We were sitting at a sushi bar in Jerusalem this week on a beautiful, breezy night.
We were celebrating. Our 11-year-old pipsqueak of a daughter, our middle child, had just competed in her first “Battle of the Crews” (an all-girls, shabbat-friendly hip hop competition that proves definitively that little Jewish girls can dance). And it was the last time we would all be together — my husband, our five kids, and me — until the end of the summer since our four older kids were headed off to sleep away camps in North America in the days ahead.
But we had another occasion to mark as well.
After the udon bowls and avocado rolls had been ordered, with the kids hungry and antsy for our meal as they shmoozed and played games on cell phones, I called each of our children by name, commanding their attention.
“A year ago this week, we left our California home and started our journey to Israel,” I began. “A year ago the movers came and loaded up our lift and we said our goodbyes. Last year we didn’t know what was ahead of us, that we’d move in the middle of a war, or what it would be like here.”
And then, like a good Jewish mother, I went one by one, kid by kid, to tell each of them why we were kvelling over him or her.
I told our 18-year-old how impressed we are with his learning and growth in yeshiva after he gracefully gave up his senior year in high school so his parents could fulfill a dream. I told him how proud we are that he decided on his own to make aliya this summer, to serve in the army and continue to study Torah while he serves.
I told our 13-year-old daughter how brave she is to have joined a real Israeli girls’ soccer team, where following the Hebrew can be tougher for a new olah than mastering the game. That we are awed by the Israeli accent she’s cultivating, at how she told us at the beginning of the year that she would make friends in her own time and sure enough, she now has a gaggle of girlfriends, both Anglo and native Israelis.
I told our 11-year-old that we are dazzled by her dancing, that we know how hard it was for her to leave her best friend one year ago. (If you want to do something searingly painful, literally pry apart two quietly sobbing 10-year-old soul sisters so that you can move one of them across the world. Not my favorite memory from a year ago.) And that now, not only has she made new friends, she has brought a group of them home each week to write and perform plays and puppet shows, practically running her own chug or after-school activity before she’s even a bat mitzvah.
I told our 9-year-old, the one who surprised us by having the hardest adjustment (and I’ve learned you can never predict which kid will have the toughest time), how much we love her art projects and acting in the homemade plays, how she’s courageously faced Israeli public school, learned to take the school bus and shop at the makolet and that she revealed her true grit when learning to navigate challenging friendships in a new culture.
And last, but never least, I told our 6-year-old how proud we are of him for finishing kindergarten, for happily learning Ivrit, for facing his fears by learning how to swim, for making wonderful new friends.
I looked over at my husband, who has been our stability in a wobbly new world, the fearless leader who a year ago this week guided us out of the known, spent a month navigating us in a 17-state drive across America, then finally on to our aliya flight while rockets fell, and most significantly, through this Glorious. Difficult. Fun. Heartbreaking. Challenging. Fulfilling. And ultimately joyous year. And we smiled.
“We’re so proud of each and all of you.”
Our older four children beamed for a moment, each one taking in my words. And then they went back to their video games.
But suddenly our 6-year-old, our sweet Number Five who is starting to forget his American life, wedged himself between my husband and me and said:
“Okay, now it’s the parents’ turn.”
My husband and I exchanged glances, not knowing what to expect.
With his Kinneret-blue eyes shimmering, our 6-year-old faced me and said, “Mommy, I’m so proud of you for going to ulpan this year and learning Hebrew. And you did really good on your ulpan test. And most importantly you are a great ema and I love you.”
And then to my stunned husband: “Daddy, you did really great in your new job this year, and at working hard being a doctor and stuff, and most of all you are a great abba.”
The tears tickled my eyes, as they so often do in our new life here, and I could see them shining in my husband’s eyes too.
Our littlest was kvelling over us.
And then, with grateful hearts, we laughed as I declared to my husband, “And that’s why we had five,” and we waited for our sushi to come.