Combining my ‘aliyaversary’ with Thanksgiving

So like many others, I have some thanks I want to publicly express.

Mine is different though.

Today, November 25th, will always be in my mind a special date, but all the more so this year, as today marks exactly 30 years since I made aliyah.

Today makes me a 30-year old, as one beautiful and recent Jewish custom is to celebrate one’s ‘aliyaversary’ as a second day of birth.

“Aged 30 to ko’ach — strength,” says the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot.

Great, that could come in handy.

Today is also Thanksgiving, which despite the absence of a Jewish connection is about as Jewish a concept as possible. Our very name, Jew, comes from the tribe of Judah, the name given by our Matriarch Leah to her fourth son when she simply wanted to thank G-d for the gift of her baby.

Our name means thank you. Thanksgiving is in us.

So, what am I giving thanks for on this special day?

Firstly, to Israel, my country of choice, with all the good and bad that is a part of the fabric of this complex land. I cannot imagine a scenario where I would ever leave here; my love for the land, despite the problems, is so deeply ingrained in me that not only is it the central part of my life, but I venture to say that it has become a meaningful part of the lives of the hundreds I have taught and guided over the years.

Secondly, to England, my country of birth, which may sound strange to point out on my aliyaversary, but it is a fact that must be recognized. Where one grows up — and I spent my formative years there — is a critical part of who one becomes, and undeniably a part of me was and always will be English, and so I owe England my thanks. Within this sphere is the country of my wife’s birth, the USA, which, in that unimaginable scenario that I would leave Israel, would be my destination of choice.

Thirdly, to my family and especially my parents, for — amongst a myriad of other things they have done for me — making the difficult and brave choice 30 years ago that many Jews (though, sadly, not enough) have done over the years — to forsake the lives they knew for a new life here, and perhaps more importantly to stick it out despite the difficuilt times.

And finally, to Jewish Israelis, my chosen countrymen and women.

Damn, what a people we are.

We are crazy, hot-headed, angry, yet full of undiminished love for what we are, a fierce passion for protecting each other, and an insatiable vision of what we can be, should we choose the correct path. (Note: there are unlimited versions of what this path is, should you care to ask).

We are everyone.

We are the guy at the makolet (local market) who has no problem with being paid next week. Or perhaps the week after.

We are an old woman who invited me and 10 others into her tiny apartment when the sirens were blaring two years ago, and insisted we had a cookie and a drink before leaving.

We are taxi drivers, who will tell you their life story without being prompted, and what the real events behind the news are. Heck, you will agree with everything, because you don’t want to get someone with the wheel in their hands, going at 120 km/hr while using one of those hands to eat a felafel, getting agitated, do you?

We are my fellow workers at Ramah Israel, where I am Director of Education, who like so many in this business will put in ridiculous hours to ensure both the safety of all participants in our programs and to uncompromisingly uphold the educational standard of those programs…yet will complain about the lack of milk in the mornings like it is a national tragedy (Newsflash: coffee without milk is still coffee…)

We are drivers on Shabbat who will wind the window down to wish you a Shabbat shalom, or — I kid you not, this happened to me — to kiss the Torah I was holding.

We are insane about putting that blue and white tallit-origin-flag everywhere, coming up with new and creative ways of flying it every year.

We are people I like to call the sheshbeshers — backgammon players – old men who sit and endlessly roll dice at tables, seemingly without a care in the world, and have probably been doing that since they were army buddies. Do they keep track, I always wonder? Is it 46,732 to 45,889, and dachilak, I’m catching you up? (No, I will not translate dachilak. Some words lose too much in translation.)

We are irrationally proud of and addicted to our religious rituals, even if in some of our minds they are archaic. Purim is a week-long festival where figuring out who is in costume and who isn’t is a challenge. Chanukah without a chanukiah and candles in every office, school and institution is unthinkable, along with the heaviest sufganiot known to man. As for driving on Yom Kippur — are you out of your mind?

We are IDF reservists, beer-belly in tow, who will run up and down the hills with a machine gun tucked somewhere in the folds of that ever-increasing belly, thinking that they are still 18, because the most incredible thing they have ever done is to serve in the IDF, and they don’t want to let go.

We will all immediately and with utter joy, shout out “Mazal Tov” and cheer loudly whenever someone accidentally smashes a glass in a restaurant. Never fails to make me smile. I’m often tempted to smash a glass just to get the reaction.

We are totally and utterly there for each other in war time, with only slightly more passion than our love for our chosen soccer team, who still have a chance of making the upper playoffs, they will proclaim wholeheartedly as the bullets fly.

We will demand to know who you voted for, how much you make, and what your pension plan is, as a matter of course. And then not understand why you don’t want to tell them.

We are people who will write graffiti in an ancient tongue and unknowingly with biblical or talmudic references.

We are people who don’t flinch when a barrage of missiles comes raining down, but will cancel school a week before the first snowflake is due to fall, amidst widespread panic — when this happens in a month, you saw it here first!

We are, and always will be, Achi. My brother.

Thank you all.

Happy thanksgiving aliyaversary, and may the next 30 be as good as the first!

About the Author
Betsalel Steinhart is a Licensed Tour Guide, and the Director of Education for Ramah Israel. He is privileged to live in Jerusalem with his wife and five children.
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