Today was my first Yom HaZikaron in Israel and tomorrow will be my first Yom Ha’atzmaut. How do I feel?
A small exchange with a falafel shop attendant sums it up well.
I’d just finished with some banking business on King George Street. It was the middle of the day — my bank closes at 2 p.m. on Sundays — so on my way back to work, I scouted the local restaurants for lunch-on-the-go.
Falafel never fails in that arena. As per usual, I asked for my order in Hebrew, and as per usual, the man behind the counter answered me in English. I kept on communicating in Hebrew, as incorrect as it might have been and tends to be.
Eventually, he caught on and smiled, thanking me for making the effort to speak the language of the land.
“I’m an olah chadasha,” I explained, “it’s important that I speak Hebrew as much as I can.”
His smile widened and he nodded with a look of pride that reminded me of my parents.. “Wow,” he remarked, “wow, that’s wonderful. You made aliyah — bless you, G-d bless you.”
I thanked and blessed him in return.
In those few minutes he made me feel like a hero; someone who’d done something superhumanly outstanding. But let’s be real — I’m a pretty typical new American immigrant. I’ve had my doubts and difficulties related to aliyah. Yet, throughout this new beginning, through the peaks and dips, the joy and loneliness — I feel a deep sense of privilege.
It’s my privilege to have the opportunity to build a life here.
It’s my privilege to travel the 1.5 hour bus rides from my basement apartment on a yishuv to work in Jerusalem.
It’s my privilege to break my teeth over Hebrew, to fall asleep to Israeli radio and wake up to it in the morning, noticing it stick slowly, slowly, more and more.
It’s my privilege to struggle with the uncertainties, feel awkward in the cultural differences…to feel rooted in a purpose and process so much bigger than myself.
It’s my privilege to be an active participant in yishuv Eretz Yisrael. I understand it’s not something every Jew is in a position to do. Each of us has our own destiny — I believe in that more than I believe in aliyah.
I’m just so grateful that mine led me here.