In April 2004, I was one month away from graduating high school, and one month away from being done with all that “Jewish stuff” I had endured for my entire schooling career. I had been accepted to Rutgers Univeristy, and I was ready to spread my wings, immerse myself in secular culture, feminism, maybe atheism (I did not believe in God), interact with people who were not Orthodox, or even Jewish, and basically experience the world that had always been around me, but with which I was never allowed to fully engage.
And then along came Mrs. K., one of the only teachers who actually took an interest in me. One of the only teachers who could see past my heavy eyeliner, black nail polish and army boots, and complete inattention and lackadaisical attitude towards anything that smacked of religion. She accepted me for the square peg I was, and was beyond trying to force me into the round hole. All she wanted was to help me find a comfortable niche. “Just give Israel a try,” she told me. “Give it till December, and if you don’t like it, you can always come back and start a winter semester in college.” I agreed, but mostly because my boyfriend was planning on going to Israel that year, too.
I had landed in an obscure little seminary where I spent my days in classes about Jewish mysticism, and my nights playing guitar and smoking hooka with my classmates and the guys from nearby yeshivas. I asked questions. And while the answers I received almost always left me with more questions, the fact that someone was willing to answer me, rather than dismiss me, was satisfying in and of itself. I was trying on concepts like sefirot and tzimtzum and the power of each Hebrew letter, and enjoying the experience of meeting a part of Judaism I had never encountered before. December came and went, and I stayed in Israel.
In January, I broke up with my boyfriend.
In February, I decided that since there’s no way to prove whether or not God actually exists, I better pick a side and stick with it. I decided that having a Higher Power and a Higher Purpose was a more comforting way for me to live than feeling like I was shooting aimlessly through space.
In March I read a Rashi that said, “If a person doesn’t live in Israel, it’s as if he has no God.” Since I had just recently decided I wanted God in my life, the chord this passage struck with me resonated in my head and heart for weeks.
By April, I had decided that I was going to be Israel’s newest citizen.
Things were happening fast, but I was 100% sure of my decision. I was in love with Israel. I was in love with the idea of a single place in the world that is a catch-all for all kinds of Jews, where I felt like I could grapple with God, with Judaism, and never be rejected. I was ready to commit.
But Israel and I had a longer engagement than I had anticipated. My original plan was go to back to Lakewood, start the aliyah process, gather my belongings, tie up loose ends, and come back to Israel on the next Nefesh b’Nefesh flight. But my plans got waylaid. When a well-meaning person who I trust suggested I wait till I’m married to make aliyah, so my husband and I can do it together, and get twice the benefits, I thought this was sound advice, and came back to Israel in September on a tourist visa. About thirty seconds after my plane landed, I met my husband. About thirty seconds after that we were engaged. I immediately began the aliyah process from Israel, though I was applying alone, because my soon-to-be husband had already made aliyah 3 years prior.
We were married in December of 2005, and I had not yet become a citizen of the country I loved. A few weeks into our marriage, I got a call from a Nefesh b’Nefesh representative, letting me know that I have an appointment at Misrad Hapnim to finalize my aliyah.
On February 14, 2006, I walked out of the Misrad Hapnim office in Jerusalem with a brand new blue ID card, a token of mutual affection between me and my homeland.
Happy anniversary, and happy Valentine’s Day, my love. Let us care for each other always.