Appreciating Aliyah

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Flag of Israel. Close up.
01 Sep 2009

Every morning, when the radio alarm wakes me up with the Shema and a chapter of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), I know why I made aliyah.

The week before Pesach, as I watch the garbage collectors emptying garbage containers many times to completely clear the area of every bit of chametz – and then distributing special containers in which to burn our chametz, I count my blessings that I live here in the Jewish state.

And I couldn’t help but smile when the bare-headed mail-man knocked on my door and handed me my mezuzah which had fallen down and said that I should be sure to check it before returning it to the doorpost.

I love it – all of it. And you know what? It more than makes up for all that’s wrong in this country of ours.

From the time we arrived, my husband and I wondered how we could possibly instill this feeling into our children, who were too young to remember any other way of life.

Establishing a new family tradition, we started celebrating our own Yom Aliyah the first year after we arrived here.

That was twenty five years ago and our 5 children at that time were 9, 6, 4 and twins of 18 months. We were still going through absorption pangs. The children were starting to settle into schools, I was at home with the twins and also babysitting neighbors’ kids to earn a bit of money and my husband was seeking a transition from his work as a kehilla rav in England to ‘something else’ here in Jerusalem. But we were home in our own country and we wanted to show the children that we were happy and grateful to be here.

I think the philosophy was a bit lost on them at that stage, but they sensed a good idea if it meant going out to eat.

In order to show that this was a special day, we said we weren’t getting pizza or falafel, but we would sit down in a ‘real restaurant,’ which was an exciting adventure for them.

Still, even we knew that taking a bunch of little children to a cordon bleu restaurant wasn’t really a practical idea, so we settled instead for something which sounded a bit more child-friendly. Jerusalem’s downtown Blintz House (no longer in existence but I like to think it had nothing to do with our visit).

As it was a special treat, we let the kids choose their own blintz – BAD IDEA. We ended up ordering five chocolate blintzes which we just knew with absolute certainty would not get eaten. Realizing that we would end up with 90% of five chocolate blintzes, my husband and I ordered savory ones to counter them. As predicted by their clever-too-late parents, the kids took one bite, let the gooey chocolate dribble down their chins onto the table and their clothes, pulled a painful face as though we were torturing them, and declared it was “yukky’.

We ate ours as fast as we could, packed up the remainder of the chocolate ones and headed for the nearest pizza parlor to satisfy our hungry, disgruntled offspring.

We learned something from that celebration and kept the next few years’ celebrations low-key, while the children were still in their very young childhood.

As they grew up, two new sabra-siblings were added and the older wise-guys expressed doubt as to whether they were really entitled to join us in our aliyah celebration as they never even made aliyah!

Those were the years when we controlled our children’s timetables. Later, our son finished yeshiva high-school, joined the Hesder yeshiva/army program and enlisted in the paratrooper unit in the army.

Since he wasn’t around on our aliyah date, we all agreed to postpone it until he had a few days furlough. A couple of weeks after our usual date, we picked him up at the bus station and made our way to a pleasantly civilized ‘adult’ style restaurant. The importance of making aliyah had become even clearer over the years. We appreciated the ability to bring up our children and educate them in the land of our forefathers, to take them to the kotel and the Cave of Machpela and to bring all their learning to life as it was never possible in chutz le’aretz.

But, sitting across from our soldier son in uniform, we understood the responsibilities aliyah brought with it as well. We were proud of him and he was proud of his uniform, his country and the army.

More years passed and the kids grew up and had their own studying schedules, social lives, voluntary work, etc.. It got more difficult to plan our aliyah anniversary together, and often the date would stray a bit from its real one, but we still kept up the celebration and together we thanked Gd that this is where we are.

As the kids got married, children-in-law joined our annual celebrations. One son-in-law quipped that he was very glad we’d made aliyah or he’d have had to cross the world to find his beshert.

Grandchildren were born, and as the numbers grew, we realized that to limit the financial outlay we would have to rethink our celebrations, so we started to meet in our home and order in food and add our own homemade favorites to the menu.

One year, the horrifying Sbarro terrorist attack occurred as we were sitting down to eat and family members who volunteered in MDA, Hatzalah and ZAKA dropped everything and raced off to help, leaving us sitting round the table davening for the victims. We realized that we were the fortunate ones who knew that the empty places around our table would be filled again, but for many families there would be empty spaces forever at their tables.

The Gulf War with its scuds and sirens, the intifadas, terrorist attacks, destruction of Gush Katif, 2nd Lebanon war have all been part of our life since we arrived here – but not for one minute have we ever regretted our decision to build our home here.

And so, every year (well, almost), on the anniversary of our aliyah almost 26 years ago, we gather together our now large extended family, which has grown from nine to thirty five members. As we look around the noisy, happy table, we feel a deep gratitude to Hashem for returning us to our ancient homeland and helping us build up the Jewish people in the land He gave us.

Ann Goldberg is a freelance writer in Israel

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.