Six months ago today, I did a crazy thing. Surrounded by dozens of friends, great comfort and familiarity, and a city and community I had come to know and love, I got on a plane and jetted off to Israel. I was fulfilling a 2,000 year old dream of my beloved people, a privilege with which very few generations have been blessed. And while I firmly believe in my decision, would do it again in a heartbeat, and am confident that – in the long run – the dividends will be uncountable – there are some things they left off the memo, and I kind of wish they hadn’t.
I say “they” with intentional ambiguity, because I’m not really sure who I’m referring to. Had you asked your Nefesh b’Nefesh advisor or Israel Center contact, they would have told you to expect difficulties in language and culture, and to just accept that there will be differences in “the way things are done.” Had you asked the Olim who walked in your shoes – be it months, years or decades before you – they would have told you to prepare for a rude awakening, and not to be startled when that rude awakening continues for longer than you had budgeted for. And as for the people you left behind, well, in many cases, had you listened to them you never would have left.
So it’s not a blame game. No one is at fault. But, to be sure, there are things that they left off the memo.
They forgot to tell you that for as long as civilization itself, humans have needed communication – elongated, complex, and descriptive forms of communication – to build successful societies. This has nothing to do with Israel. If you picked up your family and moved to Italy you would have the same issue. But the fact of the matter is that “Ken” and “Lo” will suffice if you want to buy a lightbulb. They will not suffice if you want to build a life.
They forgot to tell you that humans are social beings and that leaving your best friends on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean is – in some real sense – the equivalent of losing a loved one. We build ourselves and our relationships around shared values, shared visions, and shared experiences. When you build rock-solid relationships through years of hard work, sacrifice, feeling each other’s pain and reveling in each other’s happiness, and then you just leave those friends behind, held together by bi-monthly Whatsapp calls and failed facetime meet-ups, those relationships invariably weaken. In their place, you are forced to venture out and build new ones, but that takes time, emotional and physical effort, perseverance, the ability to accept rejection and the acknowledgment that some people just won’t like you very much. Those points are always true, but they are so much more pertinent – and so much more painful – when you don’t have your usual, dependable “chevreh” to fall back on.
They forgot to tell you that certain information can only be gleaned by being an insider. I could have spoken to as many people as I wanted from my dorm room in the Washington Heights, but I would never have known just how infuriating afternoon Jerusalem traffic can become. I could have called as many of my friends who have been here since high school as I could get hold of, but they could never have adequately described to me the subjective view I would form on the various communities in Israel – their strengths, weaknesses, the things I would love and the things that I would have to accept.
All these things and more, they left off the memo.
But they also left off many of the positives. Granted, we are more innately aware of the positives. After all, isn’t the entire Land flowing with milk and honey? But I think it is still extremely important to mention them. First, because – given that I did not fully appreciate how much I would be impacted by them, they were – like the negatives – left off the memo. And second, and much more importantly, because when things seem dark and gloomy, it is so important to remind myself of the blessing I have to be able to live here. There is a famous Jewish law that “just as we are obligated to bless G-d for good tidings, so too we are obligated to bless Him for negative (or seemingly negative) tidings.” But when someone faces a crisis or even is simply having a bad day, it is more important than ever to remember that the converse is also true. Just as we are cognizant of the bad tidings, the frustrations and the stresses, so too are we obligated to recognize and appreciate the good tidings, the joys and the blessings!
And there is so much good! There is something so good, so sacredly special about nonchalantly “waltzing” to the Kotel – the life-size version of the stone wall that was printed, framed and posted on the board of almost every classroom I ever stepped foot in – on a Saturday evening for a “chat” with the Creator of the World. There is a tangible sense of holiness in taking a Sunday off work and driving up north to go daven at the Holy Sites of Meiron, Tzfat and Tiveria, and – just matter-of-factly – stopping en-route on the side of the highway to say Tehillim at the graves of Chabakuk, Rabeinu Bachya and other giants of our past. And – to be sure – there is nothing like a Chag celebrated in the streets of Jerusalem. The Lulavim are taller and straighter, the Etrogim smell fresher and more pungent, and the lights of the Chanukiah, placed in small glass boxes on the sills of the city’s windows, radiate light, joy, warmth and beauty to the residents and guests of the world’s holiest city.