He was my age

You need to know where you came from to know where you’re going - and after moving to Israel on my own, I honestly felt lost. I’d been to Israel countless times before, but doing it on my own brought on an entire new meaning. I was constantly challenged, yet with every stumble, my endless love grew deeper and I knew that my history brought me to where I was.
I'm the same age now that my grandpa was when the Holocaust ended, after he was torn apart from everyone and everything he once loved and knew. He learned what freedom felt like again as he lived the words, "gratitude" and "resentment" in the same breath. I don't know how he laughed in a world where no one knew of his childhood nickname, the parents who raised him, his sister who was his best friend, or his brother who teased him. The same brother who escaped from Poland and whose letters stopped and was never heard from again. The same brother who my grandpa spent his entire lifetime searching for. He was my age.
My grandpa was completely alone in the world, trying to forget the past, but still holding onto memories with the fear of actually letting them go. He managed to love again and took risks when building a family and a business in a strange country with the Lady of Liberty who promised freedom. He always saw the goodness in life, despite the nightmares that haunted him in the darkness. His bright blue eyes told of everything they'd seen without ever actually saying it out loud. He was so strong and he was my age.
Although he knew that everyone in his family was murdered, he never stopped to search for them. He wrote hundreds of letters, made phone calls and spoke on radio stations, but was always met with silence. Twenty years after the Holocaust ended, he received a letter stating that his first cousin was alive and living in Israel! I imagine my grandpa stared at the inky handwriting, unable to move until he realized his face was hurting because of a smile that painted itself there. The two of them were raised as brothers and grew up in the same home before the war started, and spent their lives trying to find one another. Suddenly their worlds expanded and my grandpa took his first trip to Israel.
They hugged tightly in the Israeli airport, sobbing, never wanting to forget the sensation of reuniting in the holy land after experiencing a life filled with just about everything. Twenty-three of my dearest Israeli cousins came from that hug, while six million souls watched in awe. Thus, my love of Israel began.
It may be strange to say, but I feel my grandpa around me the most when I'm in Israel. I get little signs from him unexpectedly. I feel him in the family gatherings during holidays and celebrations, like when his first cousin recently turned to me on his 90th birthday and said with a smile, "I wish your grandpa was here right now."
I feel him in my experiences with love, heartbreak, success and failure. My heart beats because of every breath he took when the world struggled to shut him out.
At 95-years-old, when my grandpa was ready to leave this world, he left behind two children and six granddaughters, ready to take on the world in the wake of his footsteps. "You come from a family of survivors," my cousin recently said to me. I know this is true, and I feel it in Israel especially.
You need to remember those who came before you and the paths they paved to get you to where you are today. After all, you’re paving the path for those who will come after you - searching for answers to their own journeys. I choose the one less traveled.