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The Land of the Living    

The Land of the Living

Israel is not about living life as if one is on a permanent vacation. No, it’s a struggle, earning our right to live in Hashem's Land through daily challenges…


My grandmother pined for her beloved Land most of her adult life. A born and bred Yerushalmi girl, she parted from the City of Gold at one of the Jewish nations most tumultuous times in history. Post Holocaust, and following Israel's war of 1948, my grandparents found themselves thrown into the ultimate of exiles. My grandfather had barely survived the Holocaust, when Israel was thrust into war in its infancy. The Arabs had basically plundered the family business, leaving my great grandparents, along with my grandparents, basically penniless. It was time to start anew.
Heavy heavyhearted, my grandfather told my grandmother to roll the dice. Canada (hey, I could have been speaking French instead of Spanish!) Australia, or gulp—Colombia, which back then was really considered a third world country. My grandmother chose (for reasons only HaShem knows) Colombia, South America. It helped that her parents were also going there to recoup a semblance of a livelihood, being that my great grandfather had already been there in the early 1900's. It also helped that she had an Aunt living there at the time. In any case, that is how a born and bred Yerushalmi girl, from a traditional Sephardi family, ended up marrying an Ashkenaz European and moving near the Amazon jungles of South America. For those who claim HaShem does not have a sense of humor, this was the ultimate punch line!
After several years of recouping their losses, my great-grandparents returned to the Holy Land. For my grandparents, it was another story. They had children born to them in exile, and the roots had already taken hold in a foreign land. It was not so easy (especially at that time) to pick up and make the move back. Their sole mode of subsistence was there. The Jewish community was flourishing. Other family members had joined them, and one could live quite comfortably in what had become a very cosmopolitan city. And yet, since my earliest recollections, my grandmothers heart was never completely in Colombia. She never stopped yearning for the Land of her birth, and for the rest of her life ,she would cry in longing for Eretz Yisrael.
Time and again she made her case for return. My grandfather would not hear of leaving his grandchildren and children behind. Not after all those he had lost. This was the constant tug and pull, and my grandmother was never fully at peace living outside her City of Gold—Yerushalaim.
When I was 18, my grandmother was diagnosed, and given six months to live.  To say I was close to her was an understatement. Those pain streaked months remain etched in my memory forever. But what struck me the most about that time, aside from my grandmother's bravery in the face of her greatest trial, was the decision she made.
“I am dying in Israel! I will not die and be buried amongst these gentiles!”
My grandmother's decision left us, to say the least, in a state of turmoil. Her fierce and devoted love for her family—was extraordinary. And yet, despite the ties that bind, in her last months of life,s he wanted to be in her beloved Land, surrounded by her siblings, till her last day on this earth. And when her time came, she wanted to be buried in its Holy soil. And that was my grandmother's legacy to me. A love for the Land so great, that it superseded logic and meaning. It is the same love that drives 18 year old army recruits, many of them not yet religious, to lay their life on the line every day, defending these Holy borders. It is a love greater than ourselves, and therein lies its beauty.
How many times haven't we heard someone say, “When I die, I want to be buried in Eretz Yisrael!” That's great. That is a wonderful proclamation! But instead of just being 'dead' in Israel, why doesn't that same person come to be ALIVE in Israel? Israel is not just a great place to be if you're dead! It's a great place to be when you're alive! Sorry for the  morbid thought, but I must say that there's a lot of things that one misses out on if they're coming to Israel once they're dead. I mean, can you eat a felafel in Yerushalaim without a physical body? Can you cry copious tears at the Kotel, and the next second be completely uplifted at the sight of our soldiers being inducted into the Army in the same spot five minutes later? What about visiting the beautiful vistas Eretz Yisrael has to offer? If you only plan to come when you're dead, you'll miss out on all those fun tours where you get to wear T-Shirts that say 'I LOVE ISRAEL' in big blue letters. They might even let you take pictures on a camel. But that's only if you're alive to do so.
If you plan to come to Israel after you die, you won't be able to take a bullet proof bus to Mama Rachel's kever. You'll miss out visiting with the wonderful Jews of Hebron who LIVE each day with an emuna that few are privileged to experience in this world. If you only come when you're dead, you won't tread the same paths that our holy forefathers walked. You won't get a mitzvah for every step you take , even if you're just running to the local makolet for the proverbial emergency bread and milk. You'll miss out on the lilting sound of the davening coming from the five different shuls on your block. If you're dead, you can't smile at the security guard at the supermarket who ducks his head so you can kiss the mezuzah. You'll miss the contagious, infectious laughter and merrymaking as soon as Rosh Chodesh Adar rolls around, and the blasts of the shoffar that fill the air come Elul. The azure blue of the skies that accompany us most of the year, even in winter. Only if you're alive in Israel can you stand in the middle of a sudden downpour, arms outstretched, trying to catch the bracha falling from heaven. These are the privileges reserved for the living in Israel.
If you only plan to come to Israel once you're dead, you'll miss out on the daily miracles that one is privy to by living here. If you only come after your time is up in this physical earth, you can't receive brochos from all the holy people who live here---be it from the mouth of a Gadol, or the sincere blessings of an Israeli cab driver. You won't be able to witness the love that exists beneath the madness between Jews of all walks of life. The olive trees that line the stretch of highway, and the sunflowers bowing to their Creator at the peak of the season. You'll miss mile after mile of verdant fields, stretching to the horizon as far as the eye can see. The stones that witnessed so much of our history, as the old blends with the new.
Israel is not about living life as if one is on a permanent vacation. On the contrary. Israel is a struggle. It is earning your right to live in HaShem's Land through daily challenges. It is lifting your eyes to the One Who created you, and asking for help. Israel is finding potential you never knew you had. It is living in a state of constant awareness that you are not in control, and that it is best to let HaShem run the show. It is living amongst and surrounded by enemies, knowing that you are in HaShem's House—and that our Father is watching every door that leads to His most precious Land.
The events of the world are moving at breakneck speed. What used to happen in the span of ten years, is now happening in ten days. Every day, another earthquake. Every day, another uprising. Another cyclone. Another point in the dropping of the dollar. The euro. The world is becoming one big, gigantic battle, and it seems as if there will be no place left without a struggle. So if we have to struggle anyway, why not struggle amongst the living in Eretz Yisrael?
Is it easy? Absolutely not! Is it challenging? You bet! Is it worth it? Indisputably! Each step you take in Israel is a point in your favor. HaShem's eyes are always on His Land—and on His people.
Well, what about all those terrorists? Those Arabs? How about all those countries surrounding Israel, whose only goal is to destroy us? As I always say—September 11 did not happen in Israel. There are more killings, murders and all other types of crime in America—than there are here. The difference is that each neshama is precious to us. If there is one Jew killed, one soldier kidnapped, Chas v' Shalom—the whole world will know about it. Are you aware of every murder that takes place every few minutes in America, and in other parts of the world? Of course not! It is more dangerous to walk down a block in some of the streets in New York, than it is to walk down the streets of Yerushalaim, or most cities in Eretz HaKodesh, for that matter. The difference is that to the Jews, one loss is the loss of Am Yisrael.
Here, we see miracles. How many attempts against our people haven't been foiled? How many stories haven't been told about miraculous salvation? During the Gulf War,as far as I know, not one Jew was harmed by the constant barrage of missiles that fell on Israel. And even now, as those who hate us keep shooting their miserable rockets, HaShem sends His angels to intercept them, and Baruch HaShem—most, if not all, have landed on empty lots, or places devoid of people. Or, take the recent bombing in that bus stop in Yerushalaim. It could have been much much worse, if not for the kiosk owner who spotted a lone bag by a telephone poll. Now, living in Israel, I have seen a lot of backpacks and lunches blown up, entire streets cordoned off, as a precaution. The poor kid who forgot his backpack comes back to find a charred smoldering heap where his lunch had once been. The kiosk owner was being cautious, except this time—he was right. He managed to push so many people out of the way, people who would have otherwise been badly hurt—or worse. The only casualty, according to what my husband read on Arutz Sheva, was of a missionary woman, who was here learning Hebrew, so she could 'recruit' Jews away from their heritage. HaShem's eyes are always on His Land—and on His people.
I spoke with my uncle today, to verify a story of family lore, which he confirmed was completely true. It seems that my great great grandfather , who lived in Syria until his old age, decided that he was soon reaching the end of his life. That being the case, he decided that he was going to walk most of the way to Israel, to live out his remaining days—and to die in here. Which he did. What is this desire of every Jew to connect to this heavenly piece of real estate? It can't be explained in human terms, because there are no words in our lexicon to describe  it, It is just something we feel—and feel deeply.
So yes, I am the first to say I was the least likely to make Alyiah—and it hasn't been easy. We have had our share of challenges, and if one more person had quoted to me the oft repeated Gemara, that this is a land that is earned through yissurim, or suffering, I would have let out a loud—yet lady like scream. But few are the people that don't have challenges. And if you need to ask for help from your Father, as one book so aptly put it—at least here it's a local call.
Eretz Yisrael is HaShem's gift to His people. It is not a coincidence that He has gifted us this Land to come home to at this point in time. A Land full of HaShem's bracha, where the shekel is rising, the housing market is one of the top in the world, and the technology and discoveries that are benefiting the rest of the nations are mind boggling. It is a Land that is light years away from the rest of the planet in technology—but if one feels the need to go back a bit, and to connect with those who have come before us—to touch the old stones, and feel a bit of history—then anything is possible. The path has already been tread before us—we are simply picking up where our forefathers have left off.

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  Good points
Brooklyn girl4/21/2011 10:39:26 PM

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