Shayna Goldberg

Going up to ‘the country’

The drive up to the Catskills/Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons

With so much talk this summer about the future of this country, I’ve been thinking about a country of my past and some similarities between the two.

Until I got married, I spent my summers up in “the country” —  how we and many others lovingly referred to the Catskills. At some point toward the end of June, we would load the family car (garbage bags filled with blankets and pillows strapped to the roof) and head to upstate New York on Route 17.

Our excitement would build as we approached South Fallsburg. Riding through the one-block town center was like being united with old friends. It had been ten months since we last saw the pizza store, Murray the Kosher Sock man, Meal Mart, Landaus, and the small town movie theater (which featured one movie). When we passed Amazing Savings (a later addition), we knew there was just one mile left to go until Elmshade Bungalow Colony, right across from the Never Sink River.

The summer season spent in our small bungalow was our favorite. We waited for it all year.  We were only a short ride from all the “hot spots” – the sweet rolls of the Monticello bakery, the bowling alley on rainy days, quaint libraries, the local roller-skating rink, row boating at Morningside park, restaurants in Woodbridge and Loch Sheldrake, the ice cream store at Four Corners, motor boating on White Lake and, of course, the social scenes in Woodbourne and Walmart.

But more enchanting than any of those attractions was the day-to-day bungalow life. Catching frogs, hiking through the woods, the jingle of the ice cream truck, indoor activities in the “casino” (which also doubled as the shul), campfires, jumping in puddles, riding bikes, playing paddle ball, swimming, Sunday barbecues, Mom’s Knishes, the trucks that would rotate through selling their wares (everything from needlepoints to elegant dresses), and late nights socializing on the swings.

It may be hard to understand why families would leave all the comforts of “the city” behind to “rough it” in small bungalows the way we did thirty-five years ago. All the kids slept in one room, it was buggy, there was no air conditioning, the men only came up for the weekends and laundry was done in one shared laundry room where you paid in quarters (and waited on endless lines to get a load in after the Nine Days). Even years later, when my parents bought a place in the Catskills (and we had our own washing machine!), it was still small and simple quarters.

But the air was clear in “the country,” and there was a sense of simplicity; we spent the summers outside and carefree and we thrived on being away from the usual routine. It was interesting, meaningful and enjoyable to form a community with different types of people from a spectrum of places and backgrounds who united in the summer, despite their differences. So many memories, so much shared history and nostalgia, such a special and magical place.

Those of us who packed our cars and drove up to “the country” knew that you couldn’t find all that in “the city.”

A few years after I got married, we made aliya and moved halfway around the world to “our country.” We packed up our home, sent a lift, stuffed 15 suitcases to the brim and boarded a plane that lifted us up both physically and spiritually to Israel.

Israel had always been a favorite place to visit. And now we were living here.  We are only a short ride from all the “hot spots” — the Kotel (Western Wall), Ma’arat Hamachpela (the Tomb of the Patriarchs), beautiful beaches, the hills and springs of Judea, Mamilla mall, the City of David, Machane Yehuda shuk, Ammunition Hill, Mt. Herzl, water falls in Ein Gedi, jeeping in the desert and the skyscrapers of Tel Aviv.

But more enchanting than any of those attractions is day-to-day life in this country. Speaking Hebrew, shopping in the makolet, traveling on roads walked on by our forefathers and mothers, hiking through the hills of Gush Etzion, passing soldiers in uniform, bike-riding; the mild weather, the range of terrain, delicious food, the mix of ancient and new, our national holidays, the music in the malls, the fact that it is a given for adults to come late to work on their kids’ first day of school, the inherent values; and the way strangers talk, interact and help each other out whether in line at the supermarket, in a waiting room, or on a bus. Different types of people from a spectrum of places and backgrounds who unite often and in multiple ways, despite their differences.

It may be hard to understand why families would leave all the coveted comforts of life in “chul” behind to “rough it” in Israel. It is not always easy to be an oleh right now when so many native Israelis (and others around the world) seem to have only critique for a country you chose to make your home. So much talk about the problems – the government, the media, the politics, the bureaucracy, the traffic, the weather… and the list goes on. The last few weeks and months have brought many serious and valid concerns and tensions to the forefront of Israeli society. There are many conversations to be had and much that needs to be done.

But the air is unique in this country. When you have lived somewhere else, you can breathe and immediately sense the difference. All countries have their struggles with government, the media, politics, bureaucracy and traffic. But not all have the magic of this place. You can feel it in the way people care, the passion they exhibit, the idealism they display, their resilient spirits, and their willingness to fight for whatever it is they so deeply believe.

Our country is not perfect. It needs fixing; but we came here to work. There are so many memories, so much shared history, so much nostalgia, national significance, religious meaning and sacrifice. It is a special, holy place.

Those of us who chose to pack our bags and move across oceans and continents to this country know that you can’t find that in America, Cyprus, Thailand, Europe, New Zealand or anywhere else.

Even after their aliya, my parents held onto our bungalow for a few more years. Maybe because we hoped we’d go back there to visit, or maybe because it was just too hard to let go. But a few months ago, the bungalow was sold, and so now it’s official. The only “country” in our lives is Israel.

And so that is that. The closing of a chapter. And a recognition that in the grand scheme of things, a century in America will be a blip in the long-term history and trajectory of our family.

It is difficult to internalize that we will not be going up to “the country” anymore.

And yet we are here in this country, in our country, happy to be here and not wanting or planning to be anywhere else.

Having chosen to move here lovingly, we are here to stay. No talk of relocation. No matter what the problem, we are determined to be part of the solution.

Come what may, we know we are where we belong and are meant to be.

About the Author
Shayna Goldberg (née Lerner) teaches Israeli and American post-high school students and serves as mashgicha ruchanit in the Stella K. Abraham Beit Midrash for Women in Migdal Oz, an affiliate of Yeshivat Har Etzion. She is a yoetzet halacha, a contributing editor for Deracheha: and the author of the book: "What Do You Really Want? Trust and Fear in Decision Making at Life's Crossroads and in Everyday Living" (Maggid, 2021). Prior to making aliya in 2011, she worked as a yoetzet halacha for several New Jersey synagogues and taught at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School in Teaneck. She lives in Alon Shevut, Israel, with her husband, Judah, and their five children.