But when my daughter just a few weeks old, and I questioned my decision. I was overwhelmed from the birth – the physical exhaustion and the emotional shock of having a teeny human being to care for. I felt isolated from society, stuck at home all day and struggling to adjust to my new reality. I was also so sad to have to miss such a special occasion. But as much as I wanted to go, I was very afraid of it all – travelling alone, broken patches of sleep of getting sick, being cold and stuck alone in an apartment with a screaming baby.
But two weeks before the barmitzva, I felt slightly stronger. Something inside me shouted louder than the fear. It told me to ignore my fears and that Israel would heal me.
And then we are here in, Jerusalem. I stand in Ben Gurion airport and I push my baby’s stroller with one hand, and am aware that I cannot do this alone. My two hands cannot push the stroller and the luggage trolley. I muster up my best smile, and find a kind middle aged woman who agrees to push the trolley with me to the taxi station.
Never for one second do I regret my impulsive decision. I am, as always from being in Israel, physically exhausted, yet at the same time rejuvenated, energized and transformed in a way I couldn’t have imagined.
My fragile post-partum self realizes that I am capable of so much more. I learn the meaning of graciously accepting help. I learn that having a child does not have to mean being cut off from society. For a week, I am in a society where children are the norm, and having one is not treated with a freakish interest. And most importantly, I feel an immense sense of belonging. Every day countless strangers helped me, held me, and offered what they could – their hands lifted my stroller; their eyes watched my baby and their hearts freely showered love on me and my daughter.
Never once do I feel ambivalent about asking a stranger to watch Ella for a moment or hold her. Never once did I wonder how would I manage getting around, how will I manage to go to the bathroom, the kotel, the restaurant. I always knew there would a willing fellow Jew, waiting to help me.
Over and over, I was wrapped in this cloak of love. I was not a stranger to anyone here; but a sister, and my baby was their niece, their grandchild. It did not matter who it was – a kippa sruga wearing man, a snood wearing lady, a secular teenager, I was embraced by willingness to do whatever was necessary.
The sense of isolation that staying at home all day with a tiny baby can bring about was replaced by a sense of normalcy and I felt as if I was fully functional, back in society despite my new addition.
There was the Sherut Leumi (National Service) girl who watched Ella while I went to wash my hands for my falafel, and when I returned said to me with beaming eyes and the unmistakable pride of an aunt, ‘Your daughter – she is so cute, so so cute’.
And the secular teenager who took a photo of Ella & me in Jerusalem’s old city and who was so enamoured with Ella asked to hold her. As she took her, she excitedly shared that she wants to study education.
There were countless fellow bus passengers who paid my fare and bought me change, and who lifted the pram on and off the bus for me. Never did they ask what needed to be done – they simply took my money and came back with the ticket, or hoisted the stroller up.
But the most memorable by far was the short bus trip from Ben Yehuda street to Meah Shearim. It had been a magical day – my sister and I had spent the day shopping and laughing till we dropped. By three pm we were both exhausted, and I went to meet the rest of the family. Laden with 2 boxes of boots, heavy books, a diaper bag, and a screaming baby, I was overcome with anxiety. The stroller was tilting awkwardly with the weight of its burden, and I missed bus after bus as I tried to navigate the new bus lines. Finally, I managed to get onto the number 4. At once I was surrounded by hands and eyes and words, each one waiting to help.
A middle-aged Ultra-orthodox (chareidi) woman saw my predicament and reached wordlessly for Ella while I folded the pram and unhooked the parcels, balancing precariously. Another woman appeared out of nowhere and took my fare to the driver, reappearing with my ticket. As I finally settled into the seat, surrounded by packages and somewhat shaken, the kind woman handed Ella back to me. Before she did, she looked adoringly into Ella’s brown eyes, and said to me; overwhelmed with so much love, ‘She’s so beautiful, so pure, so pure’.
I was speechless. This woman probably had numerous of her own children and grandchildren; and was surrounded daily by the thousands of children of Jerusalem. But she was still able to see that my baby was not just another child. She saw a human being, another precious Jewish soul in our nation. Her words envelop me with her love, and I realize that we have come home. My eyes fill with tears as I know that I am not alone in this journey of motherhood. I know that in this land Ella is not just my daughter, but she truly is a daughter of Israel.