This morning I went to the airport to greet the latest Nefesh B’Nefesh flight bringing Jewish “refugees” from America to Israel. It was not all that long ago when we were stepping off that plane into such an unknown life. I remember feeling physically and emotionally exhausted as we stepped out into the bright sunshine of our new lives.
I felt so wonderful that day because we were about to start living our dream. A dream that had started as a crazy thought and grew to a full fledged plan over many years of careful nourishment. It was an amazing feeling because, let’s face it, how many times do people actually get to live their dreams?
Back then, we felt on top of the world at all the attention lavished on us. From the cameras and microphones pushed in our faces to the hugs of our friends who were already living the dream.
Yet what I realized today was that the arrival of new immigrants to Israel is much, much bigger than any one person’s dream. It is the shared dream of a nation, of a people. As we started waving our flags and hollering like crazy when the Olim started getting off the airplane, I realized just how big this was.
Israel, the Jewish State, does not exist without Olim. How many of our brave soldiers in Lebanon are Olim or the children of Olim? How many of the courageous people who live in places like Hevron, Tekoa, or the dozens of small “outposts” are from Olim families? How many of our Rabbis, teachers, and doctors are Olim?
Olim have come from Europe, Russia, Africa, America and all over the world to share the effort of building a Jewish State. We are the doers not the talkers. We are prepared to defend our new homes and continue to settle the land of our ancestors, no matter what the situation.
As I watched those people come off the plane, I realized that despite the war, despite the bizarre desire of some to abandon parts of our home, despite the strange way taxi cab drivers quote fares, Israel is still the place that some of the best and the brightest want to live. Every person that came off that plane is a reinforcement of the quest to build something good and just, even while under attack from something evil and corrupt.
You know what I remember the most from today’s welcoming ceremony? It wasn’t the awesome sight of the El Al jet taxing to the hanger where thousand of us stood cheering (although that was very moving). It wasn’t the flags, speeches, music, and tuna sandwiches. It wasn’t even the great hugs with our friends who have now joined us in this never ending exciting journey (although those were unforgettable moments).
What moved me the most was the sight of a few kids, looking just a bit overwhelmed by the whole ordeal of making Aliyah. These kids looked tired, anxious, and maybe a little scared. I knew right away what they were going through because my own kids had looked like that just one year ago. These kids gave up almost everything familiar. They left friends, and schools, and baseball teams. Suddenly, it is Hebrew, the language of prayer, that they hear in the street. There is not that much snow, no Sundays, and even the hot dogs taste different. They have heard something about a war and see lots of people carrying around rifles as if they were umbrellas. They wonder what exactly Mom and Dad were thinking when they told them that they would love it here.
These kids will undoubtedly wake up in a strange house, with not so much furniture, and get confused as to why the refrigerator is “on a lift” and not “in the kitchen.” People they have never met before will keep knocking on the door and saying with a smile “Kol HaKovod!” I have no doubt that one or two tears will be shed while clutching blankets and teddy bears and missing their old homes.
But then, after a good night’s sleep (and maybe a pizza), they will open their eyes to the wonder that is Israel. Gradually they will see that far from being intimidating to kids, Israel can be a giant playground. They will make new friends, their house will get put right, and they will see that in America, they never got to eat chocolate on bread and call it a meal.
They will have trouble in school at first, but at some point, all of them will start to “get it” and realize how much fun it can be to be asked to translate their own report cards for their parents. They will experience Jewish holidays like they have never known them before. They might see their parents cry from sad news, but will definitely see them cry with pride as they sing Hatkiva on Yom Hatzmaut.
And then maybe, with G-d’s help, one day they will turn to their parents and say, “Daddy, Mommy, I’m glad that we moved to Israel.” And that moment, makes all the parent’s pain vanish.
New Olim, don’t worry. Your kids will be all right. It will take time, but you will be surprised at the strength of children.
Yeah, it’s worth it.