Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
Last Shabbat was called “Shabbat Nahamu.” It’s the Shabbat of Nehamah, of consolation. Here are few consoling moments from recent days, on Zoom:
At the first Zoom meeting, in Israel, the participants wanted to speak English. Although they have been in Israel for several years, this group of new immigrants still conducts their activities in their mother tongue. They have enough challenges with Hebrew when dealing with Israeli income taxes and national health insurance.
They spoke about their relatives who are considering making aliyah but they guessed that at the end of the day only a small minority will actually come. Sometimes bureaucracy defeats ideology and comfort and convenience triumph over values.
“I don’t blame them,” said one of the new immigrants from New Jersey. “This is truly difficult. It’s about uprooting yourself and immigrating to a new land. It’s not by chance that God says to Abraham, ‘Go forth from your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house.’ The first new immigrant left his land, his birthplace, and his father’s house.”
I asked if anyone had any regrets and no one nodded in agreement. One person explained: “I tell myself that I am doing this in order that my children will not have to go through it since they will be sabras, born in Israel. This is also the reason that I left. I could not promise myself that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren in Los Angeles would even be Jews.”
Towards the end of the meeting, I wondered out loud how we could do more to help them. Odelia said: “Be aware of the enormous cultural differences between us. I remember how stupid I felt when I first arrived. I told Israelis: ‘Once I was wise, before I made aliyah.’ I felt I was too slow, I did not understand what people were saying to me, and I was not expressing myself on a very high level. The first week I was in Israel I was riding on a bus. Someone missed his stop and shouted, ‘Driver, driver!’ I thought it was a terrorist attack. Seriously. In America I never saw someone shout at the driver and stop him. I tried to find a place to hide until I understood that this is what goes on here. You can shout at the driver and make him stop. After several years, I found myself shouting at the driver too.”
There was also a Zoom conversation I held with the Kemp Mill Synagogue community in Silver Spring, Maryland. I had prepared a full lecture and at the end I asked if there were any questions. Devorah raised her hand clutching her cellphone and waited for permission to speak. What beautiful American restraint. She will never shout at a bus driver, not once in her life. When the meeting’s moderator told her she could speak, the following words poured out of her with deep emotion. “I want to tell you the truth. I did not listen to a single word of your lecture. I couldn’t concentrate. I was not in Israel for Pesach, although I wanted to be there. Afterwards we thought we would come for Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, or for the holiday of Shavuot. After that, it was clear to me that we would surely be there for July or August. But now it’s definite that we won’t even make it for the High Holidays. We miss it so much. So when I heard a little while ago that there was a Zoom meeting with an Israeli, I immediately connected to it, if only to be connected for one hour with the Land of Israel through you. I don’t have any questions. I only want to say that Israel is the home of every Jew in the world, and for much too long I haven’t been home.”