We are family: Connections and community

I became a bat mitzvah in December, 1979. Disco was king, and my nuclear family entered the celebration party to “We are Family” by Sister Sledge. Since then, my family tree branches have grown through marriages, births, and the addition of dear friends as chosen family.

However, I have no family living in Israel. Yet I do. I felt like I was amongst relatives my entire stay. My friend Michele’s family included me for some wonderful meals, and when I mentioned that I had no family is Israel, her cousin answered emphatically, “Now, you do.”

An El Al plane is the perfect place to play Jewish Geography. On the trip over, I sat next to Chen and Rachel from Baltimore. They were super-friendly, and I eventually stopped worrying that they would be judgmental about the remains of the trayf turkey and cheese sandwich in my seat pocket. Chen explained that he grew up in a Chabad community. He knew the Chabad rabbi from my son’s university very well, as well Michele’s rabbi in New Jersey. A couple of weeks later, Michele received a selfie of Chen and her rabbi from a shiva in Baltimore.

While sitting at HaKosem, the deservedly famous falafel joint on King George street in Tel Aviv, a polite Israeli asked us if we minded if he smoked. I hate the smell of cigarettes, but I had finished my meal and rather than say “no”, I said not to worry and that we were leaving. He did not want us to leave on his account, and despite the fact that he was there with friends, he skipped the cigarette and spent half an hour speaking to us. Only in Israel. You really feel like everyone is family.

Everywhere in Israel are pictures of hostages and signs and graffiti demanding “Bring them Home.” They are our collective family members, and no day will be complete without their presence. They are at the forefront of everyone’s minds. It is a shock to the system and a moral affront that they are not mentioned more often by the rest of the world.

I watch i24 News on a continuous loop because if I watch another channel, I start yelling at the TV. I see people on the screen that I met at Tel HaShomer hospital—Avital talking about her husband Avichai who had his hand blown off at Kibbutz Keren Shalom on October 7th. She talks about her husband’s long recovery and how she and her six children are doing their best as evacuees. Everyone who goes to Israel marvels at their “access”—to government officials, diplomats, celebrities, etc.  They met this person, that person, all well-known. So, the truth is that everyone in Israel can have great access. It is a tiny country, and there are not enough people for there to be even six degrees of separation.

While doom scrolling through X (formerly known as Twitter), I randomly came across a tweet from someone I had never heard of with a video of Rabbi Benny Kalmanson choking up with tears as he called out the name of his new great-grandson, Elhanan Or Ami, who was named after the rabbi’s son who was killed while rescuing residents of Kibbutz Be’eri. I had the immense privilege of listening to another one of Rabbi Kalmanson’s son’s, Menachem Kalmanson, recount the heroic story of how he, Elhanan, and his nephew, Itiel, saved over one hundred residents of Kibbutz Be’eri from terrorists. I shared the Kalmansons’ grief and bittersweet joy.

The taxi driver who picked us up at Ben-Gurion airport at the start of our journey was so nice that we took his number and asked him to drive us back to airport 8 days later. During the course of the return trip, he listened raptly to what we did and saw during our time in Israel. After getting out of the car to hand me my bags, he hugged me. It feels like my country and my family.

On the El Al ride home, the very young Nova survivor with a pierced ear and a tattoo of the State of Israel on his arm wrapped tefillin and prayed at the request of an older gentleman with a kippah and long beard. By looking at the two of them, you would not think that they would have anything in common. Except they have everything that matters in common.

One of my college roommates recently called me to confirm what she already seemed to know. On an upcoming mission to Israel, she was factoring in a few extra days. She wanted to make sure that she would be safe if she was traveling by herself. I assured her that she would, indeed, be safe. I highly doubt she will spend much time alone. Even if you are alone in Israel, you are surrounded by family.

About the Author
Leslie Perlmutter resides in New Jersey with her husband, her dog, Hank, and occasionally her three almost-grown children. A former attorney, she is a freelance writer covering a wide range of topics.
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