To Give and to Receive
So far I've received pretty positive feedback from my requests for posts on reasons for making aliyah, and Rafi of Lifeinisrael
has already put his up. I thought I would keep the ball rolling with my own contribution.
During my sophomore year at Stern College I decided I wanted to further my Jewish studies in Israel. For various reasons I could only go to Israel for a semester, so I landed for the first time in January of 1982.
Like most American students I studied in English and had English speaking friends, and spent most of my time in Jerusalem, although I tagged along with friends who travelled to different places for Shabbat. I very much enjoyed the tiyulim (hiking trips) that were arranged for us - but the bulk of my time was focussed on continuing my learning.
I was completely apolitical at that point. The protests before the evacuation of Yamit were not on my "radar screen" at all, and the controversy surrounding it went completely over my head. The sight of the little kids dressed in their Purim costumes and the sounds of the vendors in the Machane Yehuda shuk made more of an impression on me than the news that I barely understood.
Then the war in Lebanon started (Operation Peace for Galilee). One by one the girls who I studied with began receiving frantic phone calls from parents, and slowly but surely the dorm emptied out. I also received a similar phone call - which I ignored. When most of my friends were packing and moving up their departure dates, I went to the El-Al office and delayed my return trip by a month. (I had a job in August that I could not ignore).
I don't know how it happened, but somehow the love of this little country of ours took hold of me. The thought of leaving caused me almost physical pain, as if I were abandoning a friend in trouble. I decided to spend the rest of my time in Israel volunteering.
I did various things during this time, including packing care packages for soldiers at Yad L'Banim in Jerusalem (which deserves its own post). One day I heard that they needed volunteers at Moshav Keshet in the Golan, because a lot of the men had been called up for army duty and there was work that couldn't wait. I packed a bag with enough clothing for a few days and got on a bus to Tiberias.
When I approached the ticket window at the bus station in Tiberias I hit my first snag. I had called for information on the bus routes and ticket prices, but I had failed to ask about the exact schedules. It turns out that I had missed the last bus to Keshet by a half hour. I didn't have enough money for a taxi, so I had to decide whether to take the return trip back to Jerusalem - or to try and make it on my own. There was still a good few hours before sunset, so I walked to the nearest bus stop and did what a lot of other people were doing - waiting to hitchhike.
This action took a lot of courage on my part. As a little girl I always colored within the lines, as a student I always did my homework and never cut class, and was, in general, the goody-two-shoes that everyone secretly wants to strangle. As a 20 year old woman traveling on her own I knew that hitchhiking was very dangerous - but my determination to get to the moshav overrode my fears.
My first ride was with an older gentleman who drove a truck. He alternately boasted about how beautiful "his" Kinneret was (the Sea of Galiliee) - and the view climbing up to the Golan is truly breathtaking - and scolded me for hitchhiking by myself. When letting me off at Ramat Magshimim he apologized profusely for not taking me all of the way to Keshet - but he had merchandise to deliver and couldn't go out of his way. I then turned into the Israeli and reassured him that "yiheyeh b'seder" - "it will be all right".
I then spent a long time trying to get a ride from there - unsuccessfully. A young girl of about twelve approached me and asked if I needed help. I explained the situation in my very rudimentary Hebrew, and after a pause she crooked her finger at me, signalling that I should follow her. She took me to her house and the family gave me - a complete stranger - a room for the night and both dinner and breakfast. (Not only was I grateful for their generosity, but I was very impressed with the maturity of this young girl, who took the initiative and helped a stranger). The next morning I caught a ride with an army jeep, where the soldiers told me that although it was against the rules to give people rides, it wasn't safe for me to hitchhike alone and they would do it anyway. (Three guardian angels in less than 24 hours!)
At Keshet I was given the task, with two other volunteers, of cleaning out the huge chicken coops, an olfactory experience never to be forgotten. True, most of the ...uh...debris left by the chickens had been cleared away by other workers already, but we still had to sweep away the very smelly dust that remained. After three days of this I was overjoyed to be given the task of staking up grape vines, although it was physically harder work.
Working in an adjacent row was the man from Keshet who was in charge of volunteers, and he engaged me in conversation as we worked. Between my very bad Hebrew and his passable English we surprisingly communicated very well. At one point some fighter jets flew overhead towards Lebanon, and I took the moment to look at the sky and stretch out my back. My companion looked at me and asked, "aren't you afraid?"
I would have had a hard time sorting out my feelings and giving him a coherent answer in English - and in Hebrew this was all but impossible. The closest thing I could come up with was the simplest, and probably truest, answer. "Ani tzricha la'azor" - "I need to help". My need to give was stronger than my fear.
I travelled a few weeks later to another moshav in the south, not far from Gush Etzion, to do more volunteering (this time checking the bus schedules carefully). After my stay was over a member of the moshav offerred to drive me to the nearest bus stop, and he took his ten year old son with us. Suddenly he stopped by the side of the road. I thought at first that something might be wrong with the car, but he quickly allayed my fears and asked his son to get out of the car. He then pointed to an Arab woman on an adjacent hill, who was throwing what looked like wheat into the air. The man then proceeded to remind his son about the laws of the Sabbath that they had learned together, and explained that what we were looking at was the act of winnowing.
I remember thinking to myself, "I want this". I wanted my future husband to be able to stop by the side of the road and teach his son Torah, just as it says in the Shema (Hear O Israel prayer) "V'sheenantam l'vanecha v'dibarta bam b'shivtecha b'veitecha uv'lechtecha b'derech..." - "Teach them [G-d's commandments ed.] thoroughly to your children and speak of them while you sit in your home and while you walk on the way.." (Artscroll Siddur translation).
So when did I "know" that I would make aliyah? Was it when I changed my ticket to stay another month? Or was it when I refused to turn back at Tiberias? Perhaps it was at that moment that the Shema's words came alive right in front of me?
I don't know exactly - but the unbeatable combination of wanting to both give of myself, and receive wonderful things in return, was enough to bring me back home.