Thursday, March 13, 2014
The Road More Travelled
With Purim approaching, it might not seem like the right time to talk about Israel, but a thought-provoking essay suggests that there is indeed a strong connection between Purim and zionism (lower case “z”). With a trip planned for next week, I already have Israel on my mind. As much as I'm looking forward to my visit, I'm feeling somewhat wistful as I wonder about what might have been.
In 1996 we made aliyah. After three miscarriages, we had finally made it to the second trimester. I was finally going to sit down to try and learn Torah at a serious level. We were both so excited, even as we left most of our family behind. We stayed for two years, we grew as a family with the birth of two sons, and I discovered what I had been missing and I began my love-affair with Torah. Then, for various reasons, some good and some less good, we left, despite my uncertainty and Rochie's desire to stay. From time to time, especially when I go to Israel, I wonder how things might have turned out had we stayed.
As I child, I was fascinated by “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. Rather than offering one story with only one ending, these books offered what felt like endless possibilities to me. Turn to page 49 and I might fall off a cliff and never be heard from again. Choose page 37 and I lived to continue my search for lost treasure, or the UFO, or the lost treasure and the UFO. Of course, I was never willing to make a choice and live (or not live, as the case may be) with the consequences. I'd turn to each page and see what would happen, and proceed accordingly. I would keep my fingers by each choice so that I could try each permutation. Eventually, I ran out of fingers, died many times, became fabulously wealthy and saved the world more times than I can count (you're welcome!).
Of course in real life, there's only one choice that can be lived. All others live on only in the imagination. Where would we live, what would our children's lives be like, would I have made it as a teacher in Israel, are only some of the questions that sometimes cross my mind. It's easy to come up with some rose-colored scenario where everything would be perfect, where all the good things in our lives would have, somehow, still occurred, without any of the challenges.
I've been back to Israel about half-a-dozen times since we left. I look out at the red clay roofs of small yishuvim, and surrounding green fields, as the bus or taxi brings me up, in all senses of the term, towards the Holy city. I wander through the streets of Yerushalayim with such sweet sorrow, as I see a dear friend who I have missed, and will soon leave, and miss once again. I read the street signs, happy to discover that I am walking on a road named for one of my favorite rabbinic authors. I walk through the shuk, entranced by the smell of the various delicacies offered in each stall. Outside the city, it is no different. I daven on Masada and look out to the other side of the Jordan, and thank God for standing where Moshe Rabbeinu could not. I stand on the porch of my brother's home, and am overwhelmed by the simple beauty of the rocky grass-covered hills.
I know that this is not the Israel of those who live there. They pay bills, vote in elections, and drive carpool. They break up fights between their children, feel frustration with their boss, and wonder how they will cope when their children enter the army. I know all this, and yet. I watch from a distance as their political battles are fought over the direction of the Jewish people, their bus drivers warmly wish them a “Shabbat Shalom!” and the national holidays are indeed holy days.
There is much we have accomplished here, and some things I would have no doubt missed, had we stayed in Israel. I lived close to my parents during the last year of their respective lives. I have taught much Torah and made wonderful friends. Still, as I get off the plane at Ben Gurion next week, and even more when I board the plane and head for home, I know I'll be wondering whether we made the right choice.