It's hard to imagine. 10 years ago this week, we were on a flight to Israel to visit our dear friends and to show solidarity during a very difficult time.
I had not considered Aliyah in our near future. In fact, I tried to get off of the plane during take-off.
Flash back ten years with me. It was March of 2001, and the people of Israel were completely and totally under siege as they dealt with daily bus bombings, home invasions, road killings and more. We were planning to come to Israel for Pesach to spend time with our friends, Rafi and Atzila Abbo, who had been on shlichut (Israeli emissaries abroad) in Washington D.C with us for two years. We had a ten month old son.
And I was very nervous.
Yes, I knew we should make the trip. I knew that Rafi and Atzila were counting on us. I knew that it wasn't fair that the people living in Israel should be on the front lines of the terror they were experiencing, while I was only reading about it in the newspapers in Potomac each day.
And yet, I was scared.
So, to pacify my fears and to gain one last push for our trip, I decided to call Rafi. We didn't have a long distance plan, so I had to arrange with my neighbor and friend, Sarah, to make the call from her house. It was 2:30 in the afternoon and I had raced home from work to make the connection before Rafi went to bed. I sat in Sarah's kitchen and made the call to Rafi to hear that everything was alright and that I would be safe on our trip.
When he answered the phone, he said, "Oh, so you heard."
"Um, no," I said. "What are you talking about?"
"You didn't see the front page of the Jerusalem Post this morning?"
And then he started to tell me. I had caught him right after he returned from burying one of his oldest friends. Tzachi Sasson had been driving on the road that day in Gush Etzion. Driving to work, from work, to the grocery store....what, really, does it matter? And he was gunned down by terrorists and killed. And Rafi had just returned from his funeral.
And this was my call for chizuk (strength). When I got off the phone, shaking, I turned to Sarah and said, "My Gd. I guess I just got my answer. There is no way that we are going."
And she said, "Romi, you certainly DID just get your answer."
I looked at her, wishing that she weren't saying to me what I knew she was - and wishing that she weren't right.
Of course we were going.
Who were we to say that our friends should be on the front lines of the fight to save Israel - to save the Jewish people and their homeland, while I sat safely in my house in America? Who were we to say that we were truly their friends, if we didn't have the faith, the guts, and the strength to come and show them that they were part of our lives, that they mattered, and that their presence in Israel mattered?
This is not to say that I wasn't incredibly scared. The American media had made me believe that there was a gunman at every corner in Israel and that I couldn't possibly be safe on my trip. I still remember the picture that was on the front page of the paper the day before we flew out. It was an amazing shot of a bomb exploding in Gaza, as seen through the reflection of an Arab woman's glasses.
The reality of our trip, however, was quite different.
We had a fantastic time with the Abbos. We saw that they, their community, their families and their friends were continuing with their lives as best that they could, while dealing with constant, daily terror. They were a productive, faithful and persevering people under siege.
And they were unspeakably, overwhelmingly and completely in awe of our presence and appreciative that we were standing with them - with our bodies and our presence, not with our money or distant support.
We have a picture from that trip standing on the Abbo balcony, capturing a bit of what Gush Etzion looked like. Years later, after we made Aliyah, I looked back at that picture to realize that in the foreground is the house that we would eventually own.
Little did we know at the time...and little could we have imagined.
Certainly, that trip had a great influence on us, on our thought process, on what Israel means to us, and on how we wanted to show our support.
It was by no means the only piece to the puzzle that propelled our Aliyah, but it was a small part. And I look back on that trip, today, with admiration for the people who got on that plane and came to visit their friends, and with amazement at how far we've come.
10 years later... 5 more boys, 4 of whom are sabras...home sales, apartment rentals, home purchases in Israel, and so many other experiences.
And here we sit, today, showing how important this country is to us with our every breath - with our bodies, with our children and with our future.
Once a month, we bring cakes to the Pinat Chama (literally 'Warm Corner'), a small house that has been created in Gush Etzion in memory of Tzachi Sasson and Dr. Shmuel Gillis who were both killed on our roads during the intifada. It's open all day and night, offering free cakes and drinks to the soldiers who patrol our area. Today, I am part of remembering Tzachi as best as I can, and teaching my children each month to bake for the soldiers who continue to protect us and to prevent similar tragedies.
We were slaves in Egypt - we were slaves to our own misconceptions, fears and uncertainties.
Today we are free.
Free to live in the land that our ancestors couldn't even dream of returning to or of calling home.
Free to sing "Next Year in Jerusalem" at the Seder while living 10 minutes south of the eternal city.
Free to teach our children about leaving Egypt for the promise of the Land to which Hashem said he would bring us - for the promise of THIS land where we live today as free, practicing Jews.