Even before the New Year begins, we are awash in “new.”
Two months ago, we boarded a plane in the middle of a war and moved from California to Israel with four of our children. On our aliyah charter flight we bonded with people who shared this dream and also our determination to begin anew in the place to where our souls’ compass point, rockets be damned. New friends. The budding of a new life in an ancient homeland.
We landed and have been busy building our new lives every since. I met Natan Sharansky. I huddled in a bomb shelter with four of my kids on Tisha B’Av morning. I went to two shiva houses within my first three days here to pay my respects to the families of fallen soldiers, soldiers who died so we could live here. I learned to pray with a new intensity because we live here now, and when this is where your children live and rockets are falling you can be sure you understand what prayer is.
I plucked figs from our very own fig tree and they tasted sweeter than any I’d had before. I fell in love with a glorious halva-esque spread called sumsumia from the Pereg store at Machane Yehuda. I learned my way around streets with names like “Yehuda Hamacabi” and “David HaMelech.” I bought school supplies with the help of a 5th grader because I didn’t understand the list. I accidentally washed my hair with two different conditioners instead of shampoo and embarassingly gave someone ten agurot instead of ten shekel. I held my breath as movers opened up our lift until I saw that yes, it was actually our stuff inside, and greeted our furniture like an old friend I hadn’t seen in some time. I let my eight-year-old walk to the makolet and the park by herself when I didn’t even let her walk across the street without watching in America. I amazed my old American self when I picked up two trempers.
We are learning to navigate through all this newness. We laughed when were granted free milkshakes or a pizza gift certificate because we were new olim. We marveled at the kosher swedish meatballs at Ikea adorned with Israeli flags, and when the fed-ex guy asked my husband where he could find a minyan for mincha. We climbed to the top of the giant bamboo jungle at the Israel museum and looked out at golden Jerusalem, past the giant “Ahava” sculpture that makes me smile every time I see it. We have eaten way too many oversized waffles and mediocre food court food. We’ve watched donkeys cross the road and crushed grapes with our bare feet for the promise of wine come Passover. We feel blessed that we can go to the Old City whenever we feel like it, to connect with G-d and our people, to remind ourselves why we are here.
I so deeply appreciate the new friends we have already made, the countless cookies that were dropped off by new neighbors to welcome us, the invitations to bar and bat mitzvahs and baby celebrations we have already received, the shabbat meals we’ve enjoyed at a blur of new friends’ homes, sure signs of embrace to newcomers. I love hearing the unfamiliar tunes at the local minyan that lift my spirit and I never get tired of looking at the view of the jagged hills that surround our new home. I even appreciate breaking my teeth over the new words at ulpan, knowing that I’m one step closer to understanding our new old world.
But sometimes we cry from all the newness. There were tears of frustration when my carrot muffins wouldn’t come out of the pan — was it the lack of Pam with baking flour or the different Israeli brown sugar?The lump in my throat throbbed when I dropped my children off for their first day of school, knowing they would feel lost when they wouldn’t understand what their teachers were saying or the jokes their new classmates were telling. And I let myself cry to new friends at the local coffee joint when one daughter refused to go school one day, all the newness too much for her, and at that moment, for me.
When the newness does overwhelm me, I think of my first Shabbat in our new hometown when I prayed at the minyan on our new street. I suddenly found myself answering the kaddish of Racheli Frankel, my new neighbor’s sister who was standing right behind me. I was humbled and touched beyond words when I was introduced to Racheli after services and she looked at with great warmth and welcome and said, “I want you to know that I still thank my parents all the time for bringing me to live here when I was a child. Your children will thank you for making aliyah with them.” A powerful and needed message for a new olah from a woman who has come to represent so much to so many. Strength for our new beginning.
On the cusp of this new year — a shmitta year of rest and renewal — I wonder at what new challenges and adventures lie ahead for us new olim, and as a nation. I can only imagine what mistakes and faux pas we will make, how many times we will get lost literally and figuratively, how many shwarma we’ll consume, how many times we will breathe sighs of relief as terror attacks are thwarted and how many miracles, large and small, we will celebrate. What losses we will bear and what milesones we’ll mark. Which friendships will deepen and which will fade? By this time next year, how Israeli will my children be?
May the sweetness of this new life in the land of milk and (apples and) honey continue to wash over us, and renew us as in days of old.