And so, even in the furthest western reaches of earth, the festivities of the month of Tishrei come to an end. My first Tishrei in Israel in a decade. It’s easy to allow Israel to become just a place where you live, to allow daily life to be as trivial as anywhere else, whilst missing the magic as seen, for example, through the eyes of new Olim – the immigrants fulfilling a lifelong dream by becoming part of one of the greatest miracles in history.
However, even for the most idealistic individuals, it’s easy to quickly become disillusioned. The infamous Israeli bureaucracy, the speed at which everyone speaks and everything happens, the culture shock of people saying what they think, often at full volume. The fact that despite that although you may be fulfilling a dream, you still have to face reality, go to work, to study, to send your children to school, to go shopping. In short – to live life.
And now, just to add to the melee, we have elections looming.
I’m not a new Oleh. I made my first Aliyah when I was three. My second when I was twenty and my third just under six months ago. It sounds like a course in the history of Zionism. Three Aliyot. Either that, or a Monday and Thursday morning in shul.
However, the magic is still there. The miracle stands before our very eyes, but instead of simply appearing in front of us as a fait accompli, it takes us along for the ride. Israel doesn’t just exist – it lives. It grows because we tend to it. Judaism is allowed to thrive because, despite whatever internal and external pressures and disagreements exist (and they do exist), well, because we want it to thrive. Because we are as much a part of it as it is a part of us.
Living in the UK was, relatively speaking, easy. Antisemitism is present, but not an existential threat. Kosher food is easily available and thanks to some giant efforts is becoming even more so. Communal life, whilst never void of internal strife (after all, there’s no business like shul business), is present. Having family round the corner is also no bad thing, particularly for babysitting.
Last week, I spoke to someone who I hadn’t seen since my army days. She knew that we’d moved back to England, but hadn’t realised that we’d come back. She told me a little about her life over the last fifteen or so years, but particularly about her partner. An Israeli who moved to the USA for some time. He loved it. His business flourished. He made friends and even has some family there. He became more involved in Jewish life there than he ever was in Israel. And then, her words echoing my precise sentiment, he “came home.”
A home takes some building. A lot of that building work has happened over the past few decades, raising a country from razed ground. We even read over Succot how King Solomon spoke of “a time for all things under the heavens.” We have been through the times of destruction. Now, the time for building is here and ever-present.
Those of you who know me from the UK will be more than surprised to hear that I have actually joined a shul. I’m a bona fide shul member for the first time since the previous Tishrei that I spent in Israel, ten years ago. It is a community that makes me feel at home not only because of where and who they are, but of who and what they strive to be. That same desire to grow that has made Israel what it is today, the same willingness to accept all those who seek somewhere new and welcoming. It is a mix of Israelis and Olim, both new and old, and old and young.
At the moment, they gather in a local school, setting up the temporary seats and putting them away again every week. The permanent building is under construction and, as someone in shul alluded to over the holidays, hopefully by next Succot we would have moved from our temporary structure to the permanent one.
Building takes time, effort, planning and investment. A large amount has already been raised, much of it from within the community itself. The foundations come from within, but external support is required. Whether you live within Israel or outside, you can be a part of building another corner of the land. Donations can be made directly on the community’s website, building the shul brick by brick. Dedication of a shul, or an item in a shul, is a wonderful way to celebrate a joyous occasion or memorialise a loved one. Doing so in a new, vibrant, community in Israel is an opportunity to ensure that name lives on for a long time to come. There are still several items on that list that are looking for sponsors.
The magic of Israel and of Judaism is perpetuated not just by the constant stream of new Olim or returning residents, but by the sheer, continuing desire of people who hand-in-hand dream a dream and build a reality.