Yom rishon, 10 Sivan 5771.
Ask any ger (convert to Judaism). Everyone has a fascinating story about how and why he became Jewish. But to a person, each one I have met and listened to has shared that he or she didn't so much choose as was chosen.
So it was for our aliyah.
I had fallen in love with Israel the first time my husband brought me for a visit in 1991. But it would be 16 years before my dream would become our life.
After years of visiting for a few weeks each year, due to a job with a remarkable employer, I found myself literally lovesick over this country. But there were very logical arguments against making the move. (Even today, as anxious as I am for all Jews to "come Home," my experience keeps me sympathetic to the very individual hurdles there are to overcome before one makes that final leap of faith.)
My boss allowed me an end-of-year bonus of a ticket to Israel for myself and one child each year. It was a great way to reconnect with Israel, to spend time with a child, and even to brainwash him just a little to my way of thinking. ("Yes, son, the most beautiful girls in the world do live in Israel." The Talmud promotes bribery in a good cause. A mother has to know her audience.)
In 5765 (early 2005), my bonus was so large, I was able to take the younger two boys and the Dearly Beloved to Israel for a couple of weeks. I had been telling my husband that we had reached a critical stage in my continued emotional health: we needed to finally make up our minds. I couldn't keep the dream alive anymore: I was going to need to put down real roots in one country or the other.
Before we left, I had a little chat with the Creator of the Universe. "Tatte B'Shemayim," I said, hoping to remind The All Powerful of our Father/daughter relationship, "I accept Your will. Whatever You want for my dear husband to choose, please help him to choose once and for all."
The day before our flight, I checked the weather report. We were planning to visit our Soldier Boy at his mechina in the Golan Heights. The weather report promised that it would be cold, rainy and muddy. Smiling resignedly Heavenward, I said (and meant), "Hashem, if You have decided to use really lousy weather to convince my Dearly Beloved to choose America as our home, I accept Your decision. Just help him to choose, please."
From the time we landed in Israel, everyone who met us thanked us for bringing the unseasonably beautiful weather. The air was fresh and clean as only mountain air can be. The calanit was in bloom, dotting the green fields and purple hills with electric bursts of red. There were other flora and fauna caressing the landscape, as if Israel wanted to show herself at her best.
The yishuv of Avnei Eitan went out of its way to make us welcome. They offered us a luxury mountain cabin free of charge for the three days we were there. And Soldier Boy -- though only 17 at the time -- exhibited grown-up genius by offering to take his brothers Stunt Man and Sports Guy to live in his dorm for the duration. So they got the thrill of sleeping on mats on the floor amid dirty socks and underwear and pizza boxes, a kind of boy-heaven, and we got a second honeymoon.
The guys dropped by for meals, but otherwise enjoyed more freedom than we could ever give them in Baltimore. (All part of my evil plan.) I enjoyed watching my men toss the football around on great open fields, with no worry of hurling the pigskin through some apartment window. The Dearly Beloved and I had time to think and plan and to fall in love yet again. Most important of all: my guys fell in love with Israel in general, and the Golan in particular. We knew where we were going to live. And we knew it was going to be very soon. We were "ish echad b'lev echad" -- one person with one heart.
("Thank you, Ribono Shel Olam!" I said it many times during that trip, and many times since then. How often do we truly get to feel that Our Father in Heaven is holding us in the palm of His hand???)
When we came to Israel on our pilot trip the following year with Tehilla, we visited something like 23 communities in less than two weeks. But we only paid cursory attention, enjoying the tour and the company of Israeli wannabe friends, because we knew where we were going to live.
Of course, man plans and G-d laughs, as the expression goes.
Just before our actual aliyah, we heard about a teenager ulpan -- the only one dedicated to teen olim in the country -- located in Baka, a section of Jerusalem. My husband and I grew up in small towns in America; and the idea of taking our boisterous, loud, gigantic boys to live in the wondrous albeit crowded Holy City seemed a bit overwhelming. I wrote to everyone I knew or vaguely knew, saying that we would like to spend the first few months near but not in Jerusalem, and did anyone have ideas or suggestions?
Gush Etzion lit up like a neon sign in Times Square. Friends and people we barely knew offered connections, offered to take photos of apartments, offered advice...
Throughout our career as Jews, we have learned one thing very clearly. If one listens very closely, not to his own desires and plans, but to the messages that seem to be coming from Hashem, one reaps great rewards. There is a saying: If you are very happy in a place in Eretz Yisrael, it is because when Avraham Avinu walked the Land, he met your neshama there.
We never made it to the Golan, except for the occasional memorable visit. We are too happy in Neve Daniel to ever leave -- unless Hashem needs us somewhere else in Israel. And having lived this way for so many years, we trust His judgment, and will listen to His messages.
Thank You, Hashem, and a special thank you to all of Your emissaries and messengers who have helped us to make our Home in Holy Israel.
Aliyah: Jewish immigration to Israel
Tatte B'Shemayim, Ribono Shel Olam, Hashem: names for G-d
Mechina: Jewish army preparatory school
Calanit: anemone flower
Ulpan: Hebrew-language learning program
Olim: Jewish immigrants to Israel
Avraham Avinu: Abraham our father