By Tzvia Ehrlich-Klein, Yerushalayim.
It’s many years since little ol’ regular me, a third-generation American, first came to Israel. As with so many turning points in life, I didn’t realize that it was one.
I just came for one year — a Junior Year Abroad study program at Hebrew University. But something happened as my suitcases were thrown off the truck and fell down a dusty hill alongside my dorm building.
Somehow I just fell in love with the Land, and felt, instinctively, that this is where a Jew really belongs.
No, I wasn’t a “Zionist” who had been waiting to return to the Land. And I wasn’t raised on halachic values of residing within it’s holy borders. I was merely a college student who came to study for a year, complete with my dozens of shoes and matching pocketbooks, and suitcases full of Villager skirt outfits.
But somehow, once here, I just knew, deep inside, that, though I didn’t know the language or anyone who lived here, somehow I just knew that this was where a Jew truly belonged.
So the next year I made aliya. To this impossibly crazy country where everything was so different from my little Jewish princess world that I had loved (here, no one but me noticed or even cared if the color of my shoes matched my outfit!). But I just knew that it was important to be here. Here, where 3000 years of Jewish History comes alive, and I, little ol’ nothing-special me, get to be a living, active part of it!
Amazing! Here, where King David wandered in the hills that are just outside my window. The very same hills where I now sometimes get stuck in a traffic jam. He wandered, and I ride. But they’re the very same hills! It’s the same Land, the same sky overhead.
And it’s not just King David. It’s also Abraham and Isaac, and Rivka, and Rachel, and King Saul and Resh Lakish, and the prophet Samuel…. And me?
Isn’t it amazing? The Land that Moses was not allowed to enter, I can, and have?! Unreal! He didn’t get to live here, but I do? What an amazing honor! How totally, unbelievably, stupendously unbelievable! (And sometimes I wonder, what would my great-great-great grandparents have thought? They were probably in pogroms somewhere, able to dream, but certainly not able to visualize, the actuality of living in a Land surrounded by other Jews — and yet here I am.)
No, it’s not just the holiness. And it’s not just the landscape. And it’s not just the history, going back thousands upon thousands of years. And it’s even not just being in the front-row seat of history-in-the-making. It’s the people, the People of Israel, all around, everywhere, concurrently bringing to life the concept of an ingathering from “arba kanfot haAretz” [from the four corners of the world], while allowing me to be immersed amidst this amazingly holy people and place.
Are there problems? Irritations? Disappointments? Of course. But it has always been that way. This is the way HaShem made it. One of three things “acquired through difficulties” (Torah, the World to Come, and the Land of Israel). Disappointments and problems are built into the system. Jobs, apartments, the language, and differences.… So my Ashkenazi daughter likes spicy Yemenite harissa, and I get freaked out the days before Yom Kippur when many women are carrying live chickens on the public buses, in baskets, in order to do kapparos the real way, like their mothers did, at home (rather than my way, with money in a sanitized white handkerchief). My “Yankee ingenuity” and efficiency is appalled by “Russian-socialist” bosses standing around and passively allowing lines of waiting people to get longer and longer, and I’ve come to appreciate “Israeli rudeness” which is really a wholesome counterpoint to the phony politeness that existed (exists?) in Germany and England. Here, in our Jewish Homeland, we are all part of the beautiful mosaic called Am Yisrael, the Jewish People.
No, I never learned the language. And I have no brothers or sisters or aunts or uncles here. But I do know that this is ‘home,’ and that, just by living here, I am doing something important with my life. Even if I never do anything else. I know that just by living here I am an active part of Jewish history, contributing to and doing something important for our People.
After 35 years, I still feel this way. Difficulties in life exist no matter where in the world you live. But being a living part of 3000 years of our Heritage, going shopping along paths that King Solomon walked, and building a life where Jews for generations were only able to dream of being — what an honor, what a thrill, and what a privilege! How lucky I am!
Yes, you can live a Jewish life, on different levels, anywhere. But to live a Jewish life on every level, and contribute to the Jewish People and the History of our Nation by building our Land and strengthening the presence of HaShem’s chosen People in His chosen Land! To not just live on the outskirts of Jewish life, but to influence the nucleus of HaShem’s dream — the People of Israel keeping our Laws in the Land of Israel!
Yes, there is a lot of work to be done. But how marvelous — and how important — that I can be a part of correcting those things that aren’t right yet!
How lucky I am to be here! Not as a visitor, “checking out” the Land that HaShem loves. But being an innate, intimate part of all of this, living here, on a daily, hourly basis.
How exciting! How marvelous! And how special!
And how special a person I have become because I do live here.
My ideas, my values, and my level of Jewishness are different — bigger and deeper. I know I am a very different person than I would have been writing ad copy on Madison Ave. Doing ‘hands on’ chessed is much more an integral part of my life here than it ever would have been even with all of the chessed projects available abroad.
Cab drivers have taught me that I “won’t get rich” on the ½ shekel change that they — or I — don’t have. Here, what you “do” is not who you are — it’s merely a way of making money. The cleaning woman who comes in to wash my floors once a week has taken an additional job so that her son can stay in kollel (he has five children).
I am a better, more vibrantly alive person here, and I am very, very grateful. I thank HaShem for allowing me to be a part of all this, here, in His favorite, most desirable Home Land — in the Land that even Moshe Rabbenu couldn’t enter.
How sad for all of those who are missing the opportunity.
For additional stories, see the 3 Feldheim books;
ON BUS DRIVERS, DREIDELS AND ORANGE JUICE;
ON CAB DRIVERS, SHOPKEEPERS AND STRANGERS; and
ON BUS STOPS, BAKERS AND BEGGARS by Tzvia Ehrlich-Klein.
She is also the author of HASHEM’S WONDERFUL WORLD: CLOUDS, and the 3 Menucha books:
I LIVE WITH MY MOMMY; WORD FUN FOR EVERYONE: KOSHER WORD GAMES; and
YOU”RE JOKING! THE KOSHER JOKE BOOK, She has also edited several books including
COPYRIGHT IN JEWISH LAW (Feldheim) and
TO DWELL IN THE PALACE (Feldheim), an anthology on life in Israel. Her books are available in bookstores and on line, or directly from the publishers. She made aliya in 1971, and lives in Jerusalem.