It is just 3% of my total time alive. You would think that the two years since I made aliyah would be insignificant compared to the experiences of the full sixty-six years that I had lived previously. This is where the quantity versus quality quandary comes into play. A life filled with joys and crises, loves found and lost, and with births and deaths, as are all lives, might feel crowded, with little room for change or renewal. It might feel full, as if the quantity of experiences might make new ones have less meaning. But age is not a barrier to change or renewal. In fact, for me, it was the driving force to come to the place that filled my dreams.
The quality of my life needed renewal and more joyful experiences. When I got on that plane, much delayed by an EL AL pilot walkout, on the day of the Har Nof terrorist attack, I had no doubts. Fears, yes, but doubts had left me the previous winter when I had spent part of the rainy season in Jerusalem exploring what would be my new hometown, as well as exploring my inner strength, seeking hints of what yearnings could be fulfilled by coming home.
And yes, this is home. I was born in Rhode Island, lived in New York City, and lived on Cape Cod in Massachusetts for twenty-eight years. America gave my grandparents sanctuary and both of my parents were born in New England. My only immediate family is my brother, who is a New Yorker through and through after living there for most of his life. But this nation, this place from which all Jewish life originated, is home. And yes, I am still also an American citizen; like many dual Israeli-American citizens, I find my inner self being more Israeli and less American as time goes on. When I think home, I think Israel, not the United States. When I think national anthem, it is always Hatikvah. As a child, I would sing it in a wavering voice at Hebrew school or summer camp. I would hear it and be moved to tears. Once at an Israel Day parade in New York City, I did cry. The first time I sang it here as an Israeli citizen, I also cried.
My baal teshuva life has pulled me to deeper understanding of Torah and the joy of living a fully Jewish life. Could I have done this in America? Many do, but my inability to be able to be tough enough to apply it to my every day life held me back. I blame myself. I was lazy and this life requires not just learning or just being shomer Shabbat, but an every day commitment to live as a Jew. Always a Jew, but never fully observant, I needed a kickstart. And inspirations and teachers; here I have many. What I found is that this is a joyful and comforting life, defined by the flow of beliefs that have guided Jews for centuries. When we thank Hashem every morning for giving us another day, we are also giving thanks for the gift of Torah and also for the gift of being part of a chain connecting our people from Abraham and Sarah to the twenty-first century.
As an older immigrant with no family here, my biggest fear was isolation and loneliness. I will not sugar coat this; it is sometimes difficult to spend most of your time alone. It is easy to fall into a pattern of introversion. It would be unfair to not mention this to those thinking of making aliyah as I did…older and alone. It would be unfair to not mention the difficulty of learning to speak modern Hebrew, even for those of us who have been able to read Hebrew all of our lives. But, as in everything in life, we are given free will to make choices that can change that dynamic. And that is what aliyah has been for me: a shift from complacency to full engagement with my potential as a Jew.
There is an easy intimacy that occurs with an openness that is part of Israeli culture. Strangers invite you to their homes for Shabbat without a second thought; this includes meals and a sleep over in many cases. I have written before about the phenomena of strangers handing over babies to hold while they are being helped at a government office or while sitting next to you on a bus. Only in Israel, we say while laughing.
Over the past two years, I have learned that deep and close friendships are formed here because of that intimacy and the sense of nationhood that permeates almost every encounter. And the fragility of life in a place where you are surrounded by those who wish you dead creates a sense of closeness and awareness that every day is precious. My friends are stellar. There are long Shabbat or chag dinners where I am sometimes the only person who is not family, but always made to feel welcome. There are many hours spent in cafes with friends and I find myself having conversations about inner thoughts that I had rarely shared with people I have known for much longer. My women friends have kept me afloat, given me a spare bedroom for a Shabbat in the Judean hills, always seeming to offer when it feels as if it is time to be out of the city for a little bit. Most of my women friends are married and their husbands are as welcoming as they are. Earlier on this site Jerusalem: The Ingathering, I wrote about a Rosh Hashanah dinner during which my dear friend and neighbor pulled together a microcosm of the return from the diaspora to our nation. These are powerful experiences that increase my love for our people and our nation.
There is a sense of nationhood that transcends time here. When this nation was reconstituted, we began the largest return of indigenous people to their homeland in history. Our language is the only ancient language that has been revived to a fully modern language. Two thousand years of exile have ended with this vibrant, miraculous nation.
In living but 3% of my life here, I know that I still have much to learn and absorb. As new immigrants come from France and England, from South America, from India, and from the United States, I know that I am witnessing the dream of two thousand years of exile at the hands of the Romans, a pivotal time in Jewish history. When we can walk the streets of a rebuilt Jerusalem while imagining the magnificence of the Temples and tread the stones in Hebron where Abraham and Sarah walked, it is hard not to see this as the destiny of the Jewish people. Because of that and all that I wrote above, this is home.