What it really means to live in Israel

Ruminations about Thanksgiving, life and the Litman wedding, which brought the country together amid tragedy and terror.

The bride and her celebrants (photo credit: ESTHER SCHACHNE)
The bride and her celebrants
(photo credit: ESTHER SCHACHNE)
 Having recently retired, my husband and I have been fortunate to be able to spend a few months in Israel and experience life in Israel as we never were able to previously.
Thanksgiving in Jerusalem was very special; it was the first time in six years that we would share it with our daughter, who made aliya in 2009. We were grateful for that opportunity as well as the other blessings in our life.
It was an adventure to put together an American-style dinner replete with all the trimmings. We had to figure out where to find the necessary ingredients, especially the star of the show – the bird. We learned we had to order a week ahead, unlike in New York where you simply go into the store and buy it on the spot. No problem. The butcher, Muhammad, was efficient and called to tell us our turkey was ready a day before we were scheduled to pick it up.
Schlepping it back to our apartment without a car? No problem. They can deliver for a few extra shekels. Cranberry sauce? No problem, found just the right kind at the “super” (market). Pecan pie? No problem. My daughter knew where to find the corn syrup and other ingredients, and finessed an amazing pecan pie.
While all of the dishes were tasty, we noticed that the bird had an extra special taste, much fresher and juicier than the turkeys in the United States. My son remarked that it tasted “sweet.”
Indeed, our holiday celebration was “sweet,” but I had a plan to give this Thanksgiving a distinctly Israeli flavor as well; my husband and I were going to attend the Litman wedding at the Jerusalem International Convention Center that evening and really experience the deep meaning of being thankful.
Earlier in the week, I saw Sarah Techiya and Ariel’s invitation on Facebook asking everyone to come to their wedding, and decided that there was no way I was going to miss the chance to do my part to help this couple turn their sorrow into joy. I was ecstatic that we were lucky enough to be able to attend physically instead of just being there in spirit and wishing them well from afar.
The after-effects of preparing and eating the Thanksgiving meal set in and we were feeling drowsy, but the invigorating feeling of having the power to do something that makes a difference spurred us on. We had quite enough of those feelings of helplessness and despair that can overtake you in the face of daily terror attacks that have sadly become a fact of life.
Over these months my admiration for the Israeli people has increased when I saw how they rise to the challenge of dealing with shock, rage, fear and deep sorrow, yet strive to continue to live and fully enjoy and love life – despite, or maybe even because of, all the hardships.
When you witness groups of people spontaneously erupt into singing and dancing, expressing their love for Israel and determination to carry on, not just at the Western Wall but at the site of a recent terrorist attack, you realize our spirit as a nation cannot be extinguished.
When we heard of the ambush and murder of Yaakov and Netanel Litman (right before Shabbat, we were horrified and devastated.
The circumstances were so tragic: they were on the way to Ariel’s Shabbat Hatan a few days before the wedding. Everyone’s heart was broken. It felt like we had lost two precious members of our own family. It couldn’t get worse, nothing more could shock us, and then we heard the Red Crescent ambulance saw the victims who were injured and refused to stop.
Sarah Techiya and Ariel are rare individuals; they did such an altruistic act when they invited the entire nation to their simha. Not only did they find a way to rise above their almost unbearable sorrow and give comfort to themselves and others by having so many people come together to make their wedding joyous, they also helped to heal so many, giving us courage and strength by their example.
When we arrived at the hall at about 9:30, many people were congregating outside. We were struck by their diversity – people of all ages, walks of life and religious persuasions, all unified in purpose, to show support and solidarity with the couple and their family, and with each other. Many were dancing and singing and waving flags with impassioned spirit.
A young man smiled and pulled my husband into his circle to dance with the others. We joined the crowd near the doors and made our way to the entrance. While we were waiting in the swelling crush, we joined in the singing with great anticipation. It took about 45 minutes to get in, but we finally made it! I sent up a small prayer of gratitude to God as I made my way to the women’s section.
I felt like pinching myself that I was actually there. The outpouring of love in the huge room was palpable, and it flowed both ways. I held back tears as I got up close to the bride and beheld her beautiful face, which was glowing as she danced with so many of the women around her, one after the other, making her way from one corner of the huge hall to the other to embrace as many people as she could. She also ran outside to rejoice with the multitudes who were fervently dancing and singing.
I heard that Sarah Techiya’s mother was in a corner of the room, and with some trepidation and a lump in my throat, I joined the circle surrounding her. She was sitting next to her sister, holding a little girl. I felt such pity and admiration for her; I could not even begin to imagine what she was feeling as she graciously responded to the women’s good wishes. As I wished her mazal tov, I was struck by her humility when she thanked me for being there; I felt like I should be the one thanking her for allowing me the privilege to be a part of her family’s simha.
As we were leaving the hall after 11 p.m. to make room for others who still wanted to get in, the crowd outside was even bigger than before; many people were still arriving. The atmosphere was electric and triumphant. The terrorists had not achieved their desired outcome – to defeat us and kill our spirit.
Their actions had the opposite effect, to strengthen us and make us more determined than ever to carry on. This brought to mind the Prophet Micah’s words, which were on the wedding invitation, “Do not rejoice over me, my enemy, for I have fallen, but I have gotten up.”
I am always struck by the reaction of Israelis when they learn that we came here a few months ago. It goes something like this: “You came here now? Wow, you are so brave to do that!” My response: “No, you are wrong. You are the brave ones, not me, and I am very thankful to be among you through thick and thin, especially during the bad times when it’s not so easy.”
Among my fondest memories will always be paying a shiva call to an Ethiopian family who lost their son during the war last summer and going to this amazing wedding.
There are experiences in Israel not to be missed for the world.