Tucked in a suitcase full of only the absolute most essential items I own, a small brown spiral notebook with the words “Trip Diary” scrawled in a golden cursive on the front makes its return to Israel after a 39-year absence. Written by hand when she was just 16 years old, my mom left it to me, although she didn’t know it at the time.
She passed away suddenly when I was 9 years old, and with her went much of my Jewish identity. Little by little, my dad and I stopped doing havdalah, stopped building a sukkah each year, and stopped going to temple.
It was only in college that I began to reconnect to HaShem. One of the biggest influences on this, apart from my campus Chabad House, was Taglit. Never had I felt more connected, more at peace with my people and my history. Years later, after a stint in seminary in Tzfat and several trips to Israel with my husband, we finally took the plunge and decided to make aliyah.
When I told my father, he wasn’t thrilled. In fact, to this day he still isn’t. He said, “You know, your mother wouldn’t have done well with this.” It’s easy to fill in the blanks with what we want to when we don’t really know.
Still, sometime after my pilot trip but before the big day, he gave me her Israel trip diary. Pouring over these pages, I was overcome by a strong reconnection to her. When you lose a parent at a young age, too often trauma and grief block and dull the memories that you had together. Memories of days at the park and family dinners are overshadowed by ones of sitting shiva and dropping out of mother/daughter book club. Now, reading her words, knowing she walked in the place I now live, knowing she loved the land I do, I know we are still connected after all these years separated by death.
In her final pages she wrote:
“I’m going to miss Israel so much. On this tour I found out that I am a Zionist, and could live in Israel if I had to, but America is my first home…most important, I have an idea about my beliefs. And that is something I will have forever.”
The day I made aliyah, my dad took me to the airport. Walking to security, carrying a bag that contained her trip diary, he said, “You know, your mom would have been alright with this.” I think so, too.