Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Six Years Israeli

I've been in Israel for 6 years, but on this day, 5 years ago, I became an official Israeli. (I've been corrected that the
Aliyah flight actually landed yesterday, but 09/09/09 is just easier to remember.) It's a day I think about constantly - more of a landmark than my birthday is. Every year on this day, I take a look back at my life. It starts in 2009. Before that, I was me, but not the version of me that you may know. I was searching for myself, trying to find my place. My world was full of boxes, and I tried to twist myself into them, but was perpetually finding myself outside.

I was 17 when I first came here. I was lost and confused and unsure of who I wanted to be. I started that year attempting to "frum out" in seminary, and ended it doing an ulpan program on a kibbutz - where most participants were secular. At the end of the year, I still didn't know who I was, but I knew what I was not. I was not ever going to do the seminary "frum out", and I was not going to be the kibbutz secular. I still didn't have a box. However, for the first time, that didn't scare me. It didn't make me feel alone or like I didn't fit in. Because I had learned that in Israel, while the boxes do exist, they have glass walls and tunnels for visiting. There were so many possibilities - so many things that I could be - and I wanted to be them.

Israel made me happy. Israel made me feel safe. Israel made me feel like I could just be me, and that was good enough. I didn't want to leave. And with no plans, no money, and no idea what I was doing - I made aliyah.

The past 6 years have been so full, so dynamic, so alive. When I look back at the 17 year old version of myself, I know that the best thing I've done for her is let her make that rash, irrational decision to stay here. She wouldn't have turned into me, if she'd gone back to America. The confidence and self-assurance I have in myself, in my religious beliefs, in my life, were only - and still are - brought about through the challenges and rewards of living here.

I've climbed mountains, jumped off cliffs. I've camped out at Gan Sacher and the Tel Aviv beach, and eaten chummus so full of sand it crunches in your teeth. I've been up North and down South, and spend too much time in the Center. I've herded sheep and ridden camels and discovered how much I love ice coffee. I've gone to the Kotel at 2 am in the pouring rain and stayed there all night until the sun came up. I've organized Shabbatonim and tiyulim, and somehow found the courage to speak in front of people and share my love of this country. And then, I got married here, had my wedding here, got an apartment here, started real life here - and I know that my experiences until now are a blip on the timeline of my future in Israel.

I really want to say thank you. Thank you to the beautiful, frustrating, invigorating, and challenging Land of Israel, for creating and shaping me into the person I didn't know I wanted to be. Thank you to all of those who have been my support group along the way - my family, my friends, and now my husband. Thank you to God, who saw me from the beginning until this moment, and is probably laughing because He sees how much more I still have to do.

Every year, on this day, I look back on my life. So far, so good.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

So what's it like, beginning a marriage in a war zone?

Our wedding was exactly two weeks ago, as of this Sunday.

First week of marriage - sheva brachot in the bomb shelter.
We move into our apartment - quickly meet the neighbors while hanging out in the rocket-safe stairwell.
Turn our computers back on - slowly realize we might just be in the middle of a war.

So what's it like, beginning a marriage in a war zone?

I've never felt so lucky.

It goes like this. We laugh and we decorate and we set up our kitchen and build our bookcases, and when the siren comes we drop everything and run to the shelter. We drive back and forth from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, and play "Where Will We Run If We Hear The Siren". We laugh as it rings out at the most inopportune times - like at 8am, or when one of us is in the shower, or when I cannot find a mitpachat (hair covering) for the life of me.

I can't imagine a better way to start off our lives together. Very quickly, we have learned how the other reacts in a tense, dramatic situation. Very quickly, we have learned how to comfort and distract each other. Very quickly, we have learned that our ideals are matched up perfectly, that the thought of being anywhere else right now isn't even comprehensible.

This is where I want to live forever. It's where I want to raise my children. We have chosen Israel, for all of its beauty and all of its pain.

A family member commented that once you make aliyah, you are no longer a spectator of Jewish History - you become a player, right in the field. I love that idea. I wish we didn't have to be afraid, wish that peace would come sooner, wish that I would never again have to hear the pulse-quickening sound of the siren. But if this has to happen, I do not wish to be anywhere else. I want to be here, with my people, with my nation, fighting back.

When friends of mine tell me they're waiting to make aliyah until after they get married, or finish college, I never understand. Why not begin your life in the place you want to live it? Where better to find a guy, or have the optimal education, then the place you want to be married and working?

This is the beginning of our lives together. Each day brings a new first. The first time he said Kiddush for me. The first time we had to clean out the sink drain. The first time we made potato kugel. The first time we heard the tzeva adom siren and ran all the way downstairs, not realizing our hallway was safe too.

The firsts are what create the beginning of a lifetime. I am so grateful to be living here, in the land of Am Yisrael, singing Shabbat songs in the stairwell of our apartment building. There's nowhere else I'd want to be.

May our soldiers bring peace to our country, and come home safely.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

#BringBackOurBoys

I sit in my room, attempting to put together a list of music I'd like to be played at my wedding. There are plenty of songs to choose from, but I cannot focus. All I can think about are the three boys, held in captivity, in an unknown location. All I can think about are their parents, the strength of their mothers, the terror they must feel. I refresh my news feed over and over again, I join all the groups, I hashtag where I can. I want to do more. I sign a petition, forward it to everyone I've ever met. I know it won't help, but I need to feel as though there is something I can do.

These boys are everyone I know. It hits closer to home when one is an English speaker, a gingy with braces. I've spoken to his mother on the phone - set up my students at their home for Shabbat.How can I plan my wedding, worry about a seating chart? How can I be setting up my future when theirs is so uncertain? It is an impossible task to divert my attention for more than a few minutes.

I went to a seamstress in Bnei Brak today. On the kitchen table was a picture of her grandson in uniform. I picked it up. "He got called up on Shabbat", she tells me. "He is in Hevron, searching for those poor boys." We spoke about him for a while, and then she told me she was going to Talmon after I left. Her grandson had a Chumash party there this afternoon. She told me they considered cancelling it, but the chief Rabbi made an announcement. He said, "We will celebrate the children learning Chumash today. It is the Chumash of Am Yisrael, and it is important."

It's a short, but simple sentence that I keep repeating to myself as I try to plan my wedding. We cannot stop our lives in the face of terror. I am planning a Jewish wedding, I am building a Jewish home, I am continuing the chain of Am Yisrael. I'm still finding it difficult to concentrate. Every other minute, even as I write this, I'm checking the news to see if any updates have been posted. But I must keep reminding myself - we must go on. Life must go on.

We will continue to pray, to gather together, to unify and to hope. If we stop, they win. If we carry on, they'll learn that they can never defeat us.

Tehillim Names: Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel, Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim, and Ayal ben Iris Tsura
Petition to the US Government: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/demand-release-16-year-old-american-student-naftali-frenkel-kidnappers-palestinian-terrorists/Qy2N4R2H