(Please note that since TODAY is the five year anniversary of our Aliya, I felt it appropriate to post this today. NO disrespect is meant to all of the other issues surrounding us at this moment –ZMS)

Five years…it is hard to believe that is now exactly five years since we landed in Israel and made Israel not only our spiritual home, but we made it our physical home, as well.

Let me start this post with a very clear statement: I love Israel and its people with my entire heart and soul. I love the beautiful country; I love the craziness, I love the days and I love the nights. YES, there are a myriad of problems here. Yes, there are things that need fixing. And, yes, as we have painfully seen recently, it can be very difficult emotionally to be here.

But, with all of its warts, Israel is home. It is not the PERFECT Land, but it IS the PROMISED Land.

We boarded our flight five years back to start this new chapter of our lives. On that plane, there sat many families who would be making aliya to Maale Adumim, as well. Who knew we would all remain good friends? Who knew that we would collectively experience so many of the same emotions as we grew together in this new community and life of our’s? Who knew it would be such a magnificent journey so far?! After 50 years living in the Galut (Diaspora) and, after making the decision to leave a community in which we were well-entrenched, we made the leap to this new life, and this new reality. And I have not looked back once and have not questioned this decision even one time.

On the one hand, it feels like we just landed here and on the other, it feels like we have lived here our entire lives. Besides the obvious changes that needed to be made (Bituah LeUmi instead of Social Security; socialized medicine; buses instead of our car(s), etc) there were other unexpected changes as well.

I am not the same person who came here five years ago. I THOUGHT I was truly connected to Israel when I was in Chicago. How wrong I was to think that and only now, five years on, do I fully “get” what it means to be connected. It also means not being an OBSERVER of Jewish History, but of being a PARTICIPANT in that history. I have changed spiritually, as well. With help from friends and wonderful models of what spirituality is all about, I have been able to begin to forge a better relationship with our Creator and to begin to FEEL His constant presence in my life and all those around me. I have changed in my attitudes towards certain issues and have learned to open my mind to other ideas in life that enhance me as a Jew and as an Israeli citizen. I have never felt so alive and so attuned to all that is around me. I/we have the most wonderful friends, neighbors, mentors and community that I could ever have asked for. I have been given by G-d the best of both worlds: a chance to LIVE in Israel and a chance to TEACH His Torah. Both of those have also changed my life immeasurably.

And of my family, the growth has been beautiful to witness: my dear wife, Andy (finding her perfect place in our amazing community in Maale Adumim), whose life intersects with SO many others on a daily basis. Our oldest daughter, Daniella, who met the love of her life, Benny, HERE and married him last year. Our middle daughter, Ayelet, who has served her country both in the IDF and through the Jewish Agency in Ethiopia. And our youngest, Eliana, who serves her country through Sherut LeUmi,  working with children with special needs. The opportunities for growth–personal and spiritual–are endless here in Israel.

I love it when people visit from outside Israel and I show them around and teach them some about “our” country. I love when that light bulb goes on!

Of course, things go wrong at times and obviously, not every day is a picnic. But I sit in my home sometimes or walk down the street some days and I think to myself: “Is this all a dream? Do I really live here?” And an overwhelming sense of gratitude washes over me, when I realize that the obvious answer to that is “yes!”

And another thing occurs to me as I sit here thinking about the first five years: the next fifty years. No, I am not banking on MY next fifty years. I refer to the future generations of our family. My wife and I have altered the course of our family’s future with this move to Israel. We pray that many generations hence, they will be able to look back at how their great- great-great-great-great grandparents came over from the Old Country to enable THEM to live in Israel as Israeli-born members of the greatest family on Earth.

My gratitude to G-d is impossible to express as it truly overflows with joy and emotion that we have this opportunity to live in His home…OUR home…and learn more about Him and ourselves every day. My gratitude also extends to my family for putting up with my constant speaking about our need to make aliya (and yes, the presence of the map of Israel at every Shabbat meal for two years before aliya!) and all doing this together. And my gratitude to a most wonderful community of Maale Adumim and all of its residents for making our lives and our spirits that much more enhanced, every single day.

Mazal tov to all of us who made aliya together on this first five years and, please G-d, may He shine his countenance down on us and all others to enable us to celebrate many more aliya anniversaries in the future.