The holiday of Shavuot will mark sixteen years since I made aliyah with my family. I was only a few months shy of my 40th birthday in 1995 when we landed in Ben Gurion Airport, greeted by vanloads of previously unknown (to me) family members who could not speak my only language and did not know about Dunkin’ Donuts, the Louisiana Purchase, the last day any woman-of-breeding can wear white shoes and the secret of Dick Clark’s eternally youthful face. Walking from the tarmac to the bus was made even more difficult, because five of my six children were clinging to the hem of my too-long skirt; I carried the baby in a front-carrying Snugli.
When asked by visiting friends and relatives to explain why I chose to move to such a “problematic neighborhood” as the Middle East, it has taken me a long time to learn how to answer in a manner that neither chastises nor patronizes but honestly reflects the ease in which I decided this momentous life-move: My father, of blessed memory, made certain that his children understood their history and, in thus imbuing our heritage, instilled in us a sense of community responsibility and ethnic pride. The land of Israel and Jewish-peoplehood sat front and center in my childhood home, and moving here when given the chance proved to be a moral no-brainer.
Both personally and globally, a lot has changed in the last decade and a half, and I’ve often thought about the phrase, “If only I had known . . . . “ Known what? Then what? What gall does it take for one to think that he is “master” of his respective fate? Who among us thinks that he can manipulate his actions in order to guarantee results? I’ve met plumbers with law degrees and physicians who today sell gemstones. We make decisions based on what we know at a particular time, and it is only natural to build upon foundations that already exist. But where is it written that we must stay there?
Case in point: In the raising of my own children, the schools I chose were consistent with my Orthodox outlook and lifestyle. As mistress of the house, everything I brought into our home was carefully considered, including the food, the books, the clothing and the friends. Nothing was “slapdash” in the nurturing of my family; the hugest mistake we made, however, was assuming that life was completely ours to carve into an edifice that would remain “permanent.” It never dawned on me that I might not stay married to the same man forever; that some of my children might not remain religiously observant; that a few of them might leave Israel; that I might have to find a career at an age that others are beginning retirement planning. My wildest fantasies included none of the above.
Last month I got married. Falling in love and wedding my life to that of my new husband’s was staggeringly effortless. But it would not have happened – could not have happened – had I not figuratively supplicated myself and asked, finally, that God “remember me.” Once I stopped “knowing so much,” I was able to implore Him to “know better” for me and help guide my stumbling self along the path that He has lain before me. For the first time in “forever,” I didn’t hand Him my “Bracha Shopping List,” but, rather, asked that I be rewarded despite my weaknesses, my stubbornness, my smugness and my sins. Employing a bit of my infamous nerve, I requested that He should grant me a teaspoon of humility and an ounce of merit, so that He could – perhaps against some Holy better judgment – grant me a wonderful mate with whom I can do the repair work. Together. Israel taught me how to pray. Before I moved here, I went through the motions. But prayer here just feels meatier.
To paraphrase Bette Davis, “Life in Israel isn’t for sissies.” It is, however, a dream land for those who want to laugh hard, eat well, mourn with one another as only those in a loving family are apt to mourn, fight with one another as only those in a brawling family are likely to fight, bemoan, bewilder but, mostly, “become.”
Although we are almost six thousand years old, we are only 63 in our modern incarnation, thus making Israel one of the youngest kids on the block. The rest of the world is taking notice, however, that we boast an obscene number of emerging start-up companies, trendy coffee shops, and are morphing into a hub of international music, fashion and cinema. Clearly this is not a country for alte kakes who are too set in their ways and unable to bend, flow and grow. Stagnancy is not an Israeli trait, and this is why all of the rules that I once swore by have become as obsolete as my father’s 1957 Studebaker.
Still deeply religious, I’ve come to understand that in each life there are “watershed” moments that, if nurtured, can define attitudes and outcomes for the future. For this writer, there have been more than I can count; two steps to the left or one to the right can result in an acute life swerve.
The Shavuot calendar says that it is time, again, to receive the Torah and in doing so, we renew our vows with the Lord above. We are irascible but worthy. We are fractious but blessed.
We are Israelis.