Making late Aliyah: Like being late to Thanksgiving dinner - opinion

As we approach the first anniversary of our family’s aliyah, this is how I feel moving to Israel this late in the game.

 NORTH AMERICAN new immigrants arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport and are welcomed by soldiers, 2018 (photo credit: YEHUDA HAIM/FLASH90)
NORTH AMERICAN new immigrants arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport and are welcomed by soldiers, 2018
(photo credit: YEHUDA HAIM/FLASH90)

Have you ever shown up three hours late to your family Thanksgiving dinner with a little box of candy? Your aunt has been slaving away in the kitchen for days. The food has been eaten and cleared. Your uncle is removing his apron, the dishes are done and dessert is being served.

Nobody wants to be that guy. If you’ve been there, you know how it feels.

At first, you are beyond embarrassed and even ashamed of your lack of consideration. Your hosts have been laboring for days to create this beautiful evening. The guests have reciprocated with their joyful presence and participation.

“What an ingrate I am! How could I have been so inconsiderate and self-focused?” you wonder as your uncle hands you a plate of pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream.

But then you look around and it strikes you how many of your family members and close family friends aren’t present. So many others were invited and sadly weren’t able to attend. Each one felt terrible but had impediments that were beyond their control. Your sister had a job interview the day before in Florida and couldn’t catch a flight back in time. Two of your cousins had finals and couldn’t find the time to fly back from school. Your aunt and uncle were attending their granddaughter’s graduation from law school.

 Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata greets Ukrainian immigrants at Ben-Gurion Airport. Since the start of the Ukraine war, 20,000 new immigrants have arrived in Israel. (credit: NOGA MALSA) Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata greets Ukrainian immigrants at Ben-Gurion Airport. Since the start of the Ukraine war, 20,000 new immigrants have arrived in Israel. (credit: NOGA MALSA)

Each one had reasons beyond their control, but still the room felt sparse and the atmosphere low-spirited.

Now, you turn to your wife, who is still hiding in the kitchen, mortified for showing up practically empty handed as dessert is being dished out, and you say the comforting words, “hey, at least we were able to make it for the end of the party.”

As we approach the first anniversary of our family’s aliyah, this is how I feel moving to Israel this late in the game.

So much of the heavy lifting has already been done. Generations that proceeded us sacrificed beyond comprehension to build this country. Draining swamps, building cities, cultivating the land.

Many of them even did the unimaginable and made aliyah before Ikea showed up.

A few weeks ago, we were invited to share a Shabbat meal with a couple that made aliyah from New York 50 years ago! We listened with awe to their stories of the difficulties of immigrating here in the early ‘70s. Our Jerusalem neighborhood is filled with people admirably referred to as the vatikim, old-timers. These are families actually suffered and made inconceivable sacrifices to be here and to build this country.

They did all the heavy lifting and we showed up as the pie is being served. And, we even have the chutzpah to wonder why there isn’t a little more whipped cream.

But, then I think about all our friends and family who yearn to return home and to play on the infield for the final innings of Jewish history, but for reasons often beyond their control, are forced to remain watching from the bleachers for the time being.

Suddenly I feel a little better. Yes, we are late in the game and so much of the work has been done for us. We are arriving to the party as dessert is being served.

But, we are here.

And it wasn’t easy to get here.

And, we aren’t coming empty handed. We will do our part here and make our impact and we feel incredibly blessed to be able to do it.

The writer is the founder of L’Chaim Center in Deerfield, Illinois, and served as their spiritual leader for 20 years. Last summer he made aliyah with his family and launched his new project, Israel Take 3, a podcast that tells the epic story of Jewish return.