In June, my husband, four young children and I moved from Thornhill (a suburb of Toronto) to the Israeli town Ramat Bet Shemesh for one year. "Why Israel and why now?" people have been asking.
The idea to move here started nine years ago when my husband and I came to Jerusalem for a 3-week holiday. We fell in love with the Old City. Where else do you see adults rushing off to learn Torah, with the total joy of learning imprinted on their face? And where else do you see so many Jewish people, filling and running a city? It was simply incredible.
The nurse carefully brushed the elderly patient's hair and then kissed her cheeks.
I was in the hospital for five days during the trip and even that was a positive experience. Everyone there cared, really cared, how the patients were feeling. I still remember the ward nurse brushing the hair of an elderly patient and then taking her face in her hands and kissing the patients cheeks. That does not happen in Canada.
At that time, moving to Israel for a year didn't seem right, so we waited. Each subsequent trip was wonderful, and yet we didn't stay. Looking back (and forward), I can see that the Almighty never gives you the perfect opportunity to uproot your family and move here. There are always a hundred reasons to stay put.
A HUNDRED REASONS
My husband and I talked about the one-year experience this past summer. The timing did not seem too bad -- our oldest child was only 8 and the youngest was on the way.
But the pull to stay home was awfully hard. One of my brothers passed away from cancer during the year, and I did not think I could bear to leave my parents who are in their 80's. I was the only child not living in the States. How could I do it to them... they just buried a child and now I was moving 6,000 miles away. Only after incredible reassurance from my parents did we continue our plans.
They just buried a child and now I was moving 6,000 miles away.
Then my husband's two adult children from a previous marriage did not want us to leave. Our lives are very connected. How could we manage without them and how could they manage without us? After much soul searching, we decided that maybe our being in Israel and their visits to us would strengthen their commitment to their Jewish roots.
Then, listening to the radio and watching the news, in the safety and comfort of our home in Thornhill, we were scared for Israel. Was this a test for us? Arabs were lining up to be killed for "their cause." What was I willing to do for my cause?
The biggest test, however, took place after the Tel Aviv disco bombing. A very close relative called me, hysterical and sobbing, and asked how I could be so irresponsible as to take my family into a war zone. "Didn't I love my kids?" she asked.
How could I convey to her that it was because I loved them that I wanted to come so badly? I wanted my kids to be in a totally Jewish environment. I wanted to drastically reduce the amount of North American garbage that children are exposed to, and increase their spirituality.
How I could be so irresponsible as to take my family into a war zone?
I wanted my kids to be in a community that shuts down for Shabbat and celebrates all the holidays. Where wearing a kippot, tzitzit and modest clothing were the norm. Where the only schools are Jewish schools and the only places of worships are shuls. Where they could feel that all Jews are family. Where every simcha is celebrated by all, and God forbid, every tragedy is felt by all.
I couldn't tell her all that, but her tears made me feel even more firmly committed to our decision.
And so, just before the end of the school year, we moved here.
TALKING TO STRANGERS
The crazy thing is that I feel so much safer here in Israel than I did back in Thornhill. This one-sided war is continuing, and is getting closer and closer. I can't begin to understand the message that God is sending us, but I am glad that I am here to be with my fellow Jews.
I also know that you cannot escape the Angel of Death. Every death is orchestrated by God -- my brother died young and after a horrible struggle with brain cancer. If it is my time to die, or my family's time to go, I would rather us go in the Holy Land than in Toronto.
I don't hesitate to let my 8-year-old daughter walk by herself to the store several blocks away.
Meanwhile, despite the war, I don't hesitate to let my 8-year-old daughter walk by herself to the store several blocks away. I can go for walks in the dead of night and not be fearful. We take the kids to the parks and they are encouraged to talk to strangers.
The community we moved to is young, and full of warm, friendly, welcoming Jews who really make us feel like we have come home. I guess, in many ways, we have. Total strangers have brought us meals, cakes, fruit and invitations to join them for Shabbat. Strangers walked up to us to offer a welcome and to thank us for coming. I couldn't believe we were being thanked for doing something I felt everyone should be doing, coming to Israel at this time.
In addition to being in a fabulous house, we live right beside two shuls. When I open my windows, I am treated to the wonderful sound of davening. I hear the services three times a day. During Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, I didn't even go to the shul. The children and I just sat on our couch and were able to participate and enjoy the entire service. On Simchat Torah, the two shuls took to the streets with the Torah scrolls. Up and down the street in front of our house, adults and children danced and sang. Every time my 5-year-old son ran to kiss the Torah, he'd return to tell me, "Ima, I am so happy!" It was a night of pure joy.
My three school-aged children are in Hebrew-speaking schools, meeting wonderful children and being taught by amazing teachers. It is a struggle for them, as they don't yet know Hebrew, but given the choice, even they want to stay here and not return to Toronto.
Up and down the street in front of our house, adults and children danced and sang.
My husband is self-employed and has been lucky enough to be able to service his Toronto clients long distance, making only the occasional trip back to see them in person. He studies Torah every morning, just seconds from our home. What an incredible experience to open a Talmud and study uninterrupted for hours at a time.
We feel safe, secure and needed here in Israel. The September 11 attacks reinforced our belief that God is in control and that living outside of Israel is no guarantee of long life. If anything, I think the attack showed that we are so protected here in Israel, surrounded by enemies who wish to destroy us, and thank God, so few of us have perished.
Every day I thank God for giving me the opportunity to live out this dream, and I ask Him to let me stay.