“When as a tourist — you find yourself crying the moment your plane touches down in Israel, not out of joy, but because you really know the depth of the pain you will feel when you leave two or three weeks later, then it is time to make aliyah.”
This comment, posted on an article by a recent visitor to Israel, got under my skin. He’s talking about me, I thought. The depth of the ache. The land that winds its way into your bones. And I do cry. Not only because of being torn about where I belong. That’s a chronic pain I live with. But I/we can’t live with this. Not with the searing pain when our land and its beloved inhabitants are being hounded, are screaming.
King Solomon said it well. “I am asleep but my heart is awake.”
Sleepwalking. That’s how this American, passionate Zion lover feels these days, floating through life in Los Estados Unidos, in Chutz L’aretz, outside the Land.
It’s a cushy, cozy exile, yes. Pleasant, so pleasant. Easy, so easy, relatively speaking. I struggle with bills, daily worries, finding a good parking spot, meeting my deductible and the like, but I don’t really worry about getting stabbed when I go for a walk.
Sitting on the plane to Seattle, I gaze across the aisle at a fellow passenger. What’s it like sitting on a Jerusalem bus, worrying about the menacing intentions of a man across the aisle, about whether or not he might have an axe or knife or comb hiding a sharpened file squirreled away.
Should I even write about my meandering thoughts? Are they as meaningless as talking in my sleep? I fear sounding trite or even imagining that I can grasp what those special souls are going through. So these thoughts are for my fellow Americans, since most any Israeli will laugh at my innocent naiveté. “So you wonder what it’s like to worry while you walk down the street and commute and live? Come, cutie-pie tourist, step out of your bubble and spend a day in my shoes.” My son lives in Armon HaNatziv — home to two “incidents” in the last few weeks. I call him as soon as I hear of the horrific attack on #78, the bus we take to his home. “Colorado’s sounding really good right now,” he says wearily. “There are helicopters circling overhead.”
Living in a de facto war zone is one (awful) thing when you’re a soldier, but quite another when you’re an Abba of a precious vulnerable infant and a precocious princess ballerina artist pre-schooler.
Miss Sparkly-Twirly tells me proudly, in her Hebrew-accented English, that she has a new bike and helmet, with “eich omrim, Abba — how do you say, twrrraining wheels,” rolling her r. But, she continues, chatting merrily, she doesn’t yet ride to school on it, she rides to gan, to school in her seat way up high on her Abba’s bike. “Don’t you dare go by bike,” I want to scold my son, but who I am, sitting in Cincinnati, where the main concern on the street is if the Bengals can continue their winning streak; who am I to say a word.
Chaim and Ayelet and all our beloved brothers and sisters have to figure it out, daily, hourly; calibrating the right balance of safety, precaution, prayer, faith, defiance, “normalcy”, mazal and brocha/blessing.
As for us gringos — as for me — I feel guilty, impotent, fat and lazy, anxious and connected. I had weaned my Facebook addiction down to a minimally used venue for relaxation and shmoozing, but times of trouble in Israel find me scrolling, posting, wanting to find out more, more, more, to share and inform, be horrified; be aware.
Political action, petitions, letters to officials and calling out obscene media bias seem important/seem futile, but inaction feels selfish and corrupt.
“It’s not up to you to complete the work, but you have to start,” say our sages, and I feel I at least have to make an effort. My friend Ruth reassures me, saying, “I read recently that the Rebbe said that even if it seems hopeless/pointless to make the effort to state the truth — Hashem hears.”
Spiritual action — more mitzvot, tzedaka, praying, psalms — we know/trust/learn is vitally important. Sometimes I can almost feel it — the holy letters, cleansing deeds, empowering, bringing down and revealing light and protection, please G-d.
Other times, the clarity is dimmed, but I try to keep plugging away; keeping my meager offering coming, for whatever it’s worth.
The irony, the beauty of the mysterious Jewish soul is that it’s in these times of tzar and trouble that it pulsates with ferocious intensity. The magnificent palette of fall colors shimmer as this drama unfolds across the sea. These oranges and crimsons reverberate in my soul. My absolute favorite time of the year. But even they, physically magnificent, and whispering of their Creator’s magic, are missing something — that fourth dimension of belonging, longing; a something of historical holiness biblical knowing, this dusty compact land arouses in me.
I’m sleepwalking through a land of riches, longing to be home.
Is aliyah on our practical horizon? Not really. Our life-work, my elderly father, many of our children, are rooted here. As shluchim, we are committed to elevating the sparks and strengthening the bonds of our Jewish family here, where Providence has led us. Trying to blossom where we are planted. This whole planet’s one little ship moving towards/waiting for/yearning for redemption, and we are working this patch of soil in Ohio.
But that defiant, niggling, radiant connection pulls and calls. I may be here. For a while. But, my heart — is in the east, quivering and praying for better days, for its precious children to be treasured, safe, and protected; please, dear Father. Hear.