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Childhood Memories of a Year in Israel, Followed by a Lifetime in Exile

Right after Tisha B’Av in 1979, my family left Israel—and splintered into pieces. Despite my hopes, I never made it back.

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(Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)
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When I was a kid, my folks were ordinary suburbanites. Then they retired, made aliyah, and got hip.

Prelude and Fugue

There are men who leave you for another woman, and there are men who leave you for a man. Then there are those who dump you for God.

“Of course,” he reassured me. So, after our wedding, we visited the local Israel Aliyah Center and contacted Nefesh B’Nefesh. We learned how to obtain Israeli passports at the consulate, collected relevant documents, and opened our file as prospective olim. We investigated taking a subsidized pilot trip to locate a community and work.

But we noticed something. The folks at the Israel Aliyah Center didn’t encourage us the way we had expected. They pointed out that as teachers with significant student loan debt still to repay, we’d find ourselves in an even greater financial bind in Israel. “Unfortunately, teachers are not well paid,” one person after another told us. “They usually work two, three jobs to make ends meet.”

At a parlor meeting at the home of neighbors who also planned to make aliyah, we learned that most Israelis own their home. “But not teachers,” the presenter told us pointedly. “They can’t afford to buy a house, or even an apartment.” Eventually, my husband announced, “I just don’t think this is going to happen. At least not anytime soon.”

I nodded, having already seen the writing on the wall. “Let’s just try to visit, OK?” But for our growing family, trips to Israel were in the same category as ski vacations, designer clothes, sports cars, and a house in L.A.—a luxury we simply couldn’t afford.

Our lack of travel experience to Israel set us apart from our friends and neighbors. What kind of religious Jew hasn’t spent a real Shabbos in Jerusalem, done a stint in yeshiva or seminary, or prayed at Rachel’s Tomb? G-d seemed to be throwing one obstacle after another between us and the Holy Land. I couldn’t help but wonder why. After a great deal of soul-searching, I concluded that I didn’t really want to return to Israel merely for Israel’s sake; I wanted to recapture the feeling of security I’d lost when I’d left. Consequently, a physical experience in the land would never rectify the exile I was experiencing. I would have to connect to the divine in my own home.

And so, I realized what G-d expected of me: to transform the little apartment I shared with my husband in Los Angeles—truly, “the uttermost West”—into a mikdash me’at. To build a relationship with my husband that would survive the ups and downs of life. To do mitzvos together. To communicate the joie de vivre that characterized my earliest childhood to our kids. To make our home a safe place.

My husband and I took parenting classes (to learn how to create that safe place for our kids) and shalom bayis classes (for domestic harmony). We read book after book by the experts: Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen, Dr. Ross Greene, Dr. John Gottman, Dr. Gary Chapman, and Mmes. Faber & Mazlish—all have made an impression on our home. Now more than a decade later, creating our mikdash me’at is still constant work, and sometimes we mess up. Just when we think we’ve got it nailed, G-d sends us new challenges. But we pick ourselves up because our marriage and our children deserve it.

I still want to go to Israel. I’d love to slip a note between the stones of Western Wall, mingle in the crowds clustered there to pray, visit the landscape of the Tanakh. But after all these years in exile, after creating a new mikdash me’at in the United States, the urgency has waned. I believe G-d will eventually send our family to Israel—maybe when the Messiah comes, but hopefully before that. For now, I wait in my Temple in miniature.

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Childhood Memories of a Year in Israel, Followed by a Lifetime in Exile

Right after Tisha B’Av in 1979, my family left Israel—and splintered into pieces. Despite my hopes, I never made it back.

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