Migratory birds, the Jewish people in Israel: The long journey home

"The Jews? They have already returned home."

Migrating storks gather in Israel (photo credit: MICHAL GILADI)
Migrating storks gather in Israel
(photo credit: MICHAL GILADI)
 
Autumn winds began to blow, snow and frost stood in the doorway, and all the birds knew that it was time to go.
A young white stork prepared for her first journey to the warm continent of Africa. She was very afraid of the long journey.
“It’s more than eight thousand miles!” she heard her friends whispering to each other.
“You’ll have to stay focused all the way, and stick with the flock,” her mother told her. “We fly in a ‘V’ shape so that each bird cuts the air in favor of the bird behind it.”
“If you get lost,” her father added, “look at the skin color of the people near you. Their color changes according to their location and so you will find out where you are. Some people are dark-skinned, and some are light-skinned, none of them are black or white, but for some reason, that’s what they like to call themselves.“
“Does that mean you understand human language?” asked the little stork.
“Sure,” her father continued. “For many generations people around the world have been asking us for requests and wishes. There is one group who every year asks us to see how their homeland is doing, a homeland they left many years ago. Every time we pass over them, while they work in the fields, they look up at the sky and ask: ‘Shimla shimla agarachin Yerusalem dahna?’ which means ‘Stork, stork, is there peace in Jerusalem, our land?’”
The big day came, and the flock organized and ate well before the long journey. Early in the morning, just before sunrise, they set off and flew non-stop for an entire day.
“Yup, close to two hundred miles,” her mother concluded at the end of the day. “Not a bad start.”
The little stork was exhausted and confused. She had a hard time listening to her mother’s words, she just wanted to rest and sleep. At the top of a tall cypress tree she found a place to rest, away from the noise and commotion.
Day after day she did the same thing. She would find a tall cypress tree and lay at its top to gather strength for the next day’s migration. The little stork always got up with everyone early in the morning, just before sunrise.
One day the stork awoke with a big smile on her face and immense power in her wings.
“We are more than halfway to Africa,” she cried with joy. “We will soon reach the Land of Israel and that is the meeting point between Asia and Africa!”
Her smile slowly disappeared as she took in the awkward sight of the cypress and pine trees that surrounded her with a frightening silence.
“Hey, family, where are you?” she cried anxiously, but only heard the echo of her voice.
She looked around and found not a single stork. At first she thought that her family was waiting for her nearby, and probably just went to gather food or find water, but as time went on and the sun begin to set she understood that she was completely alone.
The stork could not move herself. She hugged the top of the tall tree tightly and hoped that someone would come looking for her and save her. Night fell, cold and strong winds rattled the forest and swayed the treetops, heavy rain was hitting the ground, and the stork closed her eyes. While they were closed, she pictured her pleasant and warm nest and wondered to herself, will I ever see it again? And what about my family, did they forget me? She had no answers and could not help from crying. She cried herself to sleep and fell into a deep sleep until the middle of the next day.
She awoke from the rays of sun that dazzled her eyes, and decided – “I must do something to help myself, but what?” She thought and thought until she remembered her father’s advice.
“Look at the color of the humans around me,” she memorized aloud. “If they are light-skinned, it’s a sign that I am still on the northern side of the world, and if they are dark-skinned, it’s a sign that I am already in the south of the world, in Africa.”
She closed her eyes and listened carefully... “Children playing!” she yelled, “I hear them, they are not far away,” and she spread her wings and left the cypress tree swinging behind. 
She flew according to the sounds, and suddenly a wide valley unfolded before her eyes: a valley full of streams, water lakes and high mountains towering around. She dropped to the voices and saw some older people sitting on a porch and young children playing tag, but when she looked closely, she was surprised to find that one of the children was dark-skinned and the other light-skinned. Now she was really confused, “Maybe all this is just a dream?” She slapped herself with her wing and pinched her cheek, but when she did not wake up, she realized that it was real.
Before she could hide, the children spotted her and looked at her in amazement from a few meters away. One of the dark-skinned children pointed at her and said to his friend, “Look, here is a stork. My father told me that when he lived in Ethiopia in Africa, he and his friends would look at the migratory storks and ask them how the Land of Israel is in Amharic: “Shimla, shimla, agarachin Yerusalem dahna?“ they would say, which means “Stork, stork, is there peace in Jerusalem, our land? “
Before the first one finished his words, his light-skinned friend burst out, “Wow, just last night my father read me a song written by Haim Nachman Bialik. He was a great poet who grew up in Russia and immigrated to Israel. His first poem was about a bird who returned from the migration to Africa. It was called “To the Bird”: 
Welcome back to my window, you lovely bird…
Sing and tell me, my dear bird,
About the far off and wondrous land,
Is in that warm and beautiful country,
Much suffering and unhappiness too?
The stork was happy to hear the little children talking about their fathers who had spoken to her fathers.  She realized that she was in the Land of Israel, the same land they had asked about all those years ago. While smiling and staring at the children she suddenly felt a wave of wind above her. She looked up at the sky and saw huge flocks of birds cutting through the air. She did not know where they were going, but they could probably help her, she thought to herself, so just before the children reached out to touch her, she lifted into the air and continued her journey.
“Excuse me, sir,” she asked the gray crane flying beside her. “Where are you headed?”
“We will soon stop at the Hula Reserve, where we will camp for the night. Some of us will continue from there to Africa and the rest will stay here until the end of winter.”
The stork joined them and saw more and more birds of all colors and sizes flying in the sky and landing in the reedbed. There were tiny songbirds, migrating at night alone, she was told, and there were large birds in large flocks migrating during the day. How will I find my flock among the hundreds of thousands of these birds?  She did not know but she began to ask if anyone had seen a flock of white storks. No one saw or heard of them, everyone was new here and had only arrived today.  Out of exhaustion she almost gave up, until she was approached by a small, gray sparrow, who said, “Hello, stork, I’m a sparrow and I’m a local here, I do not migrate, and indeed I saw a flock of white storks, they were here yesterday and early this morning continued on their way.”
“Where? Where did they go?” the stork said excitedly.
“The next station in the country where the birds stop during the migration period is the Bird Park in Jerusalem. After that, there is only one more station in the country, the Bird Park in Eilat, where the birds land and gather strength before crossing the Great Desert in order to reach Africa.”
“I must find them first; I just have to!”
“No problem, stork, I’ll help you,” replied the sparrow, “we will set off tomorrow, now you need to sleep and gather strength.”
“Thank you, sparrow”, said the stork.
“My friends call me Dror,” said the sparrow.
The stork tried to fall asleep, but could not, she folded her wings behind her head and looked up at the stars in the sky. “Hey, Dror, can I ask you a question?” the stork whispered.
“Anything, Stork,” Dror replied in his sleep.
“How long did these people wander before returning to their homeland?”
“You mean the Jews? Oh, for many years they migrated, almost two thousand years! until they managed to return to the Land of Israel. My grandfather told me, that a while ago Jews started returning here, and that about 70 years ago they managed to establish a state. then more Jews started coming back from all over the world.”
“Wow,” replied the stork, who for a moment forgot her own troubles.
“They returned from over 100 different countries!” added Dror.
“Do you think I’ll succeed too, Dror? Do you think I’ll be able to get home?”
“Yes, Stork. I think we will succeed together.”
The next morning the two got up and began their journey south. They flew over the blue waters of the Sea of Galilee, saw the Golan Heights on their left and the Galilee Mountains on their right, they continued over the Jordan Valley, and soared over the Gilboa and the Samaria Mountains. Towards evening they arrived at the Bird Park in Jerusalem. Dror asked some of his friends, who live in the Sacher Park area, if they had seen a group of white storks on their way to Africa. “Yes, absolutely, they were here this morning, you missed them by just a few hours.”
“Crow, crow!” There were cries of crows. Dror and the stork walked around and saw three crows rummaging through one of the garbage cans in the park.
“Hey stork, you can stay with us, if you want... crow crow,” cried the eldest of them.
“Yes,” added the other. “You know, forty percent of the migratory birds don’t make it through the journey at all, and in your case, little stork, it seems to me that the journey is over. Crow crow, crow crow! “ The three giggled and laughed.
“So, it’s good that we did not ask for your opinion,” Dror replied and turned to the stork, who by then had tears streaming down her face.
“I cannot go on any longer. We have no chance, we will never reach them before the Great Desert,” sobbed the little stork with her neck bent.
“You must believe Stork. Do not despair, not now. If there is one thing this place can teach you, it is faith. After all, your ancestors, who carried the requests of Ethiopian Jews to this place, ‘Yerusalem,’ could not imagine that one day Ethiopian Jews would indeed return, but here you see with your own eyes - they came back. Never stop believing.”
Dror managed to inspire new hope in the stork. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and felt a light breeze caress her face. “Yerusalem, Yerusalem,” she whispered to herself. “For many years the storks have faithfully conveyed to you the wishes of your people, now it is my turn to ask. Have you seen my family? Are they well? Will I ever see them again?” 
She felt her words carried in the wind and connect to the millions of wishes rising from the ends of the earth. Then she decided in her heart, without saying a word, that even if she could not find her family, she would never stop trying. They rose early the next morning and continued the journey. They saw the lowlands and the coastal plain to the west and the Judean Desert to the east, crossed the Hebron Mountains and crossed the vast Negev.
“How many different and varied colors there are in this country!” the stork said as they hovered over the Ramon Crater.
“Like its different colors, so are its people,” Dror added. “They are different and diverse and together create a spectacular picture.”
They continued through the Arava and finally reached the Bird Park in Eilat, just a few minutes before sunset. The stork saw in the distance the Great Desert and her heart ached. She knew that she would not be able to survive that journey alone. She thought of her family and home. They found water and food in the park trees. The stork did not speak that night as on previous evenings, she did not want to ruin the wonderful day they had spent together.
They got ready for bed and Dror asked the stork if she would like to see a special place. She nodded quietly, and they flew towards Tsfachot Mountain.
“This is the oldest mountain in the country,” said Dror, “and there is simply a wonderful view from here. You can see four different countries from one spot!”
“And in what direction would I continue from here?” asked the stork.
“South,” Dror said, pointing to the Sinai Desert.
The stork stared at the yellow desert and her eyes panicked. Then she looked up at the reddish sky. Suddenly she saw from a distance small dots on the horizon. The dots were far away and vague. She could not make out what it was, but the dots seemed to be approaching. “Do you see those dots, Dror?” asked the stork.
“Yes, they are arranged in a certain way, what’s that shape called?”
“V!”, the stork shouted excitedly, “they are formed in a V-shape, so that each bird helps to cut the air for its friend behind it.” 
Dror did not understand what the great excitement was about but continued to look quietly at the horizon. The points had grown, and it was now clear that they were birds. They grew a little more and it was clear that they were storks, and then they grew a little more, and the stork’s heart almost exploded with joy when she saw her flock of white storks approaching quickly.
“Little Stork!” her mother cried, and hugged her tighter than she could ever remember. “We have been looking for you for three whole days! When we found out you were missing, we went back to the last place we stayed and looked for you, but when we didn’t find you, we thought you might have continued alone. We were waiting for you here in Eilat, at the last station in the Land of Israel, and we did not know where else you could be. This morning the flock decided that we must move on. We flew about half a day into the desert, but something inside me knew that you were here, and I felt as if the land was calling me back to find you. I don’t know how to explain it, but I just knew. We all turned around and flew at a tremendous speed to get here before night fall.”
The stork just listened, hugged her mother back and whispered to herself “Thank you, Yerusalem.”
The stork looked at Dror and didn’t know what to say or how to thank him for his help. She had been all alone and he had been such a good friend to her.
“Dror, maybe we’ll meet again next year, what do you think?” the stork asked shyly.
“We’ll probably meet, Stork,” Dror replied with a smile. “Next year, when people are sitting on the porch and kids on vacation are playing tag, we’ll meet again on your big journey to Africa.”
“Thank you, Dror,” said the stork.  She hugged him and waved goodbye.
The little stork joined the flock and together they crossed the Sinai Desert and then the Sahara Desert and finally reached their destination in warm Africa. They stayed there during the winter and enjoyed the pleasant weather. 
On their way back home, in early spring, as they passed over the Ethiopian skies, the stork asked her mother, “Mom, where are the Jews who ask us to check the peace of Yerusalem, their land?” Her mother replied, “The Jews? They have already returned home.”■
The writer is a teacher and educator in a school in Ra’anana and a certified tour guide.