Thursday, July 01, 2010

Sitting Alone in a Room (7/1/2010)

This coming week, we will mark the fourth anniversary of our aliyah. Sometimes it seems like it was just yesterday, and other times I have a hard time remembering how we lived before we came here. You have been with us most of the way, sharing in our trials, small and large, and witnessing our successes and failures (hopefully more of the former than the latter).

We have witnessed two wars together. We have seen the demise of the career of two heads of state (Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni) and the rebirth of another’s. In the same election we have seen the birth of a new reality for our new hometown of Bet Shemesh, as the city council and mayoralty went to chareidi parties for the first time. (Interestingly, in Yerushalayim, the exact opposite happened—the first chareidi government was voted out of office.)

Our family has overcome so much in this time. Of course, no hurdle was greater than Goldie’s illness. With the support of your tefillah and e-mails and messages of support, we were given a tremendous outcome and continue to daven and hope that it continues. It was the defining moment of our first year here and could have destroyed our aliyah; instead, it has become the anchor of our acclimation.

You have been there with us as we struggled to identify, understand, and cope with the myriad of challenges that have faced our children in their adjustments. Each one had issues unique to their situation. Issues much greater than the simple fact that their parents uprooted them from a home they had known and loved to a strange world 6,000 miles away from everything that was familiar. Yes, there was a language gap and educational gaps, but there was so much more.

Chaim and Chaya came in their teen years—years in which all the “experts” said that aliyah would destroy them. Yet somehow they were able to establish great friendships and quickly identify (each in his or her own way) how they could fit in and succeed on their own terms. Four years and two high-school graduations later, Chaim is about to start year two in YU (after learning for two years, full time, here in yeshiva) and Chaya is entering sherut leumi (national service) and beginning to prepare for university.

Aliza became a bat mitzvah in our second year and is entering 10th grade. She was always a social butterfly, with great grades, but sacrificed her academics to make friends. (Until we found out.) She struggled a bit in finding the right school, but is now thriving and, although she hates to hear it, will do quite well in following in her big sister’s footsteps. And, as we expected from the day she was born, she will continue to challenge us every step of the way.

Batya and Mordechai suffered greatly with Hebrew. In many ways, we had expected their adjustments to be the easiest, since they were so young and adaptable. Yet the language was torture for them. Their first seven months were terrible, and when things began to look up and make sense to them—Eema got sick. Yet now, here they are, finishing grades 5 and 3 and so comfortable in their schools and lives that they would be like fish out of water anywhere else.

Moshe, who was just over a year and barely talking when we came, is a year away from 1st grade and as Israeli as a Katz can be. He has grown so much, as have they all. It is incredible to consider just how much they have grown over this time.

Four years. Think about it. 208 weeks. More than half a cycle of daf yomi. Almost 10 percent of my life, 20 percent of my married life.

My oldest nephew was an aspiring combat soldier when we first moved here. We watched with pride, joy, and no small amount of terror when he joined an elite combat unit. Quickly tabbed as a leader, he went through commander’s school and was assigned to a special experimental unit.

He fought in Gaza and I have written about the people who meant so much to him during the war. From Dorothy Shapiro, now a 90-year-old woman who sent him a care package during the war, to my good friend Jason Schwartz who went to deliver the care packages and called me to tell me he was standing with my nephew at the border, it is this support that provides spirit and encouragement to our young soldiers.

My nephew’s service will be over in a few months. Tragically, he lost a close buddy in a Gaza firefight on erev Shabbat HaGadol, just two days before they were to be rotated out of Gaza. My nephew will never be the same and has suffered a loss that few of us can comprehend.

His service—from training to fighting to celebrating to tragedy—all fell within the four years of our aliyah.

I have gone from one job to another, both in non-profit but in vastly different spheres, in the four years we have lived here. I am actually lucky on this—many olim go through several jobs in the first couple of years as they try to identify what works for them. Interestingly, there are more lawyers-turned-gardeners and doctors-turned-vintners here than anywhere else. This is a frustrating land, but also a land of great opportunity.

You have been on our chol ha’moed trips, thrilling to the tours and new adventures. You have gone with us to Eilat and Teveriah (and G-d willing Netanya and Nahariah a bit later this summer) as we toured and experienced various parts of our homeland. We have walked the Kotel tunnels together and the Ir David water tunnel. We have gone to museums and shows, fairs and performances, all here in these very pages.

Think about how much we have lived in these four years. Think of all the people we have met and the places they have taken us.

No, I am not writing this as an introduction to my last article. I am not saying farewell. However, I wanted to give you a sense of how truly long we have been here and how much life we have lived in that time.

Think of how far your own lives have come in the last four years. Think back to how little your children or grandchildren were and how much they have grown. Think back to where your life was and what you were doing. Take a moment to reflect upon how much has happened to you and your family.

Why? Well, there is another four-year anniversary that we just celebrated a few days ago. About two weeks before we made aliyah, Hamas terrorists tunneled across the Gaza border and attacked Israeli soldiers, killing two of them and wounding and capturing Gilad Shalit, who has been in captivity ever since.

We have no idea as to his whereabouts or the conditions in which he is being held. Presumably, he is being held in isolation somewhere, sitting alone in a room and waiting. He has sat and waited for the entire time my family has lived in Israel—and he continues to sit and wait. Think about how long four years is. Think about how much of his life has been stolen by despicable terrorists and murderers.

Where is the Gilad Shalit flotilla, full of liberal activists and celebrities? Why do they not sail with an empty “peace ship” to the docks of Gaza City and demand that he be returned with them to his family and his home for the sake of peace?

I do not know the answers. I do not know what is the right formula to get Gilad home and allow him to rejoin them. I do know this: he has missed so much and we are not doing enough. May Hashem grant that he be returned soon so that his clock can finally restart, while ours continues to turn.

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