Monday, May 31, 2010

Guest Post - A Very Different "Aliyah" Story

On my last trip to Israel just before Shavuot, I met a family of Christians who told me they left their lives, their loved ones and all their possessions in New Zealand to stand in solidarity with the Jewish people in Israel.  Naturally, I had the same two reactions that a lot of you will have when you read their story: A) Did they come to Israel to convert Jews? or B) Could they actually be Jewish and not know it?

I don't yet know the answer to either question, but I was so taken with the depth of the mother's telling of her story that I asked her to write it down so I could share it with all of you.  This story so inspired me because it's about a family who risked everything in their material lives in order to follow Gd's call to Israel.  And, since they are not Jews, they are not even entitled to the citizenship benefits and support to which I and my family are entitled the minute we walk off our aliyah flight.  This family is living in Israel on pure emuna.

Here is their story, in the words of the mother, Linda.

My name is Linda, my husband Christopher and our three children, Marcus eighteen, ZoĆ« fourteen and Zara thirteen.  “Why are we in Israel?” that is what we have been asked so many times. People in shops, on buses, our new neighbours and others along the way. Our reply is simple. “We felt that G-d, called us to come. To encourage you and let you know you have friends who support you.  Friends that are not taken in by the media. Friends that say Israel has a right to exist. The look on people’s faces is all the reward we need. Late at night we chatted with a young soldier travelling home on the bus for Pesah. His face lit up as we talked, he said “Wow, you have just made my Pesah.”  Little did he know he made ours.

If this is just a three month dream it is the best dream I have ever had. If it becomes long term reality, well that would take a miracle. Only G-d knows the answer to that. We sold our beautiful home, cars and everything else we had. We were left with nothing other than a few keep sakes which we left with my sister and twenty seven kilograms of luggage each to bring.  We are a close family, leaving my aging parents and sister’s family was not easy. Also leaving good friends, neighbours and much loved pets behind.  All of this was very momentous, departing New Zealand for a land we had never visited.

Now you may ask me, “Why, are you Jewish?”  No. Well not that we know of, but I have suffered with an affliction that is typically Jewish. I guess you could call it a restless spirit. Not knowing where you belong. It calls to you day and night, year in and year out and in my case for decades. You cannot shake it off because it is part of you. Where you go it goes. To function normally, you build a wall around it but even then you hear its call. From my earliest days I was taught to pray, love, honour, and revere the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. My parents taught me all the wonderful stories from the Tanakah, every one of them felt like they belonged to me. Because of this I recognised it as the Holy Spirit’s call to go and also to do something, but where and what for? Now if I was Jewish, well that would be easy. Why Israel, it would be obvious, but being Gentile, not so. It could be anywhere.  In shear frustration I said to Christopher one day, “I cannot bear this, let’s go to Israel and seek G-d, may be there we will hear more clearly.” Then I understood, Israel was where we were meant to go! Maybe I was hearing the prophetic shofar, a sound to return and I had not recognised it. Not wanting to make a mistake and uproot our family, just because Mum was restless. The only thing that we could do was pray. Christopher and I prayed something like this, “Lord you have spoken in many ways to many people, you know our apprehension, but you also see our willingness to go. Please speak to us from your word. We decided to read whatever our eyes fell on.  As they say, my heart skipped a beat. It was Psalm 84 “Blessed are those whose strength is in you who have set their hearts on a pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength till each appears before God in Zion.” G-d had been very good and answered our request. Other circumstances also guided us along the way.

From the first thought of Israel to our departure it took five years. We had family responsibilities, educational needs for our children, health issues and more.

Eventually the time arrived we were leaving, but in the rush and push, of everything we hadn’t found a place to stay. We quickly booked accommodation for a week. As we were booking I felt that we would only need it for four days, as we would have our apartment by then. Guess what, we had our keys to our new home on the fourth day. All I could say was, “thankyou, thankyou and thankyou again.” 

G-d loves to do the impossible to show that he is Almighty. Faith faces fear. Just think of the Red sea for one and more recently Israel again becoming a nation. There is a prophetic shofar in the heavens calling his people, the Jews home.   May I remind you of some of G-d’s promises?

'For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.
Ezekiel 36:24

I will say to the north, 'Give them up!' and to the south, 'Do not hold them back.' Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth
Isaiah 43:6

This is what the Sovereign LORD says:  "See, I will beckon to the Gentiles, I will lift up my banner to the peoples; they will bring your sons in their arms and carry your daughters on their shoulders”.
Isaiah 49:22

Who has ever heard of such a thing? Who has ever seen such things? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labour than she gives birth to her children.   
Isaiah 66:8                                       

Hear the word of the LORD, O nations; proclaim it in distant coastlands: 'He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.'
Jeremiah 31:10

As for my restlessness.  We had been in Israel about a month and travelling along the high way looking over the valley toward Jerusalem with its white walls closely knitted together, breathing deeply I suddenly realised the restlessness was gone. I was shocked, I did not know when it left, it just slipped quietly out the door, in its place a sense of quiet contentment.        
 
You may not know it, but there are a vast number of us Gentiles who cheer you on. As it says in Isaiah 49:22 “See I will beckon to the Gentiles...” This is a time of fulfilment of prophecy.  We need Israel to take her rightful place among the nations. You are G-d’s time clock for the coming events.

We cover you in prayer, love and support.
 
Thank you for reading our story.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Yin and Yang of Making Aliyah

There are two sides to making aliyah and they flip back and forth in my mind constantly.  And, based on a conversation that's going on right now on the Baltimore Chug Aliyah listserv that I moderate, I'm not the only mind occupied with these two sides. 

On the one hand, there's the anticipated glory of Israel.  Living a fuller Jewish life.  Responding to Hashem's call.  Being part of the largest miracle in Jewish history.  Being part of the story.  Crying during HaTikva.  Growing spiritually and connecting to one's soul in a deeper, more meaningful, more lasting way than would ever be possible outside the Land.  Learning more Torah.  Living with emunah, mamash.  All that.

Then there's the anticipated pain of living in Israel.  The language barrier.  Middle-Eastern bureaucracy.  A whole new breed of worries about making a living.  Figuring out how to get proper health care.  Having your kids adjust to school.  Smaller living spaces.   Trying to buy enough of the right consumer goods (Q-Tips, deodorant, sunscreen and the New Balance sneakers I've been wearing for years) to last until a friend or family member can replenish our stock.  Fear of poverty.  Lack of money.  Flimsy plastic cups and poor-quality paper goods.  Getting ripped off by a fill-in-the-blank system you don't understand.  No more WalMart. The raw fear of the unknown.

Did I mention fear of economic insecurity?

This is the yin and yang of making aliyah... and it never stops.

No wonder I'm not sleeping well.

Much Fuss About the Bus

Just got back from a quick trip to Israel, during which I mastered the basics of the Egged Bus system.  In the past, I relied much too heavily on my husband for all our transportation needs.  He either drove us everywhere we needed to go or navigated the bus system for me and I just followed him on and off the buses.  But this time, he was 6000 miles away, so I had to face up to my anxiety, give myself a pep talk, and figure it out.  For me and for my teenage daughter.

On the one hand, it's quite ridiculous to be proud of what I accomplished.  I'm a grown woman, and every English-speaking 18 year-old seminary and yeshiva student manages to get her or himself all over the country using the very same bus system.  So do the Thai workers.  And the refugees from Darfur.

On the other hand, it's quite exhilarating to stare down one's anxiety and just do what needs to be done.  And it's a heck of a lot cheaper than relying on cabs to go everywhere.  And it was kind of a rush to use my primitive Hebrew to ask someone if this bus goes to such-and-such a place.

In a very real sense, using the local bus system made me feel more deeply knit into the fabric of Israeli society.  As I mentioned to my daughter while we were waiting for a long-delayed bus, in Baltimore, there is a socio-economic stigma associated with those who ride public buses.  But in Israel, there is no such stigma.  Who doesn't ride even the occasional public bus in Israel?

I learned a handful of bus numbers and where they go.  I transferred from one bus to another with ease.  And when one bus took an hour to make a trip that should have taken 30 minutes, I simply hopped into a cab from the Central Bus Station and made it to my appointment just a few minutes late, a little embarrassed, but with a very local excuse about Jerusalem's morning traffic.

Yeah, I'm a regular Egged-head now.