When Ariel Sharon’s health began to deteriorate the last couple of weeks, I wrote a letter to his family about my life changing experience with him. Friends of mine who have read the letter suggested sharing it with a more public audience. Here it is:
To the Family of PM Ariel Sharon,
I am finally reaching out and putting down on paper what should have been done a long time ago and probably to the PM himself when he was still well but perhaps this letter will have more meaning now than before.
I am writing to tell you that I have and will always have tremendous gratitude and thanks to PM Ariel Sharon for my decision to make Aliya to Israel in January 2002. You will read in a second why I feel that the PM was my personal messenger from G-d, and the final and convincing inspiration to uproot my family from America and move to help build this great country of ours.
Here is my story.
My wife and I are both from the USA and consider ourselves a national religious Zionist family. We lived in Teaneck, New Jersey after we were married. Life there was great. We had 3 boys and a house a great job and all our friends and family were in the US. We both studied after Yeshiva High School in Israel and although we loved Israel we never thought of ourselves as the ones to make Aliya. It was mostly a hypothetical discussion of something we would do if everything fell into place. At the same time the intifada in Israel was starting up again and every time something happened, we felt guilty that we were living a comfortable life in NJ while our brothers were risking their lives for our collective homeland. But these feeling would then pass and life went on in the wonderful USA.
Around 2001, my job had me traveling to Moscow every other week from NY integrating a company we had purchased there into the parent company. The work was definitely interesting but also taxing on the family with all the travel. I thought about looking into relocating to Israel and commuting from there to Moscow as the travel and jetlag were much easier to deal with and even approached my company in April of that year to do so. Of course, I knew it was a long shot but I felt that after 120 years I would be able to stand in front of G-d and say “I tried”.
As expected, my company turned down my request and I felt a feeling of mostly relief but also some disappointment. A few months had past and at the end of August 2001 my company came back to me and said that as they see this position extending for a long term they have reconsidered and now would like me to move if I was still interested. However, they needed an answer in the next 10 days and that we would have to move quickly thereafter.
Well, my wife and I were a bit taken aback and suddenly were faced with one of the hardest decision of our life. All our friends and the great majority of our family were in the US and we were not sure we were ready to leave it all behind to move to Israel. We were having trouble making a decision. That week I was scheduled to be in Moscow and I told my wife that we will both think this over and decide when I return from my trip.
I always left for my trips to Moscow on a Sunday afternoon from JFK in NY on the Delta airlines flight and always said Tefilat Mincha (afternoon Prayers) at the airport right before boarding. I can still remember my tefilah that day and how in the Amida (silent prayers portion), in the Blessing of Shemah Koleiynu, where one can insert a personal prayer, I stopped and added a small prayer to G-d to help us make the right decision and to give us some insight in what we should do. I then boarded the plane and began a trip that would change our lives forever.
I landed on schedule in Moscow and as usual my driver picked me up and drove me to my hotel to check in and change. When I arrived at the hotel I immediately saw that there was more security than usual and that the group that was checking in with me were all speaking Hebrew. I asked one of them what was going on and they explained that PM Ariel Sharon had just arrived in Moscow for a summit and that everyone was now checking in as well with me at my hotel. I thought nothing of it and just said to myself that it was a funny coincidence and that security at the hotel will be much better than usual.
After check in, I got into my car and headed towards my office. While driving there I got a call from an American Rabbi that I was working with on a Tzedakah project that Ariel Sharon was in town as was speaking that night at the Chabad center in Marina Roscha, and asked me if I would like to attend. I graciously accepted and he told me to be there at 7:30 and that he will save me a seat.
When I arrived there that evening the street outside the center was filled with people and I thought there was no chance I was going to get in to hear the PM speak. I called my friend and he came out to get me and said he had a seat for me in the front row. The event started with the PM and his entourage coming in and sitting on the dais table and right in front of me was the seat for the PM. I still did not think anything beyond that it was one of the most exciting events I have been to. After the playing of Hatikva everyone took their seats and the PM was introduced to speak.
There are moments in life people see Divine Providence and this for me was one of them. PM Sharon got up to speak and he said these exact words (of course in Hebrew). “I have come here today as the first stop on a mission to deliver a message to all Jews around the world. No matter if you are a Jew living in Moscow, Paris, London, New York, South Africa, Australia or anywhere in the world, the life you have today of freedom and prosperity could not exist without the existence of your homeland, Medinat Yisrael. The fact that Medinat Yisrael exists and that we have an army of our own that will always protect every Jew anywhere in the world gives us the freedom and life we have today even outside of Israel. However, this status can and will only continue to exist if we as a nation continue to strengthen Medinat Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. I am here to tell you that the best way to do this is to come to Israel and help us build our homeland. I am here to begin a worldwide campaign to get a million Jews to make Aliya today.”
Well, I was in complete awe and shock. I mean, here I am 8,000 miles away from home, in Moscow no less, by chance staying at the same hotel as the PM of Israel, attending a lecture given by the PM. Just 24 hours before, I had asked G-d for help with my decision to make aliya or not. And now, here is the PM of Israel standing 4 feet from me saying that he came here tonight just to tell me to make Aliya. I had tears in my eyes as I called my wife on the phone and said “you have to listen to this speech.” PM Sharon spoke for about 10 minutes about this one message and at the end I told my wife…”we are going”. I mean what were the chances of all this coming together like this for me to hear that speech. I thought to myself, “wow, I know I asked G-d for some help making the decision but he really didn’t need to send me the Prime Minister”. But the truth is maybe he did. Four month later we made Aliya and never looked back.
I always wanted to say thank you to your father directly but never had the opportunity before the PM fell ill. I know it is now too late to do this personally but I wanted to thank you, his family and let you know in this trying time that he had a huge impact on my life. I want to express my sincere appreciation for everything he did for me and all Klal Yisrael. I cannot imagine the ordeal your family has gone through for the last 8 years. But please know that I will never forget the Arik Sharon, who served Our country with pride and lived for the betterment of the People of Israel, and shaped my life directly.