It nearly broke my heart a few summers ago when we were unable to travel to Israel to attend a friend’s wedding. I never need a reason to go to Israel. In fact, I look for reasons to go other than the obvious one of simply wanting to be there. But the wedding came at a time when vacation days were scarce, obligations were looming and international travel virtually unthinkable. So we missed it, and there went my opportunity to attend a real Israeli wedding. The bride was a dear friend who had become part of our family and someone forever in our hearts.
Shir lived with us about 12 years ago when we were still in Connecticut. Thinking it would be great exposure for our young daughters, my wife approached me with the idea of having an Israeli teenager stay with us, as part of the United Jewish Federation Partnership 2000s program. “I don’t want to give up my man cave,” was my initial reaction to another body in the house. “It will be fun, and she can teach you Hebrew,” I was informed, conclusively settling the issue.
Shir comes from Moshav Ram-On, in the Gilboa Regional Council. Her husband, Asaf, is from the Golan Heights, Ma’ale-Gamla. Visiting several local synagogues and the local Federation headquarters, Shir and her young emissary colleagues were to create a “living bridge” between the Gold Coast of Fairfield County Connecticut and Afula-Gilboa. She is still in touch with many of the lives and hearts she touched while in the States. She helped us celebrate both of our daughters becoming bat mitzvah at Robinson’s Arch in the Old City of Jerusalem.
“Do you ride a camel to school?” I recall asking her, only half-kidding. She smiled, anxiously, probably wondering what kind of provincial fool she had been stuck with. “Yes,” she shot back, “of course, we all do.” Shir and I learned to enjoy each other’s sarcasm. She pointed out on a daily basis that I was middle-aged and over-the-hill. She helped prepare me for my own daughters’ descent into teenagedness. But, growing up on a moshav, farming with her family, Shir was well-equipped for life in our house with a sharp-tongued attorney, especially since she is the middle child between two brothers. Asaf, on the other hand, is in the middle between two older sisters and two younger brothers.
Shir went to school with one of my daughters to describe Israel and her community. My wife was right: it was fun having Shir around, except she slept a lot and talked on her cell phone constantly. I would listen waiting for Hebrew words or phrases I recognized. I would hear a barrage of guttural language punctuated by “MA?” and a pause. My own Hebrew didn’t benefit much from the six or seven months Shir was with us, but that was probably my own fault.
Shir concedes now that she didn’t come to America with any preconceived notions about our Jewish population. She didn’t realize that the conservative/masorti movement was different than any other “branch” of Judaism. She learned to appreciate how much easier it is to be Jewish in Israel, and was a bit disappointed that Americans know so little about the Middle East. She has since grown to appreciate masorti.
Working as an economic analyst following her compulsory military service and university studies, Shir and Asaf live in Jerusalem. Asaf is in the midst of a successful military career in the Air Force and is stationed in Tel Aviv. He will pursue his university degree in Tel Aviv next year.
Shir and Asaf are optimistic about Israel as they pray for a “sustainable peace.” And Shir recognizes the limitations on the Israeli economy as it stands today with certain groups contributing more to the bottom-line than others. Yet they would not want to live anywhere else but Eretz Yisrael. That is good for us. Then we will make it over for the next simchah.