I began my Aliyah Journey when I was just a young girl in elementary school or perhaps junior high school. I journeyed to Israel for the very first time on a family trip in the summer of ’76 when I was almost 13 years old. My sister was in Israel for six months on Tochnit Yud Gimmel, a kibbutz program where she learned, worked and lived on Kibbutz Shluchot and so my parents decided that it would be wonderful to have a summer vacation all together in Israel. I don’t think I had ever been more excited: going to Israel for the first time and getting to see my sister who I missed so much, (though I did enjoy having my own room while she was away). Our trip began on a fateful evening, the evening of the Entebbe raid. We were flying that evening and my parents had heard of the hijacking, but my father didn’t tell me for fear I would be afraid to board the plane. We arrived on July 3 1976 and the day after we found ourselves in Liberty Park for a a celebration of America’s Bicentennial. There were barbecues, music, and people generally having a good time. All of a sudden, overhead, we heard the roar of planes and as I looked skyward, I saw these air force jets skywriting ‘Kol Hacavod LaTzahal’. ‘What does that mean Daddy?’ I asked my father. ‘Why are they writing that’? (You see at that point in my life, I hadn’t heard of Tzahal, or at least not that Hebrew vernacular. Oh, how times have changed. The phrase literally means, complete, total respect and honor to the army). To which he responded and told me of the story of the hijacking and Israel’s daring, brave and fantastically miraculous rescue of nearly all the hijacked passengers, the elimination of all the hijackers, and with loss of one Chayal (soldier), Yoni Netanyahu, the commander of the operation. I was mesmerized. We were then invited (by an acquaintance of my father’s, if I recall correctly, whom he had met at the park) to sit in on the live Knesset (parliament) session in which the members were speaking of this amazing military feat and rescue. Amazing is really the only word to describe it, for we were actually listening to a live parliamentary session. I didn’t understand very much, but to be there, at that time, with my parents, siblings and cousin, sharing in this wonderous event in Israel’s history, on Americas birthday, well, it was simply amazing. I was hooked! I will never forget the image in the sky over Jerusalem: Kol Hacavod L’Tzahal. I was really hooked on Israel. And so began my lifelong infatuation and love affair with the country of Israel and it’s people. I was ‘going the distance.’
I returned from that trip determined that one day I would live in Israel. I think I shared my feelings at the time with my dad but I was only 13, what did I know? Over the course of the next few years, I would continue learn about Israel, its history, people, its often changing geography and politics. As I matured and advanced through high school, I learned to appreciate even more the importance of our national homeland. I loved studying the map of Israel in school..it was often a substituted subject in school when a teacher any teacher, was absent. Ok, I’m sounding a little nerdy here. Yes, I was still a semi normal religious teenager… I liked boys, liked to go out with friends to movies, bowling, etc. I was ok with school. And, I was in love with all things Israel. I went off to spend a year studying in Israel after graduating from high school in 1980 and though the school didn’t share my philosophy of Zionism per se, and my level of religiosity, per se, I nevertheless learned a great deal, was even brainwashed a little (I’ve since overcome that) and during that year, my conviction that I would definitely one day live in Israel was solidified. I felt it is where I’m meant to be. Israel was where I wanted to raise my children, where I wanted to go to school, work, and where I wanted to be. I didn’t want to go back home to West Hempstead. I wanted a shana bet. (Sound familiar anyone?) Mom and Dad were having none of that. Education was paramount in my home and off to college I went in NY. No shana bet in Israel. I resented the decision a little (ok, a lot), but Kibud Av V’em (respecting one’s parents) was paramount in my beliefs (plus, they held the purse strings) 🙂 and so off to Stern College I went and subsequently, off to Adelphi University School of Nursing. My desire to live in Israel then was still as real and burning as it ever was. In fact, I wouldn’t date a guy who didn’t share my Zionistic views and dreams of living in Israel.
Ironically, as we were travelling to Israel in 1976, Meyer and his family were travelling back from Israel after having lived there for five years. We were ‘two ships that passed in the night’. It would be six years later that we would meet and of course, on our first date, we learned of each other’s yearning desires to return to Israel to live. But we both had to finish our educations and after marriage, we decided to stay and work a little to make some money, to have some financial stability. So we stayed in NY for a while. And stayed. And stayed. And stayed. But our dream of aliyah was always at the forefront of our thoughts and we knew we would at some point realize our dream. But life happened. Actualizing our dream was delayed. In the interim, two of my grandparents passed on, we lost uncles and aunts, and I suffered the loss of the most wonderful human being ever to live, my dad, who always fostered my dreams of aliyah, who together with my mom, supported and encouraged me to be all that I could be and who was a great father-in law to Meyer. Those were the sad times. Of course, the wonderful occasions included the birth of our three children and thank God, we have been privileged to raise a beautiful family in NY and cultivate a love of Israel in each one of them. We loved our life in West Hempstead and though we yearned for Israel each day and knew it was where we were meant to be, because of various reasons, we were not able to come on aliyah as soon as we’d anticipated. So West Hempstead was where we chose to be for all those years in lieu of living in Israel. We cultivated amazing friendships and relationships along the way that endure to this day.
Obviously, our move to Israel didn’t happen as soon as we wanted. But August 18, 2009 was finally our day and we departed with sad goodbyes, hugs, and anguished cries. We were happy, yes, but sad leaving family and friends behind. It was hard. Harder yet sitting on the plane, waiting to depart, reading letters from Michal, my mom, friends. I wanted at that time to get off the plane!! We arrived the next day August 19, 2009 to a Nefesh B’Nefesh celebration: to a hero’s welcome. Crowds cheered, family hugged and embraced, kissed and cried with us, mostly in disbelief that we actually made it! We had to pinch ourselves. And so our lives in Israel began.
The year has been interesting. We’ve experienced many of those ‘only in Israel’ moments: Greetings of shabbat shalom from bus drivers, store owners, and everyone; We’ve met the challenges head on. We’ve experienced the frustrations that go with living here, like banks, stores and clinics closing midday for…what exactly? The insanity of the supermarket lines..what is with customers leaving their wagons at the checkout counter only to continue shopping. God forbid you move the wagon out-of-the-way!! Watch Israeli attitude at its best!! The excitement of looking out our living room window and seeing the Judean Hills…daily. Seeing Har Habayit every morning on the way to work is uniquely Israel. Yom Yerushalayim, Yom HaAtzmaut, Yom Hazikaron, and more. And of course, Ulpan. I can’t say enough about the Ulpan I attended. In addition to learning to speak a more grammatically correct and fluent Hebrew, I studied literature, attended lectures and museum visits, all conducted in Hebrew. We learned about Israeli culture and shared our own unique experiences of living here, our difficulties and challenges and successes. We are more keenly aware of the challenges Israel faces in the world. We feel it more here. Every mother cries here upon hearing of loss of life due to terrorism or if we hear of a soldier being hurt or God forbid, killed. We’ve lived through a freeze in building in Judea and Samaria. We’ve gone on great tiyulim, shared Yom Tov with Michal and Chezky, our nephews, and kids of our friends studying here. In one year, we’ve experienced a range of emotions from the ecstasy of realizing our dream, to the complete and utter frustration of dealing with the health system and educational system here. We’ve learned what it means to be the parent of an Israeli soldier. We’ve experienced the joy of life here countered sometimes by the loneliness we occasionally feel. In one year we’ve moved apartments, and are moving again. In one year, on our anniversary date, I’ve undergone gallbladder surgery. Oh, I’ve wanted many times to jump on a plane and head back to West Hempstead, to familiarity, to my comfort zone, this week in particular. I did not want to undergo surgery here. Israel is renowned for its medical care and scientific research, but the facilities ie beds, and comforts are antiquated here. All budgetary issues, so they told me. I guess it makes sense. Israel spends more on defending its citizens than on most everything else. Fair enough. This is the Mideast. Difficult territory.
But this is Israel. This is home. I’ve gone the distance.
Please listen below to a song sung by Michael Bolton and read the lyrics (written by Alan Menkin. This song speaks to how I feel about the journey I’ve undertaken. Click on the Purple link below.
I have often dreamed, of a far off place
Where a hero’s welcome, would be waiting for me
Where the crowds will cheer, when they see my face
And a voice keeps saying, this is where I’m meant to be
I’ll be there someday, I can go the distance
I will find my way, if I can be strong
I know ev’ry mile, will be worth my while
When I go the distance, I’ll be right where I belong
Down an unknown road, to embrace my fate
Though that road may wander, it will lead me to you
And a thousand years, would be worth the wait
It might take a lifetime, but somehow I’ll see it through
And I won’t look back, I can go the distance
And I’ll stay on track, no, I won’t accept defeat
It’s an uphill slope, but I won’t lose hope
Till I go the distance, and my journey is complete
But to look beyond the glory is the hardest part
For a hero’s strength is measured by his heart
Like a shooting star, I will go the distance
I will search the world, I will face its’ harms
I don’t care how far, I can go the distance
Till I find my hero’s welcome, waiting in your arms
I will search the world, I will face it’s harms
Till I find my hero’s welcome, waiting in your armsGo The Distance by Michael Bolton