By: Esther Aboud
“Final boarding call for flight LY119 to Tel Aviv. All passengers proceed immediately to Gate 06!”The moment has finally come. After growing up in a tight knit community nestled in an insulated section of Brooklyn no larger than five square miles, our parents wave goodbye to us, their children (and sometimes their grandchildren, too), as we prepare to relocate almost halfway around the world.
This scenario has recently been repeating itself with increasing frequency, as more and more young adults from our community – like me and my family – set out to spend significant periods of time in Israel. But how is it that people like us, who grew up so closely connected to their dear families, friends, and familiar surroundings, are able to suddenly move some 5,700 miles away, to the hotbed of the Middle-East?
The Other Community
For decades, “the community” has referred to the 450 square block area in Flatbush that was home to the vast majority of America’s Syrian and Near Eastern Jewish communities. More recently, that definition has changed to include the vibrant community of the Jersey Shore area and even Lakewood. But there is another – often forgotten – segment of the community that lives right in the center of the world – in Jerusalem.
Vital to this community are the well-established families that have been living here for as long as forty years. They came at a time when Israel was far less developed, and life here was far more difficult. In those days, even private house phones were hard to come by. At a recent event, some women described their experience of traveling here with two babies – by boat – a trip that took over two weeks! These pioneers are always eager to help us younger families, and serve as inspiring examples of dedication and self-sacrifice.
Then there are us young couples who move to Israel (by plane, of course) with fervent idealism, to begin our marriage in the holy city and among the special people living in it. Most of our husbands dedicate all their time to learning Torah and other spiritual pursuits. With no immediate family on whom to rely, we all must support each other in surmounting the hurdles of settling down in a new land, and many strong and meaningful friendships are formed in the process.
Single students are also an essential part of the community here. Scores of boys and girls come to Israel after high school every year, to learn in the yeshivot and seminaries in Yerushalayim, such as Mir, Mikdash Melech, Hevron, Brisk and Lev Aharon. They receive inspiration from their rabbis and teachers to grow spiritually so that they can go on to build families on a strong foundation of Torah and missvot.
Living in Israel can be a challenge for an American born Jew. Adapting to the Hebrew language and “Sabra” mentality can be more than a little frustrating at times. For example, it takes some time to learn to deal with the excitable personalities of taxi drivers, while enjoying the tidbits of inspiration they can provide. Products and services are also different than what we are used to. Milk cartons haven’t caught on yet here. Instead, milk is sold in bags which must be cut open and placed into a pitcher or transferred into milk jugs.
Life here is far less materialistic. Many families live in small apartments with lots of children, and travel only by public transportation. Yet, the happiness emanating from every corner of their small abodes is evident on the children’s bright, jubilant faces, reminding us that true wealth is not measured by the size of one’s car.
While many assume that keeping kosher in the Holy Land is easier, that’s not so in many respects. During the Shemita year, extra caution was needed when purchasing fruits and vegetables. Shemita produce must either be grown outside Israel or purchased from Arab land owners. Fruits with kedushat sheviit (containing holiness of the seventh year – grown wild in Jewish owned fields on Shemita) may be eaten as well. But due to their holy status, no part of the fruit may be discarded while edible. As a result, families all had a special “Shemita pail” for the leftover remains and peels of these fruit, to be left there until they rot. Some even took extra care when doing sponga (Israeli mopping) during Shemita to use substances in the water that will not benefit the ground outside. (Sponga is the famous Israeli method of mopping the floor. Buckets of water are spilled all over the tiled floors and “spongaed” out of the house onto the street below.)
Keeping Together as a Community
Like the communities in New York and New Jersey, the one hundred plus American-Sephardic families around Jerusalem depend on one-another for support. The women of the community try to get together every Rosh Hodesh for a luncheon or post-supper get-together. These events are held in one of our homes and everyone takes part in the preparations. The program usually includes a fun game or panel and a short devar Torah. These get-togethers are a very important means of keeping us in touch with each other and with the community which we so dearly miss.
Many families also invite yeshiva or seminary students to join their Shabbat meals. These invitations help us fill the void created by the absence of family, and also provide a “home away from home” for the students.
An Atmosphere of Kedusha
Last but certainly not least, a most beautiful aspect of living in Israel is the spiritual exhilaration of living in our homeland – and in close proximity to the Kotel and other holy site – which connects us to our heritage in a most profound and meaningful way. Yerushalayim has always been the center of Jewish life, and being part of its rebirth is a very special opportunity and privilege.
No experience can possibly compare with these magnificent years spent in Israel. While some families may stay, others hope to return to their families in America with heightened spiritual awareness and carrying with them the special sacred quality of the Land of Israel.