'Go forth from your land...to the land that I will show you'
This week we come again to Parashat Lech Lecha (the weekly Torah portion of Lech Lecha) which is the story of Avraham Avinu (Abraham) heeding the words of Hashem and leaving his homeland, his family and friends to go to Eretz Yisrael, where Hashem promises Avraham that He will make him (Avraham) a great nation.
We wrote briefly about this last year at this time and our previous message still rings true. This is the 'Aliyah parasha' as it documents the first Aliyah in Jewish history by the father of Judaism (and all monotheistic faiths). The message resonates with us as much this year as it did last; we are fast approaching our 18 month 'anniversary' of being in Israel and the adventure continues. As you may recall Avraham was required to pass 10 tests of faith, the first being his leaving his home and venturing to an unknown land in Eretz Yisrael. There are a number of interpretations of just what those ten tests were, according to the Rambam (Maimonides) the ten tests were:
- Leaving his homeland
- The hunger in Canaan after Hashem had assured him that he would become a great nation there.
- Sarah's abduction to Egypt.
- The war with the four kings.
- His marriage to Hagar after despairing the Sarah would never give birth.
- The Mitzvah (commandment) of circumcision.
- Avimelech's abduction of Sarah.
- Sending away Hagar after she had given birth to Ishmael.
- The commandment to drive away Ishmael.
- The binding of Isaac.
Like Avraham new immigrants to Israel face tests as well and like Avraham, if one passes those tests the rewards are enormous. Moving to Israel is indeed a test of faith (especially for those coming from Western societies). After all we, and many others like us, have left behind stable lives with good jobs, family, many friends, familiarity with the culture, a command of the native language and an over-all level of comfort to which all of those things contribute.
So here we present our '10 Trials of Aliyah':
- Getting to Israel. Not the actual physical act, but overcoming that last emotional hurdle to making the commitment. For some this may be leaving family; for others it may be overcoming their financial conservatism or risk aversion and for others a combination of many factors.
- Telling your family and friends. This is the dreaded time that all of our olim friends talk about. No matter the family background, no matter how strong your friendships are, it is hard to have that conversation. We all share similar stories--the nice surprises of people who 'rise to the occasion' and show incredible support and understanding and the disappointments of those who react with hurt and defiance of whom one may have expected more; but for everyone this was a heart-wrenching experience.
- Language. No matter how good one's Hebrew pre-Aliyah may be, it is still a second language and will always be.
- Finding a community. Big or small; city or small town; center of the country or around Jerusalem; religious, secular or mixed; large Anglo-population or more 'Israeli'. Every family has their own needs and priorities and there are so many choices...thankfully, the plethora of choices means there is something for everyone.
- Finding a job. Whether you were a lawyer or doctor; an accountant or a teacher; everyone has to readjust their goals to the reality of the situation. Some have to re-invent themselves, some need to take a fairly large step back; but, by and large, we all seem to 'make it' sooner or later.
- The grocery store. Many of those tried and true recipes just don't come out quite the same way. Maybe the the ingredients are a little different, maybe its the water. Nobody is quite sure why, but things are just a little different. Eventually though, everyone seems to work it out and nobody appears to be starving.
- Kids as translators. While we are all kvelling at the progress that our kids make with the language, it is, admittedly a bit tough to have your young children correct your bad Hebrew grammar and translate words for you.
- Donkeys on the Road. Highway 60 that runs N-S down the spine of the mountains of Yehuda and Shomron (Judea & Samaria) is, for the most part, what appears to be a 2 lane road. However, looks can be deceiving because it is in fact a 5 lane 'super highway' with two car lanes (one each for North and South) and 2 donkey lanes (again one each going North and South) as well as the ever-present 'Israeli passing lane' in the middle, which doesn't actually exist until someone 'creates' it by deciding to pass. The donkeys, the most famous of the beasts of burden, are in fact just that and sometimes carry such wide loads that their cargo (usually consisting of sticks and farm trimmings) juts out into the road, forcing cars to carefully pass and swerve around them.
- Banking. Unlike America where banks appear to actually want your business and you can get free checking, free savings accounts, effective on-line banking, etc. In Israel the banks charge you for the privilege of doing business with them. Every line on a statement has a charge (I believe it is NIS 1.21 with the exchange rate being roughly $1 = 4.5 NIS), which can really add up over the course of the month. That doesn't include the mortgage process which we are still attempting to navigate (somewhat helplessly) without the help of our favorite mortgage broker Daniel Rebibo.
- Bumper Stickers. This sounds silly, but in this country bumper stickers are how many define themselves. Left or Right? Religious or Secular? Pro-disengagement or anti-Disengagement? Labor or Likud? Hawk or Dove? Bumper stickers are such an important part of Israeli society and personal expression that there was recently at top 10 hit called 'The Sticker Song' which incorporated the slogan/jingle from the most popular bumper stickers of the day into the lyrics of the song. This is the way that you define yourself to others and the way that other perceive you...and it isn't just on cars, kids have stickers on their back packs and bikes and sometimes even on their clothes.
Even with all these trials and tribulations (and others that surely exist) we feel much like how Avraham must have felt....blessed by Hashem. Our kids are absolutely thriving (they are speaking Hebrew well, Matan is starting to read, they have lots of friends and have a zest for life and a love for Israel that is hard to put into words), we have found meaningful employment and all in all our lives here are fulfilling and meaningful.
While we may not merit having Hashem speak directly to us, we do feel that living here brings us closer to Gd. While we may not 'become a great nation' our family is one small part of the rebuilding of our people's ancient homeland and hopefully a piece in the ultimate success of Medinat Yisrael (the State of Israel), Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel) and Am Yisrael (the People of Israel).
Am Yisrael Chai!! (The People of Israel Live)