Yesterday was my family’s third aliyah anniversary. And when Shabbat ended, I had intended to craft a celebration in words, to try to capture what this milestone means to us and to share the joy of what it is to become Israeli and to get to live here.
But I couldn’t.
I couldn’t find the words.
Sometimes here, the words evaporate, disappear, grabbed from our mouths and our keyboards and our souls.
They are crushed on a tiled kitchen floor, sparking white but then suddenly awash in red after a family member hears a knock at the door, expecting a Shabbat guest to help celebrate the birth of a new baby in the family. They are hidden by a pristine tablecloth, ready for a clumsy splash of wine or to be speckled with sweet challah crumbs but completely unprepared to be stained with the blood of a father and two of his children while a daughter-in-law and grandchildren hide in terror nearby.
The words are smothered on a holy hilltop, maybe under a golden dome, like weapons squirreled away, undetected, where my people cannot even move their lips in silent devotion, and where the father of a week-old baby and a man on the verge of proposing were gunned down trying to keep the peace little over a week ago.
And I can’t find the words in the lies and fake news and in modern blood libels I can barely stand to read. They are trapped behind a scream.
No, I can’t find words in these places. I only find a hate that takes my words and grinds them into dust.
But today I dig. And I sift. And I search. Because all the good of living here demands it. In the rubble, I unearth words from three years of the mundane and the miraculous of living here.
“Kindness.” Every day I have lived here, I have witnessed acts of kindness by friends and neighbors: Late nights baking treats or barbecuing for lonely soldiers pulling long shifts, children running to raise money so families facing cancer can get psychological services, meals prepared to welcome new babies and comfort grieving neighbors. And the kindness of strangers: People giving rides to others they don’t know, handing out charity on a street corner, providing extra hands for a mother who needs help loading her car with groceries.
Here, we relish words like “history” and “Torah” and “science” when we visit biblical museums or zoos where both fossils and living creatures teach us something about our heritage, like when we held the fragile yet intact murex shell my daughter discovered at the Temple Mount Sifting project, untouched for centuries but unearthed by a little olah whose father can now don bright blue techelet fringed tzizit, a mitzvah long dormant and now resurrected.
Our words are delicious when we talk with our mouths full of kosher cheeseburgers and lamb bacon at Crave and crunch sweet cashews at the shuk and eat at the cafe in the Shalva Center in Jerusalem where children with all different abilities and religions can play together on a rainbow-hued playground outside. We dip our lives in techina and silan, hummus and honey over and over again as we travel all over the country to hike, to learn, to taste and to enjoy.
We snuggle up with “stability” and “familiarity” in the patterns we’ve discovered after three years of living in a new place, now knowing when to anticipate that summer’s heat may give way to a chill in the air, when it’s time to pray for a snow day in the Judean hills, when our pomegranate and loquat trees will flower, and when to visit Givat Haturmusim to see the thrush of purple lupines overtake the hillside. And we have uncovered a different type of Israeli “seasons” too: When to go to the light festival, to the arts and crafts fair, to the cherry and wine festivals — events that come around like clockwork, and when hamentashen and jelly donuts will inevitably appear in stores a way too early for their respective holidays.
I have found the words “pride” and “satisfaction” tucked into the report card folders that show how far my children have come, both literally and not, and in every Israeli gesture and song they know the words to, and even in the real pain of the adjustments we have yet to accomplish, that still need more time.
And sometimes, now, the words are in Hebrew.
The word “home” has new meaning here. We have been honored to host pastors, a former Knesset member, a major league hockey team owner and even our shul in our new home as well as many friends, old and new, for Shabbat meals and events. The word “family” feels like a dream since we have two brothers and their families living here now, our personal stake in the in-gathering of the exiles.
I find the words wedged between the stones at the Kotel, coated in tears at Kever Rachel, heavily guarded during my many visits to Hebron so that I could attend a brit milah at Abraham’s tomb and to pray where our history and our connection to this land was born, a history so many are anxious to erase or ignore. I find the words when I hear Eicha read in a little grove behind my street, or when I am in my living room praying alone — now facing north instead of east — knowing Jerusalem is just beyond my view.
And some words are never uttered. I have never heard of a party or protest or parade in my town — call it a settlement if you must — celebrating death of anyone, even of those who hunt us and harm us. There are words, quiet and small, when my son and his friends went to summer camp with Arab children and I would see them enjoy the day together and help each other translate when needed. And broken words are sometimes healed by my husband and other doctor friends who treat patients in hijabs with the same attention and care they would if the patients wore scarves or wigs. I refuse to give up words like “hope” and “peace” but know they they must also stand with “truth,” “history,” “strength” and “faith.”
Living here for three years, we have been at a loss for words before, like when we huddled in a bomb shelter as Gaza rained rockets or when a terrorist was hiding in the above-mentioned grove behind our house as the kids were about to go off to school. And because we will continue to live here, we will likely be at a loss again.
In Judaism, there is power in the number three. It is said that when you do something three consecutive times, it becomes a chazakah, something strong and permanent.
We are here to stay.
And I know I couldn’t find the right words anywhere but here.