Last year at this time, we were loading my parents’ and brother’s cars with our 12 suitcases and 6 carry-ons, with lots of stress and mixed emotions. After years of longing, we were finally fulfilling our lifelong dream of Aliyah. In the process, we were leaving behind careers we loved with no jobs waiting for us in Israel or even an idea of what we would do to support ourselves. As someone who is nervous about even investing in the stock market from fear of risk, moving in the midst of a worldwide pandemic to a country suffering from high levels of unemployment was a real jump off of a cliff. We were excited. And very very nervous.
This week we celebrate our first “aliyah-versary”. It has been the most turbulent, adventurous and emotional year of our lives.
I had spent a lot of time in Israel before we came but I now realize that visiting for a few days, even at different times of year- is nothing, NOTHING like the experience one has of living here. Of celebrating every Chag in a place where the whole country is observing it along with you, of watching the change of four seasons and realizing how different each one is from the next, of enduring bureaucratic difficulties and the last-minute decisions from the Ministry of Health and Education (wait? School is resuming tomorrow after three months of no school and we are finding out NOW? At 11PM?), of the challenge and pride of watching children navigate school in Hebrew and of experiencing countless “first-times”.
On our first Shabbat after aliyah, I read Parshat Ekev from my porch in bidud. I pinched myself with tears rolling down my cheeks as I read the words of Moshe Rabbeinu describing a land of mountains and valleys that he could only dream of entering, while looking at those very mountains and valleys from my home. A moment that offered an inkling of the meaning I would find reading the coming parshiyot in the land where the Jewish people are meant to be.
A year later, I drive through dry mountains having seen them lush only a few months ago and I understand the import of the bracha we read about in b’Chukotai- ונתתי גשמי בעיתם- (that we should have rains in the right time). A bracha I never really understood until I felt the excitement of the first rains after Succot and now see the results of the drought we’ve experienced since Pesach, which has allowed for fires to spark easily.
A few months ago, we stood on Har Eval- the very mountain where the Jewish people were warned about the curse of drought in Israel- when my family and I visited the mizbayach (altar) of Yehoshua, along with thousands of other Israelis on Chol Hamoed Pesach. Rather than the usual Chol Hamoed activities of shopping and killing time with typical kid entertainment that we used to do on Chol Hamoed, we, like so many Israelis spent Pesach exploring our birthright, delighting in the lushness of the land, and making the Chag indescribably more meaningful than it had ever been before.
We were unable to go on such trips over Succot due to the lockdown- or even to experience the Arba Minim shuk or Birkat Kohanim at the Kotel, which we had been so excited to share with our children. Nonetheless, I felt the authenticity and joy of Succot in a way I never had before by simply sleeping in our Succah for all 7 nights on our mirpeset. In past years, I would find Succot unexciting after the intensity of the Yamim Noraim. After last year’s experience, I find to my surprise that I am eagerly awaiting its arrival.
Despite never having been so interested in gardening before, when we arrived in Israel, we were inspired to plant fruit trees in our land. Our lemon tree flowered immediately but our stubborn pomelo tree sat there, without any sign of growth. I will never forget the shouts of my husband and children on the Shabbat when it started to flower- literally the day before Rosh Chodesh Nissan, allowing us to make the bracha of seeing two fruit trees flower at the same time on our very own trees in Eretz Yisrael.
On Yom HaShoah, we found ourselves on the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv on the way to an appointment for our never-ending mortgage process when the siren blasted. We got out of the car along with every other Israeli on the highway by the sign that pointed to the next exit of “Kibbutz Galuyot”. Unexpectedly, I found myself sobbing as I thought about my Saba, the sole survivor of his family from the Holocaust and who never fulfilled his dream of living in Israel- but who instilled the love of Israel within me. Here I was, remembering his family and living the dream for him- because of him, making the moment of the siren unbelievably poignant.
In past years, we spent the 9 days in New York, perusing cafes announcing “9 days menus” and taking our kids to non-water activities to pass the time. This past week, I took my kids to Machon HaMikdash and Yad Vashem to better understand what we mourn. My daughters went to Ir David with their school to watch the light show on the walls of the ancient city, including fires engulfing the walls, making the scene they were about to commemorate all the more real.
There is nothing more powerful than the chinuch children experience here in Israel.
I’ve watched my younger two children daven with the Sfardi havaarah and Israeli accents they did not learn at home, with the now-familiar tears in my eyes.
We celebrated with my first grade son when he chanted all of the Birchot Yaakov with his class and watched proudly as he played the part of Yaakov at his Mesibat siyum. We were amazed when my 4th daughter and her new group of friends won the “pyramidot” competition at her school. (It took me a while to pronounce the Hebrew word pyramidot- much less realize that it was an English word). My childrens’ teachers were incredible and championed their every success.
This summer, my 15 year old daughter is surfing on a private women’s beach, something she wouldn’t have the opportunity to do outside of Israel, and my 13 year old daughter attended a week-long sleepaway camp with mostly Israeli roommates and had a great time.
She then promptly went into Bidud. Speaking of Bidud… we’ve gotten through a whole lot of that!
I’ve listened proudly while my husband delivered a guest drasha at our shul in Hebrew, as well as several shiurim. I’ve given shiruim in Hebrew, as well.
My kids have been stung by jellyfish at the beach and a snake jumped out at me on a hike. We’ve seen sheep (including in my sister’s backyard in Ramat Bet Shemesh), wild camels, ibex and a whole lot of cats.
I went on random hikes advertised online by people I don’t know in places I was not familiar with and made new friends and saw amazing places, including the area of the Jordan River where Bnei Yisrael crossed into Israel.
I worked with a retired Israeli Brigadier General who is technically chiloni but has the most proudly Jewish heart of almost anyone I’ve ever met. He uses phrases from Ha’Azinu that I’ve never heard before as colloquialisms.
I’ve met with renowned Generals and a medical expert; both looked like Kibbutzniks and had zero ego or airs.
I visited shiva homes of Charedi families who lost husbands or children at Meron and came away moved by their unshakeable faith.
I learned sage advice about parenting, life, brilliant Torah insights and the importance of making my Shabbat a kadosh environment from my chiloni reflexologist as she massaged my feet. The reflexology doesn’t help me sleep but I go back to hear her insights.
I got to meet Ambassador David Friedman, the man who is responsible for achieving unprecedented US support of Israel. He shared a picture of us on Twitter!
I attend a Hebrew-speaking shiur from my community’s garin and am the only attendee who doesn’t wear a pillow underneath a scarf. Maybe I’ll get to that next year.
After obsessively following Israeli elections since I was 16, I voted in an election and my candidate is now Prime Minister. Not sure how I feel about that.
With Hashem’s help; I found a job within my profession and feel a bit like a new immigrant as I navigate a whole new system but am learning more every day.
I watched rockets being shot down by Iron Dome from my porch and felt an inkling of the fear of war. While I had always been protective of my country, I felt even more angry at those who speak badly about my country from here.
I watched a mountain-top outpost being dismantled and witnessed the calm, commitment and faith of a family as they watched their home being uprooted. They had literally lived outdoors on a mountain in a strategic spot to defend the state of Israel.
My husband and brother-in-law joined a minyan beside camels on Pesach after we bought kosher l’Pesach ice cream from a gas station owned by Arabs.
We drove to Nahariya to purchase a car we found on Yad2 and met the nicest man who helped us transfer ownership at the post office. At the time, we couldn’t get money out of our American bank account because of some issue with our address being in Israel so we had to spend days withdrawing enough cash from the ATM after we hit each day’s daily limit. It must have looked like a drug deal.
We’ve visited the Kotel at least once a month- aside from Segers. On the one occasion that my husband wasn’t with us to accompany my 7 year old son to the men’s side, I watched with tears of pride as my son walked up to the Wall and davened proudly on his own. On that same trip, I stood next to Sivan Rahav Meir by the bathroom sink, where she was greeted by every Israeli woman warmly.
Our car got stuck on the side of a mountain when I took the kids for a hike and after a random Israeli appeared and helped us get free, my children decided to write notes to put in the Kotel to thank Hashem for helping us. I think that was actually the same trip as the Sivan Rahav Meir one.
I’ve watched the delight on my children’s faces from life’s simple pleasures: the smell of fresh Israeli bread at the bakery; biting into hot chocolate rugelach at the Shuk, buying the fruits that just came in season at the fruit store for Shabbat, the independence of walking into a store on their own and purchasing an item in Hebrew.
When I shop at stores and say thank you, I’ve been responded to with “B’simcha”, “b’ahava” and “b”kef”. (with joy, with love, with fun). I have told many of those shop owners that it’s not good for their health to smoke.
I’ve enjoyed the bustle of shopping for challah and fruit stores before Shabbat and being wished Shabbat Shalom from Jews of every color, stripe and affiliation.
I’ve heard the sounds of the quiet of Shabbat as our neighborhood comes to a stop.
I’ve heard the sounds of Kabbalat Shabbat from street minyanim all across our area, lending the energy and air of Shabbat.
It has been a year of seeing Biblical verses come alive before our eyes. Of Holidays being felt in an utterly different way than I ever expected they could be. Of meeting and learning from different people. Of feeling at one with my land and my people. Of struggles, of accomplishment and of miracles.
I have now lived in the land of my dreams for 365 days. I have thanked Hashem for every single one.