I had two “only in Israel” moments on the Heart to Heart 2 Mission. For me, the two moments were the bookends to the ongoing story that runs through my head whenever I am in Israel. The story I hear, over and over, sometimes quite loudly and other times just playing as background noise, is “why didn’t I come back to make aliyah?”
From the moment I arrived in Israel in 1977, for the summer in between my sophomore and junior years in college to work on an archeology dig, I felt somehow at home. Now, some of this must have been conditioning as years of happy Hebrew school movies of young sabras (native born Israelis) dancing the hora, Young Judaea meetings, and summers at Camp Young Judaea had certainly made Israel sound like a great place. But it’s always been more than that. I’ve been to Israel 13 more times since that original trip and whenever I land, I feel as though I breathe more freely and am more at peace with myself. I don’t speak much Hebrew at all, so it’s not like I can understand the lively conversations going on around me wherever I am. But I feel like I could, if I just had a spare six months for an ulpan course, preferably seaside in Herzelia Pituach!
So, it’s not unreasonable for anyone to ask why I didn’t make aliyah, to be in the place where I am most myself. My two moments on this trip did a lot to explain it, at least to me.
One of the great things about the Heart to Heart missions is that they are planned FOR women, BY women, and we meet many, many Israeli women — our peers. Busy, engaged women who want to make the world and, especially their small corner of it, a better place. So on our first full day in Israel, we went to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament), to meet in small groups with women members. After making our way through the security building that sits at the street level, we were walking along the wide pavilion that leads to the iconic Knesset building itself. As we were waiting to walk inside, I noticed that one of our guides was having an animated conversation with another woman, someone who was not from our group. Then I realized that the woman was my childhood friend Deborah. Now, I often see Deborah when I am in Israel. She and her husband hosted my entire family (18 of us) for Shabbat dinner and we try to see each other when she is in the States, but I couldn’t imagine when I was going to get to see her on this five-day trip, so I didn’t even tell her that I was coming.
The Knesset is one of the very few places in Israel where some modicum of formality is maintained, so we were not wearing jeans and we were keeping our voices down. That is until Deborah and I saw each other and we started jumping up and down and screaming like 12 year olds at a camp reunion. (Which, in fact, we had done as 12 year olds.) We had very little time to catch up, but we didn’t waste a second. I filled her in on news from my side of the ocean — her family and mine — and she filled me in on hers, including the two of her four children who are serving in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). We’ve literally known each other since birth and we talked as if we had seen each other last week.
Sometimes I feel as though Deborah is leading some version of a life I could have lived. She had the same Zionist ideals instilled in her at home, in Hebrew school, and through the same Young Judaea experiences. She, however, did Young Judaea Year Course after high school. She vowed to make aliyah after graduating from Wellesley College and she did. Deborah graduated from Hebrew University Law School and has had a distinguished career, a great and supportive husband, and four gorgeous kids. Yes, she is far from the family of her birth, but they manage to see each other often and while she is very, very Israeli, she is still the Deborah I’ve always known. Why couldn’t I have done this? I turned this question over in my head for the next three days.
On the last day of our mission, we spent the day at the Yitzhak Rabin Center and Museum in Tel Aviv. It’s a wonderful museum that literally intertwines the life of Rabin with the history of the modern State of Israel and I recommend it highly. You self-guide through the museum with the use of a device that engages the video displays.
At the end, we gathered to hear from Dahlia Rabin, Yitzhak Rabin’s daughter. As part of this talk, Dahlia gave four new olim, people making aliyah, their Israeli identity cards. They were all American, two young people who had wonderful experiences with Birthright Israel and MASA, the longer-term counterpart to Birthright, and an older couple. The woman in the couple looked familiar, but I couldn’t place her face.
Then Dahlia introduced the couple, Anita and Carl Jacobs. Well, I almost fell out of my chair. Anita Jacobs was, for many years, the lead trainer for public speaking for what was then national UJA, now the Jewish Federations of North America. Anita trained me many years ago, and I never stand up to speak without using the tools she gave me. I mean that literally — when I appear in front of judges, Women’s Philanthropy groups, and just this past fall at the International Lion of Judah Conference, I take the opening breath Anita taught me to take, drop my shoulders, smile (“apples up!”) and start.
To see Anita and Carl, ready to take on a new adventure after successful careers and lives in Teaneck, New Jersey, and to make aliyah was so special. And inspiring. Maybe, even though I didn’t make aliyah when I was just starting out like Deborah did, I could get there at the other end of the age spectrum, when I was ready to retire from my busy life here.
From where I am right now, though, I can’t see it. First, there is the practical aspect: I am married to a wonderful man who is very happy in his profession and is very happy living here in South Orange. Even if those weren’t the facts, I am so engaged with my life here, with my almost-grown children who still need a mom who lives on the same side of the ocean, to my extended family, who I already don’t get to see enough of, to the life of this community in MetroWest that is so dear to me. I can’t imagine leaving now, and I don’t think I really imagined it close to 30 years ago, when it would have been so much less complicated. I know Israel is there for me, in every sense of that phrase, and those I love in Israel know that I am there for Israel. Israel doesn’t need any more lawyers; Israel needs me to be here, doing what I do now.
I am compelled by my love of Israel every day, when I pick up the phone to make one more call for the Annual Campaign, when I speak to federation groups here at home in MetroWest or in other federations, when I look to create one more person-to-person connection that can strengthen the bond between American Jews and Israeli Jews. Maybe some day I will have that little vacation apartment in Herzeliya, but until then, visiting whenever I can and doing what I do here will have to suffice. I am so glad to have had these bookend moments with Deborah and Anita, starting out and ending up, two moments that reminded me of what I can do, even if I can’t physically be in Eretz Yisrael.
Here’s to a heart in two places!