COVID, chaos and coming home

Yom Ha’aliyah isa day to express our admiration to all those who chose to come from far and wide to make Israel their home.

A NEW ‘oleh’ kisses the ground upon arriving in Ben-Gurion Airport on a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight, August 2019. (photo credit: FLASH90)
A NEW ‘oleh’ kisses the ground upon arriving in Ben-Gurion Airport on a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight, August 2019.
(photo credit: FLASH90)
What is the ideal path upon which a person should tread? Said Rabbi Shimon: The one that envisions that which is yet to be.
(Ethics of the Fathers 2:13)
One of the innumerable rewards of regaining our own country has been the privilege to inaugurate – or reinvigorate – special days on our national calendar: Israel’s birthday, Independence Day; Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars, when we pay tribute to all those whose sacrifice made our statehood possible; Holocaust Remembrance Day; Jerusalem Day, marking the reunification of our capital. We have also pumped new blood into Tu Bishvat – finally seeing up close and personal the miraculous sprouting of the Land of Israel – and expanded our commemoration of the Temples’ destruction on Tisha Be’av, when thousands gather at the liberated Western Wall as well as in the nation’s synagogues.
And then there is the recent institution of Yom Ha’aliyah, a day to express our admiration to all those who chose to come from far and wide to make Israel their home, even as we olim ourselves acknowledge our good fortune in returning to our homeland.
Yom Ha’aliyah actually revolves around two dates. The first is the 10th of Nisan, our very first aliyah, when historically we crossed the Jordan into Israel after being liberated from Egypt. The second is the 7th of Heshvan, the date when Israel prays for rain – a primary source of blessing – which coincides with the reading of parashat Lech-Lecha, which begins with the directive to make aliyah: And the Lord said to Abram, “Lech-lecha, you go forth from your land, from your birthplace and from your family’s home to the land that I will show you.”
GREAT NATIONS are carried upon the shoulders of immigrants, who arrive with a unique zeal and fierce determination to build new lives and realize long-standing dreams. Olim to Israel have an added mission: to reclaim that which once was theirs and bring to life the ancient promise of our prophets. Like converts to Judaism, we are “born again” when we step foot into this country. We pack hope and enthusiasm and idealism into our suitcases as we depart for Israel, and we are determined to make our own unique contribution to this miraculous “old-new” land.
Every oleh has a fascinating story of how he came to be here. My own personal journey begins with my maternal grandfather, Jacob Schrift (schrift, meaning “scribe” or “writer”). He lived in Shevrushin, Russia, and recognized the handwriting on the wall when World War I broke out. He knew it would be a perilous time, especially for Jews, and so he left for America before he could be forcibly drafted into the Russian Army.
In the apocryphal story told about many Jewish immigrants, he bought an empty toolbox and went to a construction site where he feigned expertise, instead getting on-the-job training as he eked out a living. It would be several years before he could send for his young wife to join him in Chicago, where he ultimately started his own construction company.
Had Zaydie stayed in Russia, he might not have survived the war, and may very well not have had observant grandchildren. Instead, I was blessed to grow up in my grandparents’ home, where I inherited their love of Judaism and Israel, which – along with membership in Bnei Akiva and prodding by the good wife – fueled my own decision to leave home and come on aliyah.
This world is a chaotic place, often in turmoil; cataclysmic events – like corona – come upon us seemingly out of nowhere, at breakneck speed, and we have to steel ourselves to cope with unforeseen challenges.
As I write this article, the US elections have not yet taken place, and even now, as you read this, the results may still not be conclusive. But whatever does happen, every American – and Diaspora – Jew must make a serious attempt to gaze into the future and consider: Where do you ultimately want to be, and where do you want your future generations to be?
HAVING LOST a son in battle against Hamas, Susie and I are often asked, “If you knew then what you know now, would you still have come on aliyah?” The only way I can answer that question is with a story that I often tell.
Shortly after our shiva concluded, there was a knock at our door. There stood a woman, sobbing, shaking, staring sadly at the ground. We ushered her in and sat her down, trying our best to console her. After quite some time, she composed herself and told us the following story: “I am Israeli-born,” she said, “as is my husband. We have one son, and when he reached the age of 16, we were overcome with worry and trepidation at the thought of him entering the IDF and putting his life in danger. And so we decided to move to California and start a new life there. But as our son approached the age of 18, and his Israeli friends began writing him about the various units they would soon be entering, he pleaded with us on an almost daily basis to return to Israel and enter the army as a lone soldier.
“We were determined he not go, but how could we possibly calm him down and appease him? So we did what good California couples do: we bought him a sports car.”
At this point, the woman placed her head in her hands and once again began to sob uncontrollably. Susie held her close until she finally raised her head and went on.
“Six months later, our son was killed in a car accident while driving that sports car. I came here today to tell you that if it was to be my son’s fate to die at a young age, he should have died as your son did, for a noble cause – defending our country and protecting our people – and not as just one more senseless statistic.” And with that, the woman – whose name we do not know, whom we never saw either before or after that day – bowed her head once more and left.
Along with the social and economic considerations of making changes in life, one must also have faith; faith that we are doing the right thing and that, in the ultimate scheme of history, our decision will have been a wise one.
In commenting on the unusual phrase “Lech-lecha,” Rashi says: “Go for you; you are doing this for your own good and for your own benefit.”
Israel is no “silver platter,” to be sure; but it can be a Jerusalem of Gold if you work hard to make it so.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana.
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