The ups and downs of aliya

A YOUNG olah, newly arrived from France, waves an Israeli flag after disembarking from a plane upon arriving in Israel on a special flight organized by the Jewish Agency at Ben-Gurion Airport, last year. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
A YOUNG olah, newly arrived from France, waves an Israeli flag after disembarking from a plane upon arriving in Israel on a special flight organized by the Jewish Agency at Ben-Gurion Airport, last year.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
 This week, our family celebrated the 25th anniversary of our coming to Israel – our “aliya-versary,” as the kids call it. It has been, to say the least, an amazing adventure: fun, fearful, fulfilling, fortuitous, frustrating and fascinating, all at the same time. 
Susie likes to tell people that we have lived here “one year, 25 times,” which is an apt description of life in Israel, because it is never routine, repetitive or dull. No two days – let alone years – are ever alike here; each moment is filled with a sense of excitement and high energy because, as Forrest Gump famously said about the proverbial box of chocolates, “You never know what you’re gonna get!”
From the moment our plane touched down at Ben-Gurion, we knew this would be, well, challenging. While filling out the myriad forms for immigration, the clerk unabashedly informed me that I had been spelling my (Hebrew) last name incorrectly all these years, and that I had to change it officially right there and then. When I protested, “But I’ve always written it this way!” she looked me straight in the eye and icily proclaimed, “This is how we spell it here – now sign!” Fatigued from the long flight, overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the occasion, I meekly submitted to her authority, with an inner pledge that I would not be such a pushover in the future – in short, that I would become a real Israeli.
The Jewish Agency van that collected us at the airport and drove us to our new home – the absorption center in Ra’anana, where I would serve voluntarily as rabbi for the next decade – broke down halfway there, and we sat on a lawn in Petah Tikva in the sweltering summer heat. Luckily, two kind souls from our new town heard of our predicament and came to fetch us; it was the first of many untold kindnesses we have experienced on this journey. (I suspect the van may still be there on the side of the road!)
The following day we made our way to Jerusalem and the Kotel to give thanks to the Almighty for having brought us here. As we wound our way through the Old City – our children wide-eyed, as this was their first time in Israel – we saw IDF helicopters ominously circling overhead. There had been a stabbing at the Wall earlier in the day – shades of things to come, alas – and security was heavy. While waiting to enter, we ran into some friends who had made aliya some years earlier. They gave us our first piece of Holy Land wisdom: “When the going gets tough, and it will,” they said, “and you start to get discouraged, remember that just by being here you are fulfilling a mitzva equal to all the other mitzvot in the Torah combined!” 
That mantra has anchored us throughout all our years here and any of the downs and disappointments we may have encountered.
Another sage bit of advice was offered by a close friend who has had his own share of struggles since arriving. “There may be times,” he said, “when you get disillusioned. You may start to lose hope in your dream, and question why you uprooted yourself and your family from a safe and secure situation to come here, to uncharted territory that can rub hard against you. But then something will happen to remind you why you came; it will reinforce your faith that this is the best place, the only place for a Jew to be. That event, that moment, that feeling will see you through.”
How right he was. We certainly have ridden the Zionist roller-coaster and endured our share of challenges, not the least of which was losing our beloved eldest son in battle against terrorists. We lived through the disastrous Oslo agreements, the assassination of a prime minister, the helicopter disaster, the retreat from Gaza, and five – or was it six? – wars. But we’ve also seen amazing things that bring us indescribable pride: the swearing-in ceremonies for our children as they donned their IDF uniforms; the birth of grandchildren whose first words were in Hebrew; the emergence of Israel as a military and financial powerhouse that captivates the world’s attention. We have hiked the lush hills of the Golan, explored the stark desert of the Negev, snorkeled in Eilat’s blue waters and felt God’s spirit in each and every place.
The blessings are here for the taking, if you just reach out for them.
This past week – a traumatic one, to be sure – we watched in awe, with the rest of the country, when the Salomon family celebrated the brit of their newest family member. It was all there; the missing grandfather, aunt and uncle, brutally murdered days earlier by a Nazi-like Palestinian terrorist; the joy of yet another Jew joining our nation amongst song and sadness. It was a metaphor for all the mixed emotions this unique country contains.
Jewish tradition says that the Messiah will be born on Tisha Be’av, and will turn that mournful day into one of light and unending happiness. After 2,000 years, I think we’re ready.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana;