As I was wandering the grocery store in New Jersey last night, I felt a sudden pang of homesickness while passing through the “kosher” section, because this was the only place where I could see Israeli products, and Hebrew lettering. In my own backyard, the town where I spent most of my life, I now feel like a visitor, an outsider, longing only for the sounds of my home country, even if those sounds are currently sirens.
What does it take to turn one into an Israeli? Well, I was born there, but grew up in America and felt like this was home—until I was eight, and we went back to Israel for the summer. That was when I decided that I would be making Aliyah when I was an adult and it was my choice about where to live—rather, not ‘making Aliyah” but coming home.
Then I grew up, still in America, had a life and got married, although I did tell my husband-to-be that one thing I wanted above all was someone who was willing to make Aliyah, eventually. I didn’t have a timeline, but I knew it would be sooner rather than later. He agreed, although when the time came, I was surprised by the depth of his desire to go as much as I wanted to.
In the intervening years, we created careers and had children. When my first child, a son, was born, I went to visit Israel with him. While I was there, it hit me so hard—this, my precious baby, would someday go into the army if I followed through with my plan, my dream. I couldn’t do it. I turned away from the dream for a time, shut it out. But 9/11 came, reminding me what I had known all along; if Hashem wants you, He takes you, wherever you are.
When I went for my year in Israel, the Gulf War take one, many students did not go. One girl from my high school, Leah, a ba’alat teshuvah of the highest merits, was not allowed to go to Israel by her parents, who were scared of the war. She was the only girl who had chosen the same seminary as I had, and I was truly disappointed to learn that instead, her parents had sent her for a year abroad in England. In whatever you may call it, fluke, hashgacha pratit—some unimaginably tragic quirk of fate, she had a terrible accident and died, not in a war in Israel but in some seminary in England. If G-d wants you, He takes you.
I knew this, but when faced with the reality of offering my child, my bechor, up to be a soldier, I could not find in me the bravery required, until we were reminded by a national tragedy. So we made our plans, and, in the summer of 2006, during the most recent Lebanon war, we were supposed to go. Hashem had other plans for us, and we didn’t fly until motzaei Yom Kippur of that year, when the war was over, but we got there.
Has it been easy? I would say not. There is no replacement for leaving family behind, *all* our family, but- unlike the USA, which has its’ own beauty in community, in Israel I have somehow never felt truly alone. And that is the secret to survival there. Everyone is family—Kol Yisrael Arevim zeh la zeh—we make each other crazy, we disagree and scream in each other’s faces, but that’s okay, because only family can do that and forgive.
I started out writing this because I wanted to talk about the two fallen soldiers that the American news wants to claim as their own, but they were Israelis from the moment their heart chose that country. I looked at the pictures of all the lost soldiers and got tears in my eyes, because they could be my neighbors, my brothers, my friends. [I just heard that one of the fallen *was* a neighbor, a recent graduate of my sons’ high school.]
At the same time this brings to mind one of my deepest fears, which I have never been brave enough to discuss with Sherri Mandel, and now with Mrs. Frankel, is—I still don’t know how I would feel if anything happened to my children because of our decision to move to Israel. My oldest, the one who was that sweet baby who caused me to say to myself—“No, I can’t make Aliyah now”—just had his Tzav Rishon before we left for the summer. He met with the army, to find his place in it. I have such conflicted feelings of pride and deep fear over this, it is almost impossible to articulate. I remind myself that it is all in Hashem’s hands, always, a feeling I would know if I let myself, but I can’t quiet my mother’s fears enough to hear that voice.
During the time we were waiting to find Gilaad, Eyal and Naftali, I could not help feeling, for the first time since the Gulf War, that I was in a state that is so often at war–even in “peacetime” we are in a constant state of readiness for the next war–but then, with all the olive-colored soldiers’ uniforms flooding Efrat, it was more real than ever. Unfortunately, it did turn into a war instead of a celebration. Even at that time, I felt comforted by the soldiers’ presence rather than frightened. However, while I was searching the news for some positive sign of the boys, I read a post in Arutz Sheva that echoed some of my thoughts, called “Waiting,” by David Wilder. The Arabs keep saying that they are justified in attacking and killing any one of us, because we are all soldiers, and I finally understand; we ARE all soldiers, every citizen, every single one of us. My husband and I went to Israel with the firm understanding and even pride that at some point, we would be sending our boys out to be soldiers. But in one of the recent attacks, as I heard, a rocket landed very close to our community, to our house. And we didn’t leave, we didn’t run away—I am not there because I can’t be, but not because I don’t want to be—I do. And that makes me a soldier too. We are all defending Israel, the land of the Jews, just by being there. They are right; we are all soldiers in the Israeli army.
Today, a very special group of 230 new Olim landed in Israel—people who, I feel, should have been handed medals of valor upon landing. They did not even get the special welcoming ceremony they deserve, due to lack of space in the airport bomb shelter in case of attack, but they deserve full honors for carrying through with their plans despite a—no longer ‘Operation’ but an actual war going on, right now, as they fly in.
I wish them luck, and give them love from all of us, their new family, and tell them, “Welcome Home.”