Upon hearing that her 95-year-old great-grandfather was released from the hospital, my nine-year-old daughter looked at me with glistening eyes. “Mommy, every day for Saba Raba is a gift, right?” A tear ran down her face, and I don’t think she knew if it was a tear of relief that he is now okay, or of continued worry.
Staring at my angel who was trying to make sense of this unpredictable world, I sat down and pulled her into my lap. “Baby, for all of us every day is a gift,” I said.
As we sat silently hugging, thoughts of fouryear- old Adele Bitton, Dafna Meir, the Henkin orphans and the other recent victims of terrorism went through my head. For months, on a daily basis, I have been reading terrorism victims’ stories, seeing their pictures, and visiting with them as part of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews Victims of Terror project, where IFCJ volunteers and staff bring the family of every victim a check for $1,000 within hours of the attack, so that financial burden is the last thing they need to worry about. Seeing these heroes up close brings home the reality of the ongoing terrorism and uncertainty in Israel. It has awakened me to live in the moment and be appreciative of the simple blessings in life that I so often take for granted. Because nothing is a given.
My daughter, deep in thought, looked at me, and it was as if she read my mind. “Especially living in Israel, we realize what a gift each day is,” she said, with a hint of fear and sadness in her sweet voice.
And that’s when it hit me. That’s when I realized that my decision to make aliya before she was born was based on the understanding that no matter where I would be in the world, if I wasn’t in Israel, I wasn’t home. And that no matter what happens in Israel, no matter how scary things might look, there is nowhere else I belong.
My Israeli-born nine-year-old, who has heard about war and conflict on the news from the time she was a baby, is madly in love with this land in the same way as I am. She has been raised with Zionist values and acquired a spiritual connection to our homeland. Yet in her eyes I still saw confusion about why we don’t live somewhere “safe” like America, as do so many of our family members – people who simply love Israel from afar.
And then, I brewed some hot cocoa, took out the family picture album, and began to tell my daughter the story of her Saba Raba, which for me in many ways encompasses the entire story of Israel.
“Saba Raba was born in Jerusalem, just like the eight generations that preceded him. We have Israel running through our blood. Every footstep you take, not only did our biblical forefathers walk, but our more recent ancestors. From those who established the first kosher winery in Jerusalem, to heroes in the 1967 war – those were your family members,” I said.
“Even after my grandfather Shimon Eckstein moved to America and became a prominent rabbi, he kept the values and spirit of Israel alive and spread them everywhere he went. Some of my earliest memories of my Saba are of him stopping at the toll booth and lovingly asking the attendant about her day. He would pass out homemade “hug coupons” to everyone he met, chat with the grocery store clerk for what felt like hours, and left every person – Jew or non-Jew – with a Torah thought and smile. Each month he and Savta (grandmother) would produce a family newsletter with updates on all four of their children, their spouses, and their 14 grandchild, instilling family values and bringing us together.
Old Jewish family melodies were constantly being sung, and the big knitted “Israel style” kippa never left his head.
“Saba Raba had a mission to bring a taste of Israel to America,” I told my daughter, “but he never thought that it was home. That’s why at age 91 Saba and Savta Raba made aliya.”
Although only nine years old, my daughter understood completely. And I felt fulfilled, because the best gift you can give your child is a sense of meaning and belonging in the world.
Each time I think that life in Israel is difficult, I think back to what my ancestors endured in order to continue the Jewish presence in our ancestral homeland. My family lived through famines, drought, massacres, disease and terrorism.
They lived under foreign rule with few rights and even less respect. Yet they lived fulfilling, happy, faithful lives that they wouldn’t trade for the world – because they lived their lives with meaning in Israel.
Indeed, it’s horrible that Israel’s neighbors want to destroy us and there are terrorist attacks almost every day. Yet, in perspective, the Jewish people is in a better place than we’ve been for 2,000 years. We have an army. We have a government.
We are able to stand up for and protect ourselves.
This is the dream of my forefathers and the reason they endured all of the hardships of living in pre-1948 Israel; they had faith that things would get better and Israel would once again be the sovereign Jewish homeland.
I told my daughter I remind myself of the teachings of my grandparents each day. “For all of us, every second is a gift,” they said. “Don’t waste it on worry, but cherish it in joy.”The writer is senior vice president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.