Reflections: 11 Year Retrospect on Aliyah
Coming Alive in a Land called Home: Part One
By Ariella Bracha Waldinger
I still find it hard to believe that 11 years have passed since we made Aliyah. I cherish our life here and the unfolding of countless new experiences from the sublime to the ridiculous and everything in between. I want to paint a picture in your mind of my life here in the Holy Land, through some highlights of the past eleven years. As I share these precious, deeply meaningful events, I want you to reflect on your own past eleven years. I want you to reflect on your life in your home town and compare our experiences, in relation to its impact on the Jewish Nation. Be clear, I am not playing a game of one-ups-man-ship nor am I attempting to act superior. I am merely asking you to draw a conclusion about the differences in the way we lead our lives as Jews. Perhaps, you will be inspired to see what you are missing by not being here.
I was living a busy life in Denver, Colorado prior to making Aliyah. I was working at my managerial job, visiting friends and family, enjoying shopping, lunch and dinner outings, side trips to other parts of Colorado, keeping house and attending various Jewish functions. This was my life and for the most part it was good but it was very individualistic. I was centered on my work, my home and everything in between. In truth, I was not very involved with the Jewish community, except for Shabbat, and a few other occasions. The remainder of the week, I was involved in the non-Jewish world, disconnected from my Jewish world. Of course, my Jewish values resided within me but on the deepest level, I felt like I was an alien in a foreign country on foreign soil. It was anathema to my true identity and destiny. I felt disconnected from the source of all things Jewish and that aroused my spiritual longing to experience being a Jew in a fuller and deeper way.
The teachings of Rav Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, taken from the book, “Lights on Orot” states that, “Our true life is as a klal, and not as a collection of individual Jews. He says, “In the Diaspora, we lack the Divine spirit which fills Klal Yisrael when the nation is living its full sovereign life in Israel.” He further states, “only with the ingathering of the exiles do our dry bones come to life.” I can attest to the truth of these statements as I became aroused spiritually, emotionally and politically in a way I had never experienced before. It was real! I could feel it!
From the moment we moved to the Old City Jerusalem, our life took on new spiritual dimensions. We were now a part of our great Jewish nation because we had become a part of the ongoing story of our people. We were in the thick of it, so to speak. Everything we did felt as if it had great significance. We were taught that the soul of the Jewish people, the Torah and Eretz Yisrael are one. We were experiencing a new Torah from the place of its birth and its root. We were tapping into what Rav Kook, OBM, calls, the eternal soul of the nation; past, present and future and we were a part of it.
Our first Shabbat was spent in Jerusalem, the ancient Holy City, praying at the Western Wall with hundreds of other Jews. The energy felt electric and I could visualize the dynamic prayers ascending straight up to HaShem’s throne, as we are taught in the Torah: in Israel, there is no intermediary. Our next Shabbat, we stayed in Hevron, where the Jewish Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried. It is the first place mentioned in our Bible where a deed of purchase of a specific plot of land was actually documented. We stayed at a lovely guest house and prayed together in the Cave of the Patriarchs. The sounds of the men singing the Shabbat evening service in the Cave where the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried was simply one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. Soul song and melody permeated the walls of the cave and energetically vibrated a powerful feeling throughout. It was other worldly and electrifying. Our next Shabbat, we stayed with a friend in Tzfat—the mystical city. It was also extraordinary! In three short weeks, we had visited three of our Holy cities renowned for spiritual splendor. It felt amazing and transformative.
The fact that we were sleeping on blow-up mattresses in our Jerusalem home and had a plastic table, two chairs and a few pots and pans to cook with, meant nothing in the scheme of our new lives. The lack didn’t resonate because, as our spiritual connections were being built, our material needs and desires became less dominant. As we began to immerse ourselves in our day to day lives as Jews living in a Jewish country, we began to comprehend, on a small scale, the privileges of living in our Jewish homeland.
The following experiences that I will share with you are the ones that I hold in a sacred chamber in my soul, for they were the extraordinary events that began to shape our growth and development and upgraded our soul muscle, so to speak. I will begin with Gush Katif.
One year after making Aliyah, in July of 2004, murmurings of a disengagement plan in Gush Katif began to surface. I had never heard of Gush Katif or Gaza or any other place in the south-western area of the country. In order to raise public awareness, the residents of Gaza created a way to protest the disengagement in a symbolic way. The protest took the form of a human chain. Tens of thousands of the loyal supporters of the communities involved formed the first human chain, reaching from Gush Katif to Jerusalem. Participating in this event brought us to a new level of involvement with the klal. I felt that my husband and I had truly linked our destiny to that of our nation in a powerfully dramatic way. We stood on the steps leading down to the Kotel with our fellow Jewish family in a giant metaphorical chain of connection. It felt like a physical, tangible embrace. It was my first taste of a national Jewish event on this scale. Can you imagine being a part of this wondrous event? How horrible that it had to take place you say, of which I agree, but that is not the point. The point is that my husband and I became a part of the experiences of our nation through our actions. We were no longer entertaining a long distance, absentee relationship. We were blending in with the klal and building. It is taught that every act that is done in the Holy Land that is positive and done for the sake of the klal is considered building. This is a huge mitzvah with enormous positive, spiritual ramifications.
At a later date, we participated in a huge prayer rally for Gush Katif at the Kotel, where millions of Jews lined the rooftops, doorways and alleyways to pray and protest. It was both mind blowing and heart wrenching. I was a part of it, fully engaged with my mind, body and soul. I was being molded and sculpted into a new national creation, a creation capable of holding all the blessings and gifts flowing my way. I was becoming whole even in the cauldron of catastrophe.
As a result of the prayer rally and a newfound nationalistic dimension taking shape, my husband and I decided to take a bus trip to Gush Katif. We felt we had to meet its residents to show our support and honestly we were also curious about the place. Who were these brave souls filled with deep faith and trust in G-d and such depth of self-sacrifice? The communities were beyond gorgeous and the Jews beyond description. Only the bravest souls could live so close to the enemy. The coming together and meeting of these passionate, dynamic, holy souls aroused a part of me that had long lain dormant, pushed aside like a childhood doll, relegated to the top shelf of the closet. I could feel her emergence and I watched in joy and disbelief as my warrior for justice began to show her face. I greeted her with deep joy and gave her free reign to “Come into The Light”.
As disengagement drew closer, there was a last ditch attempt to hold a rally in a town near Gush Katif. Police were warning civilians to stay away but our passion and fire had been aroused and there was no quenching it despite threats from the police. As a result of our first hand, personal encounter with the Gush Katif residents, my husband and I were determined to be a part of the Rally. We drove over two hours to Netivot in the south, and met up with other like minded individuals. We hooked up with a group of men who knew the back roads and shortcuts through Arab villages to get to the rally point. We decided to join them. The decision was made to head out. I felt like I was in some wild-west movie even though I was in the east—the Middle East to be exact. The men warned us of getting stuck in muddy back roads but we decided to go for it. They also said they would not stop to help anyone who got stuck, as they had a timeline to honor, in order to meet their cohorts at the rally. We were moving at a good clip when suddenly, it happened! We got stuck in the mud. We would not be deterred, thanks to my warrior husband. We worked together to get the car unstuck and decided to find an alternative route. Once again, thanks to my husband, we followed a dirt road along the highway trying to keep out of the line of sight of policemen patrolling the roads and confiscating cars of would be offenders of the roadblocks. Just as we got to the end of the road and needed to cross the highway, we spotted a police car. As divine providence would have it, he was kept busy by another car, so we floored our Honda civic and raced across the road to a beautiful town called Ofakim. We found a small car wash and quickly sprayed the car to wash away the evidence of our adventure. We then proceeded in town to get the scoop on the next step.
Once again, we were divinely guided to another group of men who told us of another back road and off we went, getting closer to the rally. We longed to be a part of this last ditch attempt to show support and we didn’t mind getting dirty to prove it and I was dirty. It felt fabulous, like playing in the dirt as a child and feeling it all over your body especially between your toes. It was such a crazy mix of emotions! I couldn’t believe it was real! Anyway, per our instructions, we headed to an industrial area where we were suppose to locate a small community. We couldn’t find our way out as it was like a maze of buildings, when suddenly in the distance, we saw two beautiful big homes. The families were sitting on the front porch doing what Israelis do best…barbecuing. Fortunately they spoke English, so we explained what we were trying to do and where we needed to go. Within seconds those men, with big smiles on their faces, raced down the porch steps, got in their trucks and said, “Follow me.” Wow…..blessed again. We were so grateful for their help through the mazes of back roads. We couldn’t have made it through without their guidance. We were sure we were going to make it all the way to the rally location when suddenly we emerged onto the main highway only to find a roadblock up ahead. What to do? It happens that my husband and I are both good at sales and we intended to use our best sales pitch ever and with G-ds help, we would get through. We had brought our American passports to show in case we had trouble. A young policeman, who was very polite, greeted us and asked where we were going. We said we came from America, whipped out our passports, and said, we were here for a family bar mitzvah. Since we had been on this route before on the bus trip, we knew the area and the name of a location that held events. With direct eye contact, we said, all the other policemen along the way have let us through, so surely you will not prevent us from meeting up with family at the Bar Mitzvah. We have come so far to be a part of. My husband wouldn’t let up (that’s his tactic for everything) and he just kept talking and joking. Finally, my husband says come on…just let us through, we are harmless! Honestly, HE WAS SO CONVINCING. Well, the young man was ready to let us through when suddenly an older soldier came by and he told him he had to check with the commander. That did it! He went to bat for us and explained to the commander why we were there, but NO GO! WE CAME TO A STANDSTILL AND WERE FORCED TO TURN AROUND. We were sooooooo disappointed! We went back to Netivot and met up with others who had also tried to attend the rally to show their support. I sat down and cried. It had been such a crazy day: so exciting yet painful; so near and yet so far. We looked at each other in utter amazement and the sudden realization of what we had just experienced hit us; WE HAD BECOME BOLD AND DARING; ADVENTURESOME JEWS…me at age 55 and he at 57. We had left the Wild West of Denver, Colorado, for the wild east of Israel and we had become fighters FOR THE KLAL. I was held spellbound by the truth of who we were becoming, as a couple, in our ancestral Home-Land and it took my breath away. We headed home feeling elated rather than defeated, dirty but joyous and in awe of all the adventures we knew lay ahead of us.
The night the Gush Katif expellees left their homes for good, they came to the Kotel to pray. In the dark of night, they came to pour out their hearts and souls in prayer to G-d. The residents of the Rova had the great good fortune to provide them with drinks and goodies to show our solidarity and to comfort them. My husband and I were there. I am at a loss for words to describe the anguish of everyone, including me, but the night is etched in my soul consciousness as one of the highlights of my life because I could truly honor the core values of being a Jew in the Land. It is such a marvelous gift to be able to physically, spiritually, emotionally and financially contribute to the support of our nation in our land and it is spiritually soul satisfying. Nothing outside the land can compare.
This ends Part one: Gush Katif. The Torah teaches that we are brought into the world to give expression to our G-dly soul. We are also taught that making Aliyah lends itself to a spiritual awakening. What’s happening in your world that lends itself to building up our nation and awakening your soul? Think about it! In the western world, society believes that anything requiring effort is an achievement. Judaism teaches that true achievement results when you make either yourself a better person or the world a better place. That place is here in Eretz HaKodesh and that person is you. Make it happen, your soul and nation will thank you!