In addition to being a horrible tragedy in every sense, the events of October 7th, for many Olim families like mine, made some of us question whether we made the right decision to immigrate to Israel. Most Olim came to Israel to fulfill a lifelong dream of living in a Jewish country and to be part of something special. As the events of October 7th unfolded however, many, who had made the life altering move half way across the world, stopped to question whether we made the right decision. Sure, living in Israel is special, but my God, look at what happened! These thoughts are only normal and no one should be judged for thinking about the “what if” questions in our lives. After October 7th, some families did in fact return to their old homes either temporarily or permanently. Yet many, despite the unknowns and the fear, doubled down on the decision to make Aliyah. There are many Olim serving in the IDF. Many Olim have also used their skills and talents to help soldiers and displaced residents. In Modi’in, for example, two amazing organizations have already helped so many. Grilling for the IDF distributes thousands of meals and food packages to soldiers every week. No, I am not exaggerating! The efforts seem super-human. Another organization called Smile for the Kids arranges special activities and events for children who have been affected by the war. They distribute food, clothing, and toys to families who need extra help during these difficult times. There are many other examples of amazing efforts, but more than anything else, this is the time when us Olim realize the privilege we have been given. Things are tough right now, but this is where we are meant to be, during both the fun times and the difficult times.
Last week, I returned from a 10 day work trip to the US. I was supposed to leave right after Sukkot but obviously, the trip had to be postponed. I was full of questions as I boarded my Elal flight towards Newark. I had seen so many of the Antisemitic stories and I wondered if I was going back to the same country that I called home for the first 30 years of my life. I went back and forth about whether I should wear my kippah in public, as I really did not want any problems. After a great deal of deliberation, I decided that my kippah is part of my identity and to take it off would be a betrayal of everything I stood for. I had always been a proud Jew and I decided not to let the war change that.
In the end, I actually had two amazing interactions, thanks to my kippah. During my first day in the US, I was in Las Vegas. As I was approaching my car at the hotel parking lot, I heard a voice from behind, “So, where are you from?” Before I could even turn around, I kind of froze for a second. I could have given any answer I wanted. I could have said I was from Baltimore or New Jersey, but I decided that I was going to be honest. I slowly turned around and saw a 6 ft tall man towering from above. Quietly I answered, “I live in Israel.” After a pause that seemed like an eternity, this stranger said, “Wow! I have been to Israel twice with my church group. Terrible what Hamas is doing over there. God Bless you!” After a sigh, I shook this man’s hand and told him how much we all appreciated his support and prayers. After wishing each other well, I was on my way. I was relieved, as my first interaction actually gave me hope. During the rest of my trip, I toured the country, went to my meetings, and it really seemed like the US that I knew as a child and young adult. On the last day of my trip, I had another one of those unexpected moments. This time, I was standing on the train platform in New Haven, Connecticut waiting for my train to New Jersey. A man tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around to see a middle-aged African American gentleman. Before I had a chance to say a word, he said “We’re praying for you man!” I was speechless, for he did not know I lived in Israel. He just saw the kippah on my head and decided to come over. After I told him where I lived, he told me that his church would be praying for us every Sunday. I thanked him and told him that I looked forward to meeting him the next time in Jerusalem.
I know that I was lucky and that the Antisemitism in the US continues to spread. For some reason, I was spared the harsh reality and met Israel supporters from all walks of life. While I was happy to have had these experiences, these episodes also reminded me how fortunate I was to live in Israel, even with the war raging. As many have said before, we are not just fighting for a country, we are fighting for our existence. While I may not be a soldier in the IDF, I am here with so many other Olim who chose to make Israel our home. We are all doing our small parts to ensure that Israel continues to not only exist, but to be stronger than ever. In my community of Hashmonaim, not a day goes by without a posting for some amazing chesed project to help the soldiers or others. So, when those clueless friends and distant cousins ask me if I want to “come home” I can honestly say that I am already home, and feeling pretty darn lucky to be living in our homeland.