Letter from an immigrant

THERE ARE moments in life when people perceive Divine Providence, and this, for me, was one of them.

Sharon surveys territory (photo credit: Reuters)
Sharon surveys territory
(photo credit: Reuters)
To the family of prime minister Ariel Sharon, I am finally reaching out and putting down on paper what should have been a long time ago, and probably to the prime minister himself when he was still well, but perhaps this letter will have more meaning now than before.
I am writing to tell you that I have and will always feel tremendous gratitude to prime minister Ariel Sharon for my decision to make aliya to Israel in January 2002. You will read in a second why I feel that the prime minister was my personal messenger from God, and the final and convincing inspiration to uproot my family from America and move to help build this great country of ours.
Here is my story: My wife and I are both from the US and consider ourselves dati leumi, or national-religious. We lived in Teaneck, New Jersey after we were married. Life there was great. We had three boys, a house, great jobs, and all our friends and family were in the US. We both studied in Israel after Yeshiva High School, and although we loved Israel we never thought of ourselves as making aliya. It was mostly a hypothetical discussion of something we would do if everything fell into place.
At the same time the intifada in Israel was starting up again, and every time something happened, we felt guilty that we were living a comfortable life in New Jersey while our brothers were risking their lives for our collective homeland. But these feelings would then pass and life went on in the wonderful USA.
Around 2001, my job had me traveling to Moscow every other week from New York, integrating a company we had purchased there into the parent company. The work was definitely interesting but also taxing on the family, what with all the travel. I thought about looking into relocating to Israel and commuting from there to Moscow as the travel and jetlag were much easier to deal with, and even approached my company in April of that year with the idea. Of course, I knew it was a long shot, but I felt that after 120 years I would be able to stand in front of God and say “I tried.”
As expected, my company turned down my request, and I felt a feeling of mostly relief but also some disappointment.
A few months passed, and at the end of August, 2001 my company came back to me and said that as it saw this position extending long-term management had reconsidered and would now like me to move, if I was still interested. However, they needed an answer in the next 10 days, and we would have to move quickly thereafter.
Well, my wife and I were a bit taken aback – suddenly faced with one of the hardest decisions of our life. All our friends and the great majority of our family were in the US, and we were not sure we were ready to leave it all behind. We were having trouble making a decision. That week I was scheduled to be in Moscow and I told my wife that we would both think this over and decide when I returned.
I always left for my trips to Moscow on a Sunday afternoon, from JFK in New York, on the Delta airlines flight, and always prayed Mincha (afternoon prayers) at the airport right before boarding.
I can still remember my prayer that day, and how in the Amida (silent prayers), in the blessing of Shemah Kolenu, where one can insert a personal prayer, I stopped and added a small prayer that God help us make the right decision, and give us some insight regarding what we should do. I then boarded the plane and began a trip that would change our lives forever.
I LANDED on schedule in Moscow and, as usual, my driver picked me up and drove me to my hotel to check in and change. When I arrived at the hotel I immediately noticed that there was more security than usual, and that the group that was checking in with me were all speaking Hebrew. I asked one of them what was going on, and he explained that prime minister Ariel Sharon had just arrived in Moscow for a summit and that everyone was now checking in at my hotel.
I thought nothing of it, I just said to myself that it was a funny coincidence and that security at the hotel would be much better than usual.
After check-in, I got into my car and headed toward my office. While on the way I got a call from an American rabbi that I was working with on a charity project, who was also in Moscow. He said that Ariel Sharon would be speaking that night at the Chabad center in Marina Roscha and asked me if I would like to attend. I graciously accepted and he told me he would save me a seat.
When I arrived that evening, the street outside the center was filled with people and I thought there was no chance I was going to get in to hear the prime minister speak. I called my friend and he came out to get me and said he had a seat for me in the front row.
The event started with the prime minister and his entourage coming in and sitting on the dais. The prime minister was seated directly in front of me. After the playing of “Hatikva” everyone took their seats and the prime minister was introduced.
THERE ARE moments in life when people perceive Divine Providence, and this, for me, was one of them.
Prime minister Sharon got up to speak, and he said these exact words (of course in Hebrew): “I have come here today as the first stop on a mission to deliver a message to all Jews around the world. No matter if you are a Jew living in Moscow, Paris, London, New York, South Africa, Australia or anywhere in the world, the life you have today of freedom and prosperity could not exist without the existence of your homeland, Medinat Yisrael [the State of Israel].
“The fact that Medinat Yisrael exists and that we have an army of our own that will always protect every Jew anywhere in the world gives us the freedom and life we have today even outside of Israel. However, this status can and will only continue to exist if we as a nation continue to strengthen Medinat Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel].
“I am here to tell you that the best way to do this is to come to Israel and help us build our homeland. I am here to begin a worldwide campaign to get a million Jews to make aliya today.”
Talk about shock and awe. I mean, just 24 hours before, I had asked God for help with my decision about whether to make aliya or not. Now here I was, over 10,000 km away from home, in Moscow no less, by chance staying at the same hotel as the prime minister of Israel, attending a lecture given by the prime minister, who is standing four feet away saying that he came here tonight just to tell me to make aliya.
I had tears in my eyes as I called my wife on the phone and said: “You have to listen to this speech.”
Sharon spoke for about 10 minutes on this one subject, and at the end I told my wife, “We’re going.”
I mean, what were the chances of all these things coming together like this? I thought to myself, “Wow, I know I asked God for some help making the decision – but he really didn’t need to send me the prime minister.”
But the truth is maybe he did.
Four months later we made aliya, and never looked back.
I ALWAYS wanted to thank your father directly, but never had the opportunity before he fell ill. I know it is now too late to do this personally, but I wanted to thank you, his family, and let you know in this trying time that he had a huge impact on my life.
I want to express my sincere appreciation for everything he did for me and all Klal Yisrael [People of Israel]. I cannot imagine the ordeal your family has gone through for the past eight years. But please know that I will never forget the Arik Sharon who served our country with pride and lived for the betterment of the People of Israel, and shaped my life directly.
ה’ ישמרך מכל רע ישמור את נפשך ה’ ישמר צאתך ובואך מעתה ועד עולם “May God protect you from all harm and watch over your life May God protect your goings and comings, now and forever.”
Yours truly, Hillel Scheinfeld
This article first appeared on OU.org and is reprinted courtesy of the Orthodox Union.