Commitment to our homeland in the face of tragedy

You know that picture of the happy families having just made Aliyah being met at the airport with balloons, Israeli flags, welcome hugs and a ride to begin their exciting new Aliyah life? We were not in that picture. We never had the opportunity for that picture. 

We made Aliyah in the height of COVID-19 having accepted the fact that we would have to quarantine in our apartment for two weeks, not being able to see our children who lived in Israel, as the restriction for not traveling more than 850m from your home was in place. Of course being COVID things change minute by minute and all of a sudden on the day we were leaving travelers from South Africa were the new threat and had to go straight to quarantine in a hotel room. That was us, taken straight from the plane at 3am to a room in the airport where our passports were taken as we were stamped into the country, and off to find our many pieces of luggage and drag them onto a bus to an unknown destination. Locked in a hotel room where the threat of a 5000 Shekel fine which translated into R25.000 was enough to keep South Africans from venturing out, we passed the many hours with mind numbing activities. With a knock at the door at meal times and the instruction to wait five minutes before opening to allow time for the delivery person to be far away from us before we opened the door to retrieve our food – thus began our new life in Israel.

To be honest Aliyah was never part of my big plan. Having grown up in London with strong South African roots, my return to South Africa and subsequent marriage to a born and bred South African was very comfortable. We were settled in Johannesburg, and although my husband had his heart in Israel living with our family around us, both of us with jobs bringing up our children in the cocoon of the warm Johannesburg community was the status quo. But one by one as our children completed school they started to leave for Israel. Uppermost in their minds was Yeshiva study and then joining the IDF. 

As we began to feel the nest emptying we scheduled a trip to visit our kids in Israel for Pesach 2019. At that point we had our 3 sons in Israel and our daughter heading towards her final year of school in South Africa. That visit had some ‘Aha’ moments when we realized that living in our beautiful home with so many comforts around us was not enough for us. Within a short while we had made the decision that as soon as our daughter had finished school we were making Aliyah. Little did we know that COVID was looming. 

With so much uncertainty the need to be closer to our kids was even more essential and on December 21st 2020 we left our loved ones and all that was familiar behind and took the leap that would change us forever. 

After finally leaving the hotel our family were reunited. I will never forget our first Shabbat together as a family, standing outside on our balcony singing Kabbalat Shabbat, looking at the beautiful hills across from us not really believing that we were all together. With our voices raised in melodious songs, we had so much to be grateful for. We were Jews, we were in our homeland, we could sing, we could celebrate and we could rejoice because we were home. I will cherish that image forever.

The months ahead were filled with finding our feet. Our children were around if we needed them but they had made a life for themselves before we had moved here and respecting their space was important. Our daughter had joined a gap year program, two of the boys were in combat units in the army and one was living on Kibbutz Nirim in the South working in agriculture. Needless to say, arriving in a new country has its challenges and coupled with COVID and the fact that we did not know anyone in our area or community were added challenges. I am often asked “What made you move to your area if you didn’t know anyone” my answer is always the same: “It was the hand of G-d.” We were truly blessed to have come into a strong Olim community who were there for us from the get go with incredible Chesed and Hachnasat Orchim. Slowly as the COVID restrictions were lifted we met people and were Blessed to form a close circle of friends within a short span of time. Once again this was “The hand of G-d” that would carry us through our next hurdle. 

Our children’s lives moved on and changed, as army service was finished for one and a wedding was planned and life in the South was switched out for relocation to life in Jerusalem and working at the Kotel. We felt a little more settled and familiar with our surroundings and we did not have to put on Waze every time we left our home.

And just eleven precious months of having our family together in Israel our lives were shattered when our son Eli was killed in a terror attack on November 21, 2021, in the old city of Jerusalem. Eli, our pioneer, the one who was the catalyst for our family making Aliyah. Eli although not the oldest, the first to draft into the army and be a proud soldier and commander in Tzanchanim – Paratroopers unit. Eli the one who had rockets over his head and was asked by his soldiers if they would ‘make it.’ Eli who bought his coffee each day from the Arab coffee seller on his way to work, Eli who knew the name of the Arab cleaner at the Kotel because he valued human life. Eli, whose love for the county was hard wired in his DNA, was gunned down by a Hamas terrorist simply for being a Jew.

So where to from here? Where do we go when the bottom has fallen out of our lives? When the image in our mind of what our Aliyah would look like changed before our eyes? When the hopes and dreams of what life in Israel held for our family are shattered in the blink of an eye? What happens to the planned Shabbatot and Chagim together? What do you do when your entire equilibrium has been thrown off?

You anchor down! You stay firm and you stay put. What you felt before becomes intensified, your purpose and home land become even more of a focus. You emerge through the pain knowing that this is the only homeland we have as Jews, understanding more clearly the importance of protecting it and knowing that our children are going to continue this fight for our land. And so through our pain this is what we do, we carry an important message of Am Yisroel Chai.

And time passes, you meander down a new stream sometimes it is filled with rough waters and sometimes it is calm. The pain never leaves it is a different new constant. A routine of sorts is found, I was breathing a little easier with only a few more weeks left of my daughter’s army service, my two sons and my daughter in law’s reserve duty for the year completed……..and then war broke out. Within hours, each of my precious children were thrown right into the thick of active combat. 

As I am reeling from the shock and horror and trying to process what is happening on that fateful day, I look at my children as they leave. They have such a purpose, such a desire, such a mission that I am in awe of them. They tell me: “This is what we signed up for, this is what we swore in for and this is where we need to be. This is our homeland, if we do not fight for it and protect it who will!” My fear is not their fear. The roles are reversed. They are so strong so definite and so focused. I have so much to learn from them.

I stand as a proud mother, a proud Israeli and a proud Jew. My Aliyah picture may not be the one I thought I would see but it is one that represents the history and future of the Jewish nation. It represents the one written about in our ancient texts and the one spoken by prophets about our future. It reminds me at all times of the words of Maimonides in the thirteen principles of Jewish faith, of the belief in the existence of the creator. In my restless nights and anxious moments that is what I need to hold onto.

About the Author
Devorah Kay grew up in London and moved to South Africa in her late teenage years. After marrying her South African husband Avi Kay they brought up their children in Johannesburg. Devorah taught in Jewish day schools in Johannesburg for 27 years, with her main focus being on Chumash and Nach. In addition, Devorah worked in adult eduction and marriage prepare programs. Devorah currently lives in Modi'in and is completing her degree in psychology at Reichman University in Hertzliya.
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