Thursday, August 13, 2009

Where Do You Start: Thoughts on the Road to Aliyah

Yom shishi, 24 Av 5769.


Michelle and Marty Gordon will be making aliyah in September.  I haven't had the pleasure of meeting them yet; but Michelle's words to their Washington D.C. congregation suggest to me that we will be friends.  I hope to be privileged to meet her, as she leaves her Nefesh B'Nefesh flight, and enters her new Homeland.  Finally!  (And I thought waiting sixteen years was long...)

One of the best things about having your own blog is that you can choose what to publish.  A friend here in my yishuv thought I would appreciate Michelle's dvar Torah, sent to Shauna by a friend of a friend of a friend of hers.  (Thanks, Shauna.)  

I think you will enjoy it, too.  


"Where do you start?"  I was asked by a fellow congregant of this shul.  That’s a great question.  Where did I start on our road to aliyah that will, B"H, lead Marty and me to begin our new lives in Jerusalem in less than one month from now.


I could tell the congregant about how we opened our tik aliyah, our aliyah file, one year ago.  Or how we’ve been shoveling out twenty-six years of flotsam and jetsam from our house so we can fit into a small Rehavia apartment.  Or how my head is filled with practical details like shipping quotes, rental agents and property managers.  And how I’ve  attended seminars and webinars on employment, ulpans and healthcare.  Like a kid packing for sleep-away camp for the rest of my life, I’ve been stockpiling my favorite American brands of deodorant, dental floss and hand lotion.

But, that’s not the real answer to the question, "Where do you start?"

My start was thirty years ago when I first went to Israel on a year-program called WUJS -- World Union of Jewish Students.  I remember waking up the morning after my arrival, in the middle of a chamsin -- a hot desert wind -- and feeling the thin film of gritty Negev sand on the windowsill of my absorption center apartment. "What was I thinking?" I said to myself.  "How am I going to stay in this country for a whole year?"  But I stayed. For sixteen months.  Those were the days before cell phones, when you had to make an international call from a pay phone that ate up your asimonim, your phone tokens, almost as fast as you could put them in.  The taxi drivers would wax poetic about the virtues of America!, the Grand Canyon!, Niagra Falls! and their cousin Moishe who lives in L.A.  But before I’d get out of the cab they’d turn to me and say, "You stay here, live in Israel, join us."  I fell hopelessly in love with the country.  Even the most mundane tasks -- going to the grocery store, doing the laundry -- were somehow elevated just because they were being done in Israel. I feel different when I’m in Israel. I feel completely whole.  It’s a feeling that cannot be replicated anywhere else.  And so I never recovered from those sixteen months.  I never forgot how incredibly blessed we are to be living in this period of history where we have the privilege -- and the ability -- to return to the land.  Yes we can!

By the time I returned to the States in 1980, my aliyah dream was born.  And as our own Rav Shmuel said, in last year’s Rosh Hashana sermon, "You can’t have a dream come true, if you don’t have a dream in the first place."

For close to thirty years, I have not forgotten my dream.  I did not let weeds grow around my dream.  I tended it, watered it and pulled out the dead leaves.  I watched it grow and flower.  And in recent years, our daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, already living in Israel, have added to the magnetic force that has been pulling me eastward for all these decades.

So, back to the question, "Where do you start?"  With a dream. But not only a dream.  A dream must also have a plan. Too often people say that they will follow their dream "someday."  But "someday" will eventually become "never," without a plan.  It takes a very strong force to turn "someday" to "today."

Do you remember your high school physics?  The second law of thermodynamics?  Inertia.  It states: a body at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an external force.  In the case of aliyah from our cushy, comfortable lives in America, this inertia must broken by a determined internal force.  It was so tempting to continue our lives here with our chevra, our mishpocha, and our warm community.  And it will be sad to leave.

But we cannot be two places at once.  And so we will go forth, Lech Lecha, on a new adventure, to a land that reverberates with tangible spirituality, and we will leave behind our familiar comfort zone.   We’ve had to lighten up for the journey.  We don’t need a lot to live a spiritually fulfilling life.  In fact, it is our over-abundance of possessions that weighs us down.   In ridding ourselves of that which holds us down, we are free to flow like water in a stream.

Last November, Marty and I were on a bus near the Dead Sea when we witnessed flash floods in the Negev.  The rains had started suddenly, the forceful water mixing with the brown dunes looked like chocolate milk spurting, streaming out of every crevice in the rock face. It was a powerful sight.  Someone grabbed the bus microphone and lead us in singing "Shir Hama’alot" where we say "Shuva... et Sheveteina, ka’afikim b’Negev" -- "Bring us from exile as the streams return to the Negev."  

Ka’afikim b’Negev.

I want to be part of the streams of exiles, returning from the diaspora. It is a miracle in our time.

On September 7th, when Marty and I board a charter flight at JFK, filled with North American olim chadashim, new immigrants to Israel, we will become a part of the prophetic ingathering of exiles, the "Kibutz Galuyot." It is the answer to the prayer we say every time we recite the amida: "She ta’ah’laynu bsimcha l’artzetu, v’tee’ tah’einu b’gvul’aynu."  "Bring us up in gladness to our land, and plant us within our boundaries."

Flash flood photo by Dani Landes
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