I was a little kindergartener growing up in suburban Pennsylvania. Although for most of my childhood I went to Jewish day schools, for kindergarten, my parents had sent me to public school. Being from a Modern Orthodox family, I wore a kipa to school and was one of two religious Jews in my kindergarten class.
I don’t have too many memories from the school year, but one memory that has been indelibly imprinted in my young mind to this day, was of a conversation I had with Omar. Omar was a big kid, in more ways than one. He was a few grades above me, and to a kindergartener, a year or two makes a huge difference. He was also larger and heavier than many of the children his age. I remember him riding his BMX bike around the neighborhood and I always knew that it was in my best interest to keep my distance from him.
One day, on my bus ride from school, Omar approached me as I sat in my seat, hoping that he couldn’t see me. He turned to me and shouted, “Hey, are you a Zionist?” My parents had given me a Jewish education, I went to synagogue every Shabbat, and I even knew some words in Hebrew, but as a 5 year old, I wasn’t fluent with the concept of Zionism. My family supported Israel and I knew what Israel was, and my family would be considered to be Zionistic.
“A Zionist? No, I’m Jewish,” I replied.
“Good, because we don’t mind Jewish people, but we don’t like Zionists,” Omar warned.
Fast forward fifteen years ahead of my run-in with Omar. After studying in Israel for two years and then finishing a university degree in the US, I moved to Israel. I had experienced many levels of beauty that the land has to offer, leading me to conclude that Israel is the only place in the world that I wished to spend the rest of my life.
What was behind that decision which I frequently acknowledge as one of the best decisions I have ever made? It seemed to me at the time that I was making a rational decision based on my love for Israel and its people. Perhaps, on a certain level, my vivid memories of Omar made me realize that to him and many others like him, I was a persona non grata.
Were Omar and those who taught him, by publicly expressing their disapproval of Zionism, actually encouraging Zionism and making Jews return to Zion?
Rabbi Avraham Isaac Hacohen Kook offered an explanation of the verse in Isaiah, 60:4-8, which reads, “Lift up your eyes around, and see: they all are gathered together, and come to you, your sons come from far … Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their cotes?” R. Kook explains that when the Jewish people return to their land, there are some that return as clouds, and some that return as doves.
Doves know where their nests are. They may venture far from their nests, but when they return, they know where their nests are and they know how to return. Clouds, on the other hand, are blown by the winds and are sent in various directions without any conscious movement on their part. The clouds can move east, west, slowly or quickly.
The verse in Isaiah, according to R. Kook, means that when the Jewish people return to their land, some return out of longing for their home. They realize that the land of Israel is their true home. Even if they venture far away from their land, they, as the doves, remember their land and make great efforts to return home. Sometimes, the Jewish people return to their land like the clouds; the winds of change blow them from their temporary locations in the Diaspora, and they end up in their land. Sometimes the winds are winds of war, expulsion and anti-Semitism.
Since the Protective Edge operation here in Israel, winds have picked up throughout the world. Whether it’s New York, Paris or Miami, more Omars are rearing their ugly heads, and people are feeling the winds and beginning to long for home.
This weekend, I’ll be celebrating with my family, fifteen years since our Aliya. Since then, I’ve started a family of Zionists and secured roots in the heart of the land. Omar, if you are reading this wherever you are, realize that you were part of the wind, fulfilling that ancient prophecy.