Thursday, October 14, 2010

My Aliyah Story - Part 1

I was asked today by one of the Bnot Sheirut to speak to a group of Bnei Akiva kids (8th-12th grade) tomorrow night and tell them my Aliyah Story.
Of course it has to be in Hebrew so that's somewhat intimidating. But I'm sort of excited about it.
So, where do I begin? I have up to a half hour - which is a REALLY long time. But that can include questions, etc.
I figured I would jot down some thoughts here on my blog and if it's at all interesting, I'll post them..... and maybe I will think of some things to tell the kids too.
As a side note, every year they have a theme for the month. This is the month that Bnei Akiva was founded and they spend the whole month painting and making signs and all kinds of preparation for a big end of the month celebration with songs and fire and what not.

My first connection with Bnei Akiva and maybe Zionism in general was the summer after 3rd grade, when I was 9 years old and headed off to Camp Moshava, Wild Rose Wisconsin.
The bunks were divided into Shvatim, we had mifkad in the morning and in the evening. We had to stand at attention "Amod Dom" and at ease "Amod Noach". To this day, it cracks me up to hear soldiers being told that! It's like they are playing camp (or we were playing soldier...). Camp Moshava was the first place where we used Hebrew words in normal conversation. "Time to go to the Cheder Ochel". "I hope our bunk has the best Nikayon!" "We got SO rained out on the Machane Chutz!!!"
Looking at it now, Moshava is so obviously Zionistic but at the time, it just became part of our daily routine.
I went to Camp Moshava for 3 years ('89, '90, and '92). During those years, there were a few kids who came to camp from Israel. It was such an interesting/exotic concept. These kids actually lived in the place that we only talked about. A place that was so abstract, that we learned about in Chumash. It was so strange.

As I got older, my connection with Israel was through my school. Wearing blue and white on Yom Haatzmaut and hearing my best friend talk about her trips to Israel. I have an aunt and some cousins in Israel but we rarely saw them. I spent one summer in Kansas with my cousin from Israel (who is my brother's age) and it was still so hard to imagine that she lived in this place called "Israel". It still seemed SO far away. Unreachable....

During high school, I did not really go to Zionistic schools. I spent 10th grade in public school where I was barely holding on to my Judaism.....I was very active in NCSY which was no Bnei Akiva but had their summer programs to Israel. Not that I ever dreamed of going on them. There was no way we could afford those!! My Dad and I would sometimes toss around the idea of going to Israel. To me, it was still this crazy far away land that I learned about in Chumash and on Yom Haatzmaut. A land that was OURS, a Jewish country. A place where they eat falafel on a normal basis and can pronounce the letter "chet" correctly. A land with kosher Pizza Hut and McDonalds! Where people know what kosher and Shabbat are and I'm not the crazy Jew. It was so weird to imagine..... but I didn't think about it that much.

Along came 11th grade. And my life completely changed. I had no idea what kind of storm was coming.
I uprooted myself and went to school in Pittsburgh. Still trying to hold onto my Judaism. And I liked a boy. However I got there, I was living in Squirrel Hill with the Seidman family, working in Pinskers, and chilling with a whole new group of crazy friends. I was just settling in when WHAM. My dad was diagnosed with cancer. My life was turned upside down.
That, of course, is a completely different story by itself. During my dad's sickness, we talked about "our trip to Israel when he got better." When it became clear that he was not going to get better, I showed him a brochure of ISS, Israel Summer Seminar, NCSY's 5 week touring and learning program in Israel. I told him I was going to make it there. For him. For me.
I owe a HUGE shout-out to my Midwest NCSY friends who were the ones who first brought up me going on ISS. They were going and I don't know what they said, but soon I was planning on going too.

Then I lost my dad. My life was hell and I could hardly tell which way was up. But I told my dad I was going on ISS and darn it, I was going on ISS. There were scholarships upon scholarships and somehow I pulled it off. I had my plane ticket. I had no idea what to expect but it was going to be an experience of a lifetime. It was kind of a crazy idea. To be heading off on this fantastic program which to normal teenagers would be FUN, while still being in mourning for my dad. Crazy thing was, there turned out to be 2 other girls on the trip who had ALSO lost their dads within the past few months. We got special permission to say Kaddish during davening and that was good.

Off we went on ElAl. I was sitting next to Scott who turned out to be a source of LOTS of laughter during that trip. To this day, I crack up when I find the little notebook of pictures we drew. CHASHEE CHASHEE. My crazy Kansas/Omaha crew was so tolerant of me and all my crap. They made me smile through the pain. I don't think they have any idea what they meant to me that summer.

We landed in Israel and everyone sang and cheered. The typical thing you hear about. And back in '97, when you got off the plane, you headed right down the stairs to the tarmac. I hope I will never forget the feeling of stepping out the door, at the top of the stairs, and feeling that BLAST of HOT air hit my face. That's Middle East weather. I looked out at the palm trees waving in the distance and the Israeli flags.
And I knew I was home. I don't know how I knew. But I was home. I climbed down the stairs and fell on the ground kissing it. Tears were streaming down my face. I'm home, I'm home, I'm home.

It was an up and down 5 weeks. So emotionally and physically challenging. But I fell in love. I fell in love with this country called Israel. Nothing else was constant or stable in my life. But I finally knew one thing. This is where I belonged. I felt like I didn't belong anywhere in the States. In Israel, I belonged.....

V'Shavu Banim Ligvulam....

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