holders had to sign a waiver that they would not claim any benefits (medical or otherwise) for 10 years after moving to the US – even though green card holders pay taxes the same as citizens. Once the paperwork was processed and approved the next step was medical. I was subjected to a multitude of tests and vaccinations. I was tested for HIV and drug use. I was x-rayed to show that I don’t have TB. I obtained from my childhood doctor a letter stating that I had measles and mumps as a child, or I would have been forced to be vaccinated. I had to get a tetanus and a rubella booster, because I had no proof of the most recent ones I had received. All this was paid for by me, the applicant and required a full day of  vacation from work.

As one of the lucky ones, my green card was approved relatively easily. My husband and I were called for our interview at the US Embassy in London where we were asked to show all the paperwork again, and we had to answer some questions about our relationship and our plans once we arrived in Florida. Another day off work. But I got my green card.

One would think that once you have the card, entry into the United States is simple. Not so. While having a green card allows you to enter through the US Passport line (or it did,  until now), the first time you arrive in the country with that green card, you are taken to that room. You know, that room you pass after passport control, with the big letters “Department of Homeland Security” – or back in the pre-9/11 days “Immigration and Nationalization Services”. That room is where people who are denied entry into the US are sent. That room was eye opening. That room was frightening. That room was possibly the most humiliating part of the whole green card process. While I knew that my documents were in order, and that it was a matter of protocol and fingerprints, while I waited my turn I watched families get torn apart. I saw a mother get told she could not enter the country with her husband and children. I saw an old man get escorted to a closed room for an extensive interview. Those images have stayed in my memory for more than 15 years. When my turn arrived and I was called for fingerprinting I was shaking so hard the INS officer had to hold my hand steady. I remember him saying something like “Relax, you’re almost done! Welcome to the United States” and that he was smiling, while all around him people’s lives were being destroyed.

If the process for me to get a green card took 18 months, pre-9/11, pre -“Homeland Security”, an Irish citizen married to an American, living in London, I can only imagine how much more difficult the process has become, especially for anyone living in war torn countries. And it should be difficult,because the country has every right to deny entry to people who may be dangerous. The process is there for a reason, and once a person has been approved for residency s/he should be allowed to enter the US with US citizens through the same passport control booth. End of story.


Postpartum Depression

Most of what follows here, I just wrote as a response on Facebook to a friend who posted something from a nurse at a baby clinic. The nurse was defending her position, by pointing out that in Tipat Chalav (baby & infant clinics in Israel) they have new mothers fill out a questionnaire that enables them to identify potential post partum depression.


All this comes in the wake of a horrible tragedy earlier this week, where a young mother of 4 allegedly strangled her daughters, before setting their apartment on fire, and then hanged herself on the balcony. While the story sickened me, what upset me far more was the handling of it by the media. Headlines such as “Heartless Mother” appeared the next day in the newspapers, and all I could think was how cruel that headline is.


We are so open today in society about so many things – LGBT issues, political affiliation, religious affiliation, yadda yadda yadda, and yet when it comes to depression, and psychological issues in general, people still turn a blind eye.


While details are still emerging about what happened to this poor family, it appears that the mother was suffering from some type of postpartum depression, or possibly psychosis. The youngest of her children was just 11 months old, and PPD can begin to manifest up to 6 months after birth, and without proper treatment will not just go away.


So while nurses, social workers, midwives & gynaecologists are all trained to see the symptoms of PPD, the problem still is that women are raised to believe that motherhood and having a new baby is the height of perfection, and that those days are supposed to be the happiest of our lives. For many, many women, if they aren’t feeling that euphoria that they’ve been told they should feel, they simply feel like a failure. So they hide it – because no one wants to be seen as a failure. They put a smile on their face, they go about their business, pushing the stroller around, letting everyone tell them what a beautiful baby, is she a good baby, does she sleep at night, are you breastfeeding, oh why not, oh you are, that’s so good but so tiring, giving unsolicited advice, baby is dressed too warm, too cold etc. Very, very rarely do people ask about Mum, beyond the “you must be exhausted”. And frequently, PPD doesn’t start to properly manifest until a month or more post partum, and people’s concern for new mums generally starts to wane, right around the time when they probably need it most.
The stigma attached to any kind of depression needs to go, but especially for PPD, when women are vulnerable anyway, at the mercy of their hormones, possibly dealing with post traumatic stress if their labour and delivery didn’t go as they imagined, and ended up with some kind of emergency. I believe that tipat chalav nurses, social workers, midwives, even gynaecologists are all trained to “see” PPD and that potentially they could all help, but they won’t see what mum doesn’t allow them to see. Mothers are better than anyone else at hiding things – we spend our lives just doing what has to be done, while we are sick, while we are sad, while we are angry.

This is a subject very, very close to my heart – I am very open about the fact that I had postpartum depression after my son was born. But I was extremely lucky – I recognized in myself that my symptoms were not simply exhaustion and baby blues. I knew something else was going on, and while I did feel like a failure, I had 2 babies to take care of – my daughter was only 16 months when my son was born – and I took myself to the doctor immediately. Even with the right care PPD is tough to deal with, because you need the support of your family – from your husband to your parents and in-laws – and your close friends. I do not take for granted how lucky I was back then. My husband was my rock, taking over whenever I needed him. His grandparents made themselves available to babysit at all times, often at very short notice (and what a special thing that is, to have great-grandparents who are both willing and able to care for their great-grandchildren). My own family was on another continent, but I had their support in other ways.

As I started to get the right treatment and care, and to feel more like myself again, I looked around me and I saw similar symptoms in other women that I knew. So I began talking about having PPD. I told anyone who asked me “hey, how are you?” – “Well, I’m doing better now thanks. I have postpartum depression, but I’m getting the help I need now, and I feel so much more like myself”. The number of women whose eyes widened and said “oh wow, you know, I think I may have had that too, but I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone” told me that something had to be done. So I started a local support group, called JOMINOS – Jewish Observant Mothers In Need of Support. For a very long time we met monthly. It was a safe place for women who needed to talk about being mothers, who perhaps didn’t feel that bliss when they had a baby. We had information available for women who felt they needed help beyond a support group. Above all, we didn’t judge, and we all learned to spot the symptoms of PPD in others, so that we could try  to step in where help may be needed. Sometimes stepping in can be done directly with the mother – a simple “Are you really doing okay, or are you at your limit?” can often be the catalyst to let it all out. Other times, it needs to be done through a close family member – husband, mother, sister, mother-in-law – “I’m worried about X, she is showing some signs of PPD, and I’m concerned that when I try to talk to her about it she won’t talk”

If you have a friend who has given birth recently, watch them. Keep calling them regularly, offer to come by for a coffee, or to meet them somewhere, look into their eyes as they talk and see if there is more going on than they are letting on. Learn to spot the signs of PPD http://www.postpartumprogress.com/the-symptoms-of-postpartum-depression-anxiety-in-plain-mama-english

And for anyone reading this, I am ALWAYS available to talk. I’ve been there, done that, and thank God, lived to tell the tale.

Do you ship to Israel?

One of the things people miss when making aliya, especially from the United States, is the ease with which you can shop online there, compared to Israel. Having said that, in Israel I am able to order my groceries online very easily, whereas in Florida, I could not. Everything else, however, not so. There are a few problems with online shopping in Israel. I just can’t go into them, it would take all night, but click the link below and watch the clip and enjoy (I apologize I couldn’t find this with English subtitles, so if you don’t speak any Hebrew you may not get it). It’s so close to the truth.


Okay, now you’ve seen the supposed parody of how the post office in Israel works. Only it’s kind of really like that. You order something from, say, Aliexpress, and then you forget about it, and about six months later you get a notice from a post office, somewhere within 25km of where you live, to go pick it up, only by the time you get there, they’ve returned your package. Or you arrive there only to find that they can’t find your package because it’s so small it’s fallen behind another package (and as it’s that small, how come they couldn’t just slip it into your mailbox to begin with?).

So here’s 2 stories. I frequently order books. I read a lot, and the local library has a rather poor selection of books in English, and the second hand book shops also don’t have much. So I buy books from an online shop that ships for free to Israel, and the books usually arrive within a couple of weeks. A few times, the books have even gone straight into my mailbox. Score!

A couple of weeks ago I received an SMS from the postal service telling me a package was ready for pick up. I knew it was a book I had ordered. I didn’t recognize the pickup location, as it was neither of the two post office branches that I normally get to pick up from. No, it was a supermarket about as far away from where I live as you could get in my city. Two buses each way. I filed a formal complaint about that one, but I still haven’t heard anything from the last formal complaint that I filed about a year ago, so…

Then 10 days ago, I took advantage of a free shipping offer and ordered my kids some winter pyjamas from the UK. Happily, I got an email from a private courier company with tracking information, and the lovely news that the PJs would be delivered directly to my door. Expected delivery date was last Thursday, and sure enough, that morning,  tracking info showed that the package was “on truck for delivery”. I was all excited – it was almost like waiting for Amazon Prime packages to show up in the US via UPS! Sadly, Thursday night came and went, and no pyjamas. But in our mailbox that night was a little slip, from the Post Office “courier service”. It had a tracking number on it (that didn’t match the tracking number I had), but no addressee, and yet requested that the addressee come to a neighbouring city to pick up the package with identification.

So this morning (Sunday), Keith and I drove to the neighbouring city and found this post office. On entering I found that there was no paper in the ticket machine, so I had to declare “I’m last” and wait my turn *. When I got to the clerk, she took one look at my piece of paper and told me I was in the wrong place. The courier service depot is out the door, to your left, down the hill towards the car park and the second door there. I had her repeat that twice. So I followed her directions, and found myself in a warehouse under the post office with 3 employees sitting there. I handed over my slip of paper. What happened next is like something out of a cheesy movie.

Employee: Oh you ordered something from Amazon
Me: No.
Employee: Ebay then. All the tracking that ends with 22 is Amazon or Ebay
Me: No. I ordered pyjamas from the UK
Employee completely ignores me and starts picking up boxes that are definitely not my PJs. I see a package on the bottom shelf of the shelves designated for my neighbourhood (oh yes, the whole shelving unit was for my part of my city!) and try to point it out to him, but he continues to check boxes.
Employee: Oh, wait, it’s passports. It’s your new passports. Look, this is your address.
Me: Em…. I am not getting passports, yes that is my address, but that’s my neighbour, not me
Employee: Oh. Do you want to take this for your neighbour? Do you know her?
Me: Did the wrong note get put in my mailbox? Can you please check that black package on the bottom shelf?
Meanwhile, I call my neighbour (she happens to be one of the few I know well enough to have her number)
Me: Hey, it’s Vanessa. This is kind of odd, but I’m here picking up a package and they are trying to give me your passports. Would you like me to sign for them and bring them home to save you the trip?
Neighbour: Wait, what? They’ll allow you to sign for them? Sure, if you can.
Me: They’re practically begging me to take them….
Employee: Oh hey! I found your package! It’s this black one on the bottom shelf. What is it? Feels like clothes or something. Hey, did your neighbour say you should take the passports?

You cannot make this stuff up.

*this works in every situation in Israel with a queue – you simply say “I’m last, and the next person who comes in will ask “who’s last”, and the “last” person tells them it’s now them. It’s always important to know who is in front of you and who is behind you, so you can go off and do other things and then return before your turn comes, and you can say “I was after him” – this may result in a riot, but it’s just how it works here. It’s quite common in supermarkets, for example, for people to put their shopping cart in line at the register while still quite empty, and then to go off and do their shopping and come back and fill the cart while not having to stand in the queue for very long.

And at 13 to Mitzvot

The following post is the translation of the Dvar Torah that I gave this morning in Hebrew at our synagogue on the occasion of our son’s barmitzvah. I’m mostly putting it up here so that those in my family who don’t understand Hebrew can read it, and so that those family members who were unable to join us can also read it. Mazal Tov Elnadav – you are the best son a mother could pray for.


Breishit (Genesis) Chapter 12, v 1-2

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-אַבְרָם, לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ
“Now the LORD said unto Abram: ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto the land that I will show thee.”

וְאֶעֶשְׂךָ, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל, וַאֲבָרֶכְךָ, וַאֲגַדְּלָה שְׁמֶךָ; וֶהְיֵה, בְּרָכָה.
“And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing.”

Parashat Lech Lecha, to me, is the first indication we have of Israel being the Promised Land for the Jewish people.

After man is exiled from the Garden of Eden everything goes downhill. The world goes bad, God brings a flood and only Noah, his family, the animals & Og the King of Bashan survive. After the flood, the world quickly returns to its wicked ways, and the people, who all speak the same language, build a tower to reach the God in the sky, and God’s solution is to give them all individual languages and confuse them all. Imagine how easy Aliya would be if the tower of Babel had never been built! We would all speak the same language and there would be no ulpan!

Avram, born in the year 1948 after creation – no coincidence in my opinion – is living in Haran, married to Sarai, and according the famous midrash, is working with his father Terach, who had an idol shop. Idolatry was normal in Mesopotamia, an ancient civilization, rich in culture and in some kind of worship. It is no coincidence that the land given to us as Israel, is situated exactly between Mesopotamia and Egypt – the two most ancient civilizations. According to the midrash, Avram knew there was something more to faith than idols, and he smashed up the idols in his father’s shop to prove that there was nothing to them, that there was indeed a higher being.

Now it’s all very well to take a stand against your parents. What teenager hasn’t voiced an opinion that he knows will shock his parents to the core? But in Avram’s case, he didn’t stop with just voicing his opinion. Avram heard the voice of God, and Avram did what he was told to do.

A man is told by a voice to take his wife and his possessions, and to leave his homeland and most of his family. He is told to go to the place that the voice will take him to, a place where he has not been before. He is sent to Canaan, a mostly barren land, occupied by feuding kings and multiple nations.  With no hesitation, just a complete belief and faith in this monotheistic being that he believes is the one true God, off he goes. Are we today capable of having that type of blind faith in God, or have we become too cynical for that to be possible? Today, with all the different brands of Judaism, with all the sinat chinam (baseless hatred) between all of us, is there any chance for any one of us to rediscover that pure belief in God?

וַיְהִי רָעָב, בָּאָרֶץ; וַיֵּרֶד אַבְרָם מִצְרַיְמָה לָגוּר שָׁם, כִּי-כָבֵד הָרָעָב בָּאָרֶץ“. (Gen 12 v 10)
“And there was a famine in the land; and Avram went down to Egypt to dwell there, because the famine was bad in the land”

And yet, shortly after Avram arrives in the Land of Canaan, there’s a famine, and Avram chooses to go down to Egypt. Why does Avram choose to leave Canaan, the land that God has shown him and has promised to him? Surely he should show the same faith in God that he showed when he left his homeland to go to Canaan to begin with?

According to the Ramban, Avram sinned by going down to Egypt and by making his wife Sarai lie to Pharoah:

 “ודע, כי אברהם אבינו חטא חטא גדול בשגגה, שהביא אשתו הצדקת במכשול עוון מפני פחדו פן יהרגוהו. והיה לו לבטוח בה’ שיציל אותו ואת אשתו ואת כל אשר לו, כי יש בא-לוהים כוח לעזור ולהציל. גם יציאתו מן הארץ שנצטווה עליה בתחילה מפני הרעב – עוון אשר חטא, כי הא-לוהים ברעב יפדנו ממות

And you should know that our father Avraham committed a great sin unintentionally, in which he brought his righteous wife to stumble into transgression because of his fear of getting killed, and he should have trusted the Name to have saved him, his wife and all that was his, because Elohim has power to help and to save. Also his going out from the land – of which he had been commanded at the beginning – due to famine was a transgression that he committed, because Elohim would have saved him from dying (even) in a famine.

However, if we read the text as it is in the Torah, we can argue that the Ramban’s theory is not without flaws. Did Avraham really sin by going down to Egypt? No, because before Avraham goes to Egypt, when he is still in Alon Moreh, God promises the land to his descendants and not to him personally: “לְזַרְעֲךָ אֶתֵּן אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת – Unto thy seed will I give this land” (Gen 12 v 7).  The actual promise of the land to Avraham himself and to his descendants comes only after he returns to Israel from Egypt and after he has parted from Lot:

כִּי אֶת-כָּל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה רֹאֶה, לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה, וּלְזַרְעֲךָ, עַד-עוֹלָם.”
“for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. ” (Gen 13 v 15)

Therefore we can surmise that it was acceptable for Avraham to go down to Egypt when there was  famine, because at that time he was still wandering the land, and it had not yet been promised to him personally. God had not told Avraham to settle the land, only to wander the land. Only later, after returning from Egypt does God’s intention become clearer. Once Avraham had split from Lot, Avraham was given the land for himself and his heirs, and after that he never left the land of Israel again.

Rabbi Menacham Leibtag suggests that God did not make the full promise to Avraham until after he separates from Lot, because Avraham had viewed Lot as his heir. Lot was his orphaned nephew, and as long as he had no sons of his own, Avraham saw Lot as his son. So when God made the original promise of the land to Avraham, “לזרעך אתן את הארץ הזאת “ – “to your seed I give this land” Avraham took it to mean Lot. After their shepherds fought Lot chose to go his own way – and he chose a way that was both physically and spiritually distant from Avraham (Physically he went far to the East, near the Jordan River, rather than nearby on not so distant mountains. Spiritually, by choosing the area near the Jordan River, Lot was saying he wasn’t counting on God to guarantee water, but the river would ensure that there was water, while Avraham relied on God to provide rain). The Torah specifically says:

וַיהוָה אָמַר אֶל-אַבְרָם, אַחֲרֵי הִפָּרֶד-לוֹט מֵעִמּוֹ, שָׂא נָא עֵינֶיךָ וּרְאֵה, מִן-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה שָׁם–צָפֹנָה וָנֶגְבָּה, וָקֵדְמָה וָיָמָּה.
כִּי אֶת-כָּל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה רֹאֶה, לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה, וּלְזַרְעֲךָ, עַד-עוֹלָם.
וְשַׂמְתִּי אֶת-זַרְעֲךָ, כַּעֲפַר הָאָרֶץ:  אֲשֶׁר אִם-יוּכַל אִישׁ, לִמְנוֹת אֶת-עֲפַר הָאָרֶץ–גַּם-זַרְעֲךָ, יִמָּנֶה.

“And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him: ‘Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art, northward and southward and eastward and westward;
for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.
And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth; so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.” (Gen 13 v 14-16)

Once Lot was out of the equation, God’s repeated promise to Avraham about giving the land to his descendants took on a new meaning to Avraham – now it was clear that by descendants, he meant of Avraham’s own seed.

Immediately after the clarification of the promise, God tells Avraham to keep wandering:

ק֚וּם הִתְהַלֵּ֣ךְ בָּאָ֔רֶץ לְאָרְכָּ֖הּ וּלְרָחְבָּ֑הּ כִּ֥י לְךָ֖ אֶתְּנֶֽנָּה: “Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for unto thee will I give it” (Gen 13 v 17)

This phrase is at the top of every permission slip I get from my kids’ schools for field trips, and I never tire of seeing it.

IMG_3191A little over two years ago, Keith & I said to Elnadav our son: “Leave your country, the land of your birth, and go to this country we will show you, where you have never before set foot” and Elnadav, like Avraham, listened, and went. When I say, he listened and he went, I mean, he did not have to be dragged onto the plane. Like Avraham, Elnadav arrived in the Promised Land where he knew no one and did not speak the language, but he has made a fantastic life for himself here. He has many, many friends, I’ve been told he speaks Hebrew (and though he will never speak it in front of me, after hearing him read from the Torah today I know now that he reads it very well) and he has maintained his general carefree personality, in spite of the challenges he has faced. Elnadav wherever you go you find friends and followers. Your character traits are similar to Avraham Avinu in many ways. You are modest, never boasting about your achievements. You are a shrewd yet honest businessman. You are happy to get by on what you have, even though your luck tends to bring wealth in your direction without you even trying. You constantly attract others – kids of all ages like to follow you and learn things from you – solving Rubik’s cubes in almost record time, Capoeira, football, basketball, pretty much everything you attempt, you manage to succeed in. My blessing to you is that you continue to be successful in all that you do, that you always maintain your humility and your smile. I am bursting with pride right now.

While Avraham Avinu came to a land that was mostly barren, Elnadav came to a country that is flourishing. I stood up in our synagogue this morning, not only as Elnadav’s proud mother, but also proud to be part of this very special community in the Land of Israel. I want to take this opportunity (because I doubt I will ever stand up there again) to thank the Berman community for making our Aliya & absorption so easy, and for welcoming us to Israel, not only with open arms, but with open homes and open  hearts. I think I speak for many people in our synagogue, when I say that while our families are far away geographically, this community allows us to form new bonds, to create “almost family” so that no one is ever alone. My children, who do not see their cousins often enough, have friends here that they are so close to they may as well be cousins. Together with our almost-family we are forming new traditions for festivals, while keeping our own family customs. This is a wonderful, magical place, where it is truly possible to turn Aliya into “living the dream”. In the inimitable words of Herzl:

אם תרצו אין זו אגדה ואם לא תרצו כל אשר סיפרתי לכם אגדה הוא יוסיף להיות .
“If you will it, it is no dream, and if you don’t will it, everything I have told you will a dream continue to be”

May all of you, who are not yet living in the State of Israel merit to join us soon, so we can sing to them, like our community sang to us “ושבו בנים לגבולם”  (and the children return to their borders) and hasten the arrival of mashiach and the geulah (redemption).
Shabbat Shalom.


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