Today marks the thirteenth anniversary of the greatest decision of my life. I decided to leave my comfortable, promising, possibly lucrative life in exile and come to my new home in my ancestral homeland.
I had so many reasons to stay in New York. I was young, healthy, and fresh out of college. I had a decent-paying job to fund an active social life while paying no bills thanks to guest rooms and couches of friends and family. I was dating (at one point very seriously) my on-again-off-again girlfriend, I had a cool Jeep, and my father was offering (bribing?) me a number of easy jobs that would guarantee my financial security, if I stayed.
In addition, patriotism was skyrocketing in the US of A. 9/11 was a fresh wound on the nation, and everyone was uniting under the star-spangled banner. President Bush was playing his part of the cowboy perfectly, promising to root out Al Qaida wherever they were hiding. In the still-smoldering New York, Mayor Rudy Giuliani had just rejected a ten million dollar donation from Saudi Arabia, and the city loved him for it. It was a grand time to be an American, and it was even better to be a New Yorker.
On top of all that, Israel was in turmoil at the time. The second Intifada was raging. Dozens of Israelis were killed and hundreds were injured in various terrorist attacks – and that was just in the month before I came. Bus bombings were commonplace, as were indiscriminate terrorist shootings at heavily populated civilian targets.
Was I crazy? Why would I ever leave such a potentially wonderful life in exchange for such a potentially dangerous (and possibly short) one?
I wish I could say it was pure idealism that got me to go. I mean, It was idealism, but it was also more than that.
Six months prior to my Aliya, my mother was murdered in one of those commonplace, indiscriminate shootings.
Her murderers didn’t use a sniper rifle like the one that killed Shalhevet Pass. They didn’t kill her face-to-face like the ones who killed Koby Mandell and Yosef Ishran. No, those deaths were personalized. The men who killed my mother sprayed the car she was in with submachine gun fire. They most likely had no idea that they had killed my mother and a 20-year-old passenger named Esther Alwan, sitting in the back seat. They probably didn’t know they had injured my stepfather and put two bullets through my brother’s shoulder. They were consummate terrorists: trying to instill terror in their enemy by randomly attacking civilians.
Most people would see this as another reason for me not to live here. Why would I willingly go to the very place where my own mother was killed for the simple fact that she was Jewish?
Before my mother made Aliya, she and I would frequently talk about a line from my Bar Mitzvah parsha, Shelach. In it, Moshe sends twelve spies, one from each tribe, to scout the promised land. Ten of the spies came back with a very daunting report: they saw giants, warmongers, Canaanites, and even the dreaded Amalekites. There was no way, they reported, that the newborn Jewish nation could ever conquer this land. In response, Calev ben Yefuneh stood up and quieted the now-unruly nation. He then said one line that would become a sort-of mantra for my mother and me. “Let us ascend and inherit this land, for we surely can do it.” He didn’t belittle the other spies. He didn’t evade the point by talking about the country’s great vacation spots. He just said “Let’s go do it, because we can.”
My mother heeded that call when she left her comfortable 5-Towns life to live in Israel. She left three of her kids, as well as three-and-a-half granddaughters (the fourth was born a few months later). She left life-long friends. She left her mother. And why? Because she couldn’t sit on the sidelines of Jewish history any longer. She couldn’t just watch Israel struggle on the news. She had to go. And what of all the troubles there? For that, she responded with the unbridled idealism of Calev: she did it because she could.
So did I move here because of idealism? Sure, but I also had revenge on my mind. Not the kind you might think (despite the large caliber pistol I carry with a Star of David emblazoned on the faux-ivory handle). My revenge is my beautiful two-year-old who bears my mother’s name, playing with her toys as I write this. My revenge is the dozens of tourists I meet every year, who listen to my message that this is their homeland. The terrorists who shot the people in my mother’s car thought they could kill a couple of Zionists? I’ve helped hundreds of people understand what Zionism truly is. They thought they could kill my mother? There are four little girls named for her (that I know of), and I’ll bet there’ll be at least one more. They tried to scare us away? I moved here; my sister and her family moved here; my five cousins and their families moved here. That is my revenge.
So today, on the thirteenth anniversary of my Aliyah, I rededicate my efforts to defeating the terrorists who killed my mother by continuing to live here with my ever-growing family (currently numbered at over 50 members living here) and my always-expanding group of friends (I knew just one person my age when I moved here – my cousin; now I know almost half of the people in my town and consider them all my friends).
My mother is a true Zionist heroine. I’m just trying to follow her lead.