We landed in Israel a week ago. This milestone is significant because we are used to coming to Israel for a week, and then heading back to the States. Every once in a while we pinch ourselves and say ‘this time we are home.’ The first week has been a whirlwind of practical tasks to accomplish, like opening a bank account and signing up for healthcare, inspiring moments like seeing the sun break through the clouds, having people smile and give blessings when they hear we just made Aliyah, and appreciating the mundane tasks of going to the market and speaking Hebrew or opening the blinds in the morning to the bright Israeli sun and the view over the Judean hills. The first morning we were here I got on the bus, and noticed the sign above the seats in the front. “Mipnei seiva takum”. People were being ask to give up their seat to an elderly person with a biblical quote from Lev. 19:32, which commands us to stand before someone who is elderly. Only in Israel. And that same bus driver who will pull out of the stop before you can even sit down and send you flying will patiently wait until the woman with a cane who gets on is completely seated. These are the small things that make all the difference. And it is important to see them, because the old adage is true, Israelis are called sabras after the prickly fruit, prickly on the outside (sometimes) and sweet on the inside.
Two days ago we decided to take a break from the practical tasks and go to the beach. Ashkelon is a fifty minute drive from where we live in Beit Shemesh, but not in bumper to bumper on the LIE. Instead you drive through the beautiful Mediterranean landscape of fields and hills of historic Israel. We take a right leaving town and drive through the Elah valley. I tell the kids, this is the valley where the Israelites and Philistines faced off, and David defeated Goliath. Noah pipes up, I studied that in the book of Shmuel last year in school! Miles of empty beach, sandy cliffs and aquamarine warm Mediterranean water greet us. And then the next day the war breaks out in Gaza ten miles away, 200 missiles were lobbed at Israel in the last 24 hours. What a land of contrasts and contradictions.
It is amazing to have a ‘minyan factory’, services every 15 minutes a few blocks away. People are very welcoming in our new community. Last Shabbat, an hour before going to synagogue someone we know showed up at our door with home-made grape juice, and organic crackers. This Shabbat someone in our Shabbat synagogue is making a Kiddush in their home for us and another family who made Aliyah this past week. They say that 60 families made Aliyah to Beit Shemesh this summer, and 4000 in all from North America. Nefesh b’ Nefesh, soul to soul is an amazing organization that helps new olim navigate the Israeli bureaucracy, find a job, or just get some moral support, and they have made the process much more user friendly. They were there in the airport in Newark, on the plane and most importantly in Ben Gurion to help us get our teudat zeut, identification cards 3 hours after we landed. El Al lets you bring three bags of 50 pounds for each person, so I did manage to throw out my back when the van driver (provided by the Jewish Agency) was not ready to help unload the bags I was left performing the task. With the local chiropracter’s help thank G-d I am now better. Throughout the past two thousand years, many Jews have yearned to come to Israel, and not succeeded (the Vilna Gaon and Rebbe Nachman of Breslav set out to come to Israel but mysteriously never made it), some have succeeded at great risk (Nachmanides, the pioneers of aliyah alef, beit and gimel in the first half of the 20th century), and others have given their lives to come here. (Rabbi Yehuda Halevy was struck down by sword as he entered Jerusalem, Ramchal, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto died in a cholera epidemic when he arrived, many of the early Zionists died of malaria). And all we had to do was sit on a plane for 10 hours, lug a few bags and do a lot of paperwork to get here. We feel very blessed.
This Shabbat it is Rosh Hodesh Elul, the beginning of the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays, and the kids start school a few weeks after that. One of the great things about being here is that Israel runs on a Jewish calendar, even if it means summer ending earlier. So you have Jewish time, you also have Jewish fruit. Shifra, Meirah and I were walking to town today, and passed a grove of Rimonim, pomegranate trees, one of the ‘national fruits of the Jewish people. (Can you name all seven, found in last week’s Torah portion?) They are red and ripe and you see them all over. In the parks, in people’s yards. The fruit here has real taste, btw, and if it does not they do not sell it. There are no avocadoes, ‘it’s not the season yet’ we were told. We left the states with the Torah portion of V’ethanan, Moshe pleading with G-d to enter the land of Israel, and we were greeted this past Shabbat with Parshat Ekev, ‘and you will eat and be satisfied and bless G-d for the good land which he gave you.’ The land is indeed good.
Rimonim, Pomegranates, one of the seven indigenous species to the land of Israel mentioned in the Torah. This tree is found in a park in Beit Shemesh