Walking my daughter Talia into her pre-first grade meeting, I hold her hand protectively, distinctly aware and somewhat surprised at the depth of my emotions. Crossing the threshold from kindergarten to first grade, from little person to bigger person, is a significant step in the life of a young child, and no less so for her mother. I wanted Talia to know how proud I am to be leading her through the gate of her new elementary school, towards endless opportunities and possibilities; a launch pad for both her imagination and her infectious excitement for learning.
It is easy to feel nostalgic at moments like these. Wasn’t it just yesterday that Talia entered our lives, a sweet bundle of pink in a sea of deep blue, the first daughter in our family? How has the time flown by so quickly?
We made our way hand in hand towards the principal’s office. The small waiting area was already filled with other soon-to-be first graders and their parents. I surveyed the scene, eager to learn more about Talia’s upcoming first grade experience. A smiling Israeli couple walked out of their meeting, their young daughter in tow. A British mom sat on one of the couches, seated alongside a South African couple and their daughters.
These five sets of parents, representing five disparate countries and cultures, all sat together.
After a few minutes, a young Ethiopian mother with a stroller joined the crowd, her young daughter standing at her side. Talia and I sat there as well, an American mom and her American-Israeli daughter. I could not help but marvel at the variety. It was almost like the United Nations. These five sets of parents, representing five disparate countries and cultures, had in all likelihood attended first grade on four different continents. Yet here we sat together today, preparing our daughters for their joint entry to first grade in the very same school.
In another time and another place this scene would have been impossible. Yet in the rolling hills surrounding greater Bet Shemesh, this synthesis is almost typical, a remarkable statement about the power of the present. Twenty years ago the hills that comprise this section of the city were a barren assortment of bush, brush and thorn. In the intervening time, neighborhoods have sprung up, breathing life into these hills, heralding the arrival of thousands of families from literally the four corners of the earth. The words of the prophets are unfolding before our very eyes.
Talia’s arrival at first grade symbolizes something far more monumental than the tentative steps of a child growing up. Beyond the personal story of a child and her family is a collective story of the tenacity and triumph of a nation. Gathered from our points of origin, each one of us undertook his own unique and difficult journey to arrive here in Israel. And here we synthesize. Here we build together. Here, even our daily mundane activities take on greater significance as they equal the realization of a vision that predates us by thousands of years.
The personal emotions of a mother and her hopes and dreams for her daughter pale in comparison to the gripping account of a nation, who with the help of God has risen against all odds to establish itself and flourish in our land.
Although they don’t know it yet, Talia and her fellow first grade classmates have been given a unique charge. Unlike first graders in other parts of the world who can simply focus on math and reading, inspiring stories and chesed projects, these first grade girls confront something far larger and more powerful. They must take an active role in creating and developing the dynamic future of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.
Hopefully they will glean the necessary tools to impact change along the way. Above all else though, they come equipped with the knowledge that they stem from somewhere unique, a place far away from their current home, where their parents made the colossal decision to leave their families and communities and embark towards the unknown; to proudly realize a life-long dream. This knowledge, with its mix of pride and passion, serves as a compass for their distinct reality. Here and now there is something that is being built that is greater than the sum of its individual parts.
The responsibility is overwhelming, but the opportunity beckons.