Mori Sokal
Mori Sokal

You have reached your destination/Living the Dream

As Chanukah draws to an end, I think about how, unlike most Jewish holidays, the majority of each day of Chanukah is not spent thinking about the chag as we can travel and do many other activities this week. But this holiday about overcoming challenges and seeing ordinary events as amazing like finding a container of oil pure enough to use in the Temple—which then lasts for 8 days (the exact amount of time needed to make more oil), reminds me to take a look at the daily miracles we live, and to be thankful for them.

You know how there are times when you think you know how to get somewhere, but just in case, you look up the directions, or, more recently, just put on a directions app? That’s what I like to do. Often, even when I know how to get where I am going, I use Waze to help bypass traffic–sometimes it takes me around a back road I didn’t know existed, although other times it just shows that it will take another minute, and another, and another…Occasionally, I just want the directions guy to keep me company and make sure I am still going the right way, that I haven’t lost the derech. But either way, I often leave it on until the end, even when pulling into my own parking lot, because I enjoy hearing “You have reached your destination.” I was wondering why I enjoy this so much, and I realized that it’s because life is a constant journey. We are born, things happen to us, and as we start to grow, we make choices that affect what happens to us, but all along, we just keep going. When life is at its craziest, I sometimes wish I could stop the train, even if only for a few minutes, and take a breath. But I can’t, we can’t do that, because the only time we truly reach our destinations, we are the only ones who won’t know it. However, there are moments along the journey when you do get to see that you have reached a milestone, which is an amazing feeling.

Some of these moments include life events, like graduating, getting married, having children, celebrating bar/bat mitzvahs, grandchildren, and all the other stops along the way that are shared by many. Then there are those events that are personal: like achieving something you worked towards for a long time, or even getting to see a lifelong dream come true.

When I was 8 years old, my family came to Israel for the summer. That summer was when I decided that I was coming back, I was going to make Aliyah some day. Of course, people laughed at the cute 8-year-old who had a dream so big, who was making plans for a future far off. I told this to my husband (to be) when we talked about all the things that might affect a future that we were starting to hope would be shared. He agreed that he would also want to eventually live in Israel. At the time, I was slightly skeptical, because it hadn’t been his lifelong dream, but his agreement then was enough for me to say yes to him. Eventually, it became his dream too, and his shared excitement made packing up a whole house, a life he had lived almost entirely in the same town, from an idea into a dream fulfilled.

Among those events that gave us a push, as we had settled into a nice community in America, was 9/11. That was when we were painfully reminded that whatever other difficulties we might face in moving to another country which would maybe eventually see our children in the army and all the other difficulties that this upheaval might cause our family, Israel was where we wanted to be, and our lives are in Hashem’s hands, so why wait any longer and go live those lives where our hearts were. The other push was from a relatively new organization called Nefesh b’Nefesh. [I feel I need to put a disclaimer here—my husband now works for NBN, which is why I was privileged to be part of what I will tell you about next, but no one asked me to write this, and it is not intended as an advertisement.] They had started hosting meetings for those of us who had been thinking about making Aliyah. At one meeting, there was a family that had been “making Aliyah” for 15 years. That was the second thing that helped us realize that if we don’t go soon, we might never go. So our plans got under way.

As Rabbi Fass said at the 20 year celebration / Chanukat Habayit of  NBN’s own new home, it is no simple thing to pack up a life and get settled in a whole new country.

Yes, part of what inspired this blog was the grand opening of NBN’s new offices, which was beautiful and heartwarming. After all these years of helping over 70,000 olim settle into new homes, they finally have a permanent place of their own. The event took place a few weeks ago in offices that are, appropriately, in the heart of Yerushalayim- the heart of our people. Life is still pretty hectic here, so it took me until Chanukah vacation to find time to write about this, but I think, given that it was a Chanukat Habayit, it is still fitting.

As Rabbi Fass spoke about how much it means to have seen this organization grow from a tiny idea into the place that olim can turn to as a resource for settling into the only Jewish country in the world, part of what touched my heart was that the original date for this planned event was moved by a week because sadly, his wife had to sit shiva for her father, his father-in-law. The event included many people whose schedules are packed, who have many other responsibilities, but they understood that some things are more important, and family comes first, and they rearranged their plans to attend the Chanukat Habayit a week later.

Rabbi Fass mentioned the flight where a Holocaust survivor and a young girl became friends on the flight, a symbol of how we all connect with each other here and find family all around us. He also spoke about the plane of Olim who felt it was so important to make Aliyah that they flew during the war just a few summers ago. My husband was there at the airport, he said there was nothing like seeing how much Aliyah meant to these people, that they would arrive under literal rocket fire.

So many amazing people spoke about what NBN has accomplished as an organization, and said so many beautiful things; I hope that all of the speeches can be found online as they were each heartwarming and inspirational. Josh Brook from NBN was kind enough to send the list of speakers; I highly recommend listening to them [I don’t say this about  all speeches! 🙂 ] President Herzog / Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, CEO / Tony Gelbart, Chairman / Yaakov Hagoel, Acting Chairman of Jewish Agency / Chief Rabbi Lau Mezuza – Former Chief Rabbi Lau / Dganit Sanke-Lange, Deputy Director General for Encouraging Aliyah and Returning Residents / Amir Dadon / Video messages – Prime Minister Bennett and Mayor Lion

At this time, I would like to show my own hakarat hatov (acknowledging the good that has been done for you) by thanking Rabbi Fass and his partner, Tony Gelbart for their part in the push to start our long journey. Another emotional moment during the NBN event was when Rabbi Fass announced that Tony was finally making Aliyah, and everyone sang v’shavu banim (the Children have returned)- it never gets tiring to hear that song of welcome to new olim. And yes, you will now be Tony, just like we Israelis speak about Bibi and Naftali…first names for family, you know 🙂  However hard it has been at times, because life just isn’t easy, NBN helped us reach our destination, and fulfill the dreams of a little girl.

When my family was here that summer long ago, one of the things that made me want to move here was taking an art course in the Israel Museum. This year, I am again taking a course there, and being there every week reminds me that some dreams can come true, even if we have to work to fulfill them.

In the last few weeks we have been reading about the descent of the Jewish people into Mitzrayim, starting with Yosef, the original Dreamer. In Parshat Vayeshev, Yosef goes down to Egypt. Actually, he doesn’t go so much as he is sent away by his brothers. He misses his family, and he doesn’t know when he will see them again. In the last few years, we also did not know when we would see our family again. Without those moments when we have felt that we also have “family” here, where we are all extended family, it would have been even more difficult.

Seeing the Miracle

Some people talk about miracles as that which goes beyond, something that is so wonderful and obvious because it goes above or outside of nature- more than ordinary, extraordinary. But what if we saw miracles in the everyday, in the mundane? What if we were able to really see how being able to get out of bed every morning is not just a blessing, but a miracle? What if we got up and saw the sunrise and were amazed every time, just by how the whole world is filled with beauty, if only we knew where to look?

On Chanukah we say Al Hanissim, thanking G-d for the miracles of the weak overcoming the strong, the few overcoming the many. We say it in our daily prayers this week, and even in our blessings after food all eight days. We are constantly challenged, each of us. If I could remember, with each challenge, that it is no less a Nes – miracle – that G-d is helping me overcome that minute, how much easier would it be to face the battles?

Shir Hamaalot, Tehillilm 131, says: “From the Depths I cried out to You.”

When Yosef was imprisoned in Egypt, he cried out to Hashem. His life had gone from uncomfortable- though he had his father’s love, he had jealousy from his brothers- to being thrown in a literal pit, his life in danger, to being sold into slavery and sent away from his family. Then, as a slave, just when things started to improve, he was tested, yet somehow, even though he passed the test, he still was thrown in jail. Of course he must have felt that he could not have gotten any lower—but then, all he could do was look up. Yosef had asked to be remembered by one of Pharaoh’s servants, temporarily forgetting Who is really in charge, showing a loss of faith at that time. Yosef knew there was a Plan being set into motion, but that didn’t mean it was easy for him to go through it, and when we are in the dark we sometimes get lost finding the light. But just because we can’t see the final outcome when we look at a work in progress, doesn’t mean that there is not some greater good being put into action.

When the nights are long during the winter, it feels dark and sometimes depressing. Yes, if we get up early, we may see the beautiful sunrise. But if we get up before the dawn, it is still only dark. However, if we look closely, even then we can see the sky begin to lighten, the long winter night coming to an end at last. And if we stay just a bit more, we are greeted with the painted sky and the glory of the new day. When I started writing this last week it was raining, and even now the sky is cloudy as the sun sets on this last day of Chanukah.

In Israel, we bless God for the rain, because we know it brings good things, even if we can’t see them now. One of my favorite NBN inspirational videos, made in 2008 at a time when settling into our chosen country was particularly difficult for me, is when they talk about the miracle of living in Israel. As I was looking for it to add to this post, I found out they had updated it- and all of the adorable kids who were part of it have grown and are still enjoying the miracle it is to live here. It reminds me that yes, when we see the sunrise it helps to brighten our day, but even when the day is cloudy and stormy, good things are yet to be, and, as they said in Les Miserables, rain will make the flowers grow.

All week, when we lit our candles by our back door, I looked through the glass to the other balconies and homes, saw all of the lights. My Chanukiah earrings got to travel again this year (although they got tangled in my mask sometimes), and it warmed my heart to see all the menorahs big and small decorating the country.

On the first night of Chanukah, we also say Shehechiyanu. After 6 years, I am still acutely aware of this prayer of thankfulness that we say with each new holiday. We thank G-d for bringing us through to this time. In her last summer, my mother ‘mistakenly’ started saying this every Friday night. She was not completely aware of everything, and her caretaker didn’t know any better, she just found the book for her one Friday night when my mom wanted to say the candle blessing. The book she found was the Rosh Hashanah Machzor, so my mom also said Shehechiyanu. When I arrived that summer and found out, I didn’t correct her. After all, it was truly a shehechiyanu for her, for every week she was able to light again; she did not get to say the bracha that Rosh Hashanah. The blessing reminds me to be thankful for every moment, for having gotten to this time, for being able to celebrate one more Chanukah in a dream made real, in a place where we can see miracles and messages if we only look.

Finally, at the NBN event, Amir Dadon sang a few beautiful, meaningful songs. One, appropriate to the holiday, was Or Gadol: A Big Light. The chorus is:

אור גדול מאיר הכול ויותר כבר לא צריך לשאול אני בא ללמוד ממה שטוב ולחיות להתחיל הכול מהתחלה כמו לנשום בפעם הראשונה אני כאן אני לא מתבזבז יותר

A big light illuminates everything, and we don’t need to ask more. I have come to learn from what is good and to live and to start again from the beginning like breathing for the first time   I am here, I will not waste any more

The second one that hit home was L’vchor Nachon: To Choose Correctly

“When will I learn to make the right choice To believe, to see that it is good Without looking back again Choose right”

May we all be blessed to see the light in the darkness, the daily miracles, and the petals of spring after the storm. And to choose right.

Wishing that all of you had a Chanukah Sameach.

[Not too late to enjoy some of my favorite NBN Chanukah videos over the years: Chanukah Flash Mob  and Eight Days]

About the Author
Mori Sokal is a FIFTEEN year veteran of Aliyah, mother of three wonderful children (with her wonderful husband) and is an English teacher in both elementary and high school in the Gush Etzion-Jerusalem area. She has a Masters’ degree in teaching, is a copy editor, and has published articles in Building Blocks, the Jewish Press magazine.
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