A chubby-cheeked 9-month-old smiling away in his baby seat with a blue and white flag we’d put in his hand following our touchdown at Ben Gurion Airport. The boy we brought to Israel.
He had been sitting next to us, his parents, as we were being interviewed by a national newspaper just a week earlier. It was the summer of 2006, and Israel was at war. Barrages of Hezbollah rockets were landing in Israeli communities. “Why would you want to move to a war zone?” the journalist inquired. The following week, though, once arrived in Israel, following tearful goodbyes and hugs from his grandparents, the war had subsided and normal life — if there is such a thing — was beginning again.
For the boy we brought to Israel, that meant adapting to a new climate, with sun in the sky and Hebrew in the air. It meant balmy, sticky days in a place where palm trees abound, but also occasional moments where the rain pounds and sandstorms like he’d never heard it before.
He grew up quickly, the boy we brought to Israel.
His arrival to Israel took place at the age of 9 months old. But his journey had been centuries in coming. From East to West — beginning in the Holy Land, traversing Russia, Poland and England and now from West to East again. Finally home, to the place where the Jewish story began, the place where the Jewish story lives on.
The boy we brought to Israel experienced things a child shouldn’t have to see. Waves of terrorism, even in his new home town. Wailing sirens that warned all to run for cover as rockets thankfully were intercepted above, leaving a plume of smoke in the blue sky. The kidnapping of fellow Israelis. All these situations entailed conversations around the breakfast table that we did not need to have with our parents when we grew up and that nobody should have to be part of.
But the boy we brought to Israel is lucky. His life is enriched by living in the land of his forefathers and matriarchs. His is a calendar whose rhythm is intrinsically Jewish. Before we arrived here, we had to fit Judaism into our lives and to maneuver and bend the external world to suit our religious practice. Not so for the boy we brought to Israel. The roads he walks on are named for Jewish heroes, his identity is embraced openly and without fear and the language he speaks was the same as children his age spoke thousands of years ago.
The boy we brought to Israel went to school. Along the walls of the entrance hall were photos of graduated students who had served and who fell defending our country. Every year, just prior to Independence Day, he would stand to attention together with his peers at a ceremony and recall those brave souls, while saluting their service. No surprise then, that when the opportunity arose just prior to his bar mitzvah he chose to assist Lone Soldiers, who have come from around the world to defend the Jewish State. This was going to be his special gift.
And so, the boy we brought to Israel is readying himself to cross the threshold into adulthood. His bar mitzvah portion is all about how Abraham purchased land in Hebron to bury his wife, 3,800 years ago. At the same time, he sought to ensure the continuity of his people, worrying about the son and the generation that followed him. I think those two elements are interconnected. This is the Promised Land. We tend to use that term to reflect God’s promise of Israel to the Jewish people but I think the promise goes two ways. The other side of that promise is the one that we, as Jews, make. It’s a promise to ensure that we exist, and thrive and give back to our community and our world. Now that he is bar mitzvah, that promise is his too, to make and to keep.
The boy we brought to Israel is blessed with an outstanding start. He is lucky enough to stand on the shoulders of giants: those who have helped bring about the rebirth of our country and the revitalization of life here. The warriors, the farmers, the scientists, the pioneers, the innovators, the educators and the leaders who have made Israel a jewel in the family of nations that has given immeasurable gifts to the world. Yes, in some quarters, Israel is an unappreciated country to say the least, and lives within a hostile environment, but with the uplifting spirit that is partially drawn from our understanding that we can truly belong nowhere else, so we will strive on, we will climb higher. He will too.
From baby, to boy and now, at bar mitzvah — a man.
Mazal tov, my son — the boy we brought to Israel, the boy we brought back home.