Twenty years ago today, my husband, my five month old daughter and I boarded a free El-Al flight to Israel. We were making Aliyah, blindly jumping into the deep end of an unknown pool of freezing water, not quite sure of what sharks were lurking beneath the surface. We were making a bold and brave decision, moving away from everything and everyone we knew in order to start a new life in this tiny sliver of land in the middle of one of the most unstable regions in the world.
Would I do it again?
In a heartbeat.
On February 2nd, 1995, weeks away from any major holiday and smack in the middle of the school year, it was no surprise that the flight was near empty. In the decades before Nefesh B’Nefesh, there was just a smattering of passengers making Aliyah along with a couple of tourists. With literally less than fifty people on this flight, every passenger had a couple of rows to themselves, so after the seatbelt light went off, everyone dispersed and made themselves comfortable.
This was probably a dream flight for the staff as well. They must have showed four or five movies, one after the next, taking suggestions from the passengers. And when they discovered that everyone was sleeping when lunch service was supposed to be served, they just skipped it altogether.
For us, it was the best flight ever.
Our five month old daughter was the only baby on the flight, and a rather cute one as well. With a handful of teenagers and young adults on the plane who were enamored with our daughter, we pretty much didn’t see her for most of the flight as she was passed around the plane.
So far, this Aliyah thing was going pretty well.
Twenty years and a few bumps on the road later and we’re still here. We left Toronto a family of three and we’ve since more than doubled in size (if you count the dog….). After three years, we left our Jerusalem apartment and bought a house in the suburbs near Modiin with a ‘gorgeous’ view of the security fence, which besides keeping us a little safer from our ‘not-so-friendly’ neighbours, manages to be quite entertaining on Friday afternoons as our army flings tear gas and stink bombs at them while they fling rocks and attempt to burn sections of the concrete wall. And our five month old girl, the youngest Aliyah passenger on that February second flight is now twenty years old and is serving in the IDF in an intelligence unit.
Today, twenty years after we touched ground at Ben Gurion airport, I found myself thinking about how different life was back then. Twenty years ago there was only one month a year where you could buy Philadelphia cream cheese in this country (it was called Shavua Amerikai) and the only broccoli and cauliflower to be had was frozen in a bag, and the cereal choices were dismal. Now we’ve got all kinds of gourmet produce available on a regular basis, a startling array of cereals and a stunning selection of cheeses from not just the US, but from around the world. Supermarket shopping has never been better.
While still living in Jerusalem, we had all of four channels on our ancient 24″ TV and the only English speaking shows that were on at the time were McGyver, M*A*S*H, St. Elsewhere and the occasional episode of The Golden Girls. Now with satellite TV, in addition to both Yes! and Hot, there are hundreds of shows to choose from, even more to download…
There will always be things and people that I miss from my old hometown: old childhood and school friends, my family that hasn’t yet moved here (hint, hint…), Old Navy, Costco and Walmart, stores that give you your money back instead of credit when you make a return, Sundays (OMG, do I miss Sundays!!!), skating on a Saturday night at the local rink, renting bikes on Centre Island on a lazy summer afternoon, Baskin Robbins ice cream, 0% Greek yoghurt, and blueberries available year round at prices that don’t require you to mortgage your house…
But let’s face it. Israel has come a long, long way.
And despite all the things that I’m nostalgic for, there are things here, on this side of the pond, that are way, way better than over there. Besides the obvious things (not being a minority for once in our lives, having the Kotel nearby, the amazing Machane Yehuda Shuk etc…) these are some of the ones I came up with:
Like the weather for one. While my friends and family are hunkered down in their homes, snowed in at temperatures that are 23 degrees below zero with the wind chill factor, I took my dog out for a walk today in just a hoodie while the sun shone down on my face. You certainly can’t beat that. I’ve got both a lemon tree and two palm trees in my backyard which was a dream of mine since I was a little girl (despite the fact that I’ve got rather black thumbs when it come to gardening…) We’ve got a ridiculous number of excellent five star kosher restaurants that far surpasses the kosher scene in New York City. We don’t have to try and explain to our boss what the ‘Feast of the Tabernacles’ is in order to get off work for Sukkot – we’re likely to be asked to help put up the office Sukkah instead. The list goes on and on. And while I sincerely miss my fix of Pralines and Cream, the pistachio ice cream at Gelarte in Modiin is pretty unbelievable and does a pretty good job of fulfilling my ice cream cravings.
All in all, not only do I not have any regrets, but I’m thankful and grateful that we were both crazy and brave enough to take that ridiculously huge leap of faith and that we chose to make this place our home.