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Monday, November 13, 2017

Same Time Last Year: The First Phase of my Aliyah

The following is the text of the second essay by Rivka that I read at her erev zikaron on Thursday night.  It was written in Israel, shortly after her aliyah.

Same Time Last Year: The First Phase of my Aliyah

by Karin Rivka Zuckerman

After graduating from college, there's always a period of turmoil, which, if you're lucky, ends at some point.  Meanwhile, all of those questions that we manage to successfully avoid while in college suddenly loom ahead of us.  Where am I going to live?  What am I going to do?  Do I really have to get a job?  Luckily, when I graduated, I had some direction:  I would live somewhere in Israel, I would work in something in education, and . . . a job?  Basically, I had no idea where I was going or what I was going to do, except that, unlike most of my friends, I was going to do it in Israel.  A few months later I got off the plane in Israel and began my new life.

The first thing I did (besides getting over jet-lag) was to call my friends and let them know that I'd arrived.  Talking to friends that I hadn't spoken with for two to four years was very exciting.  Nothing, however, matched my feelings when, after they asked me for how long I would be in Israel, I answered "I'm here permanently!"  With each time that I told another friend, the meaning of what I was saying became stronger for me.  I finally made it.  I am finally home.

Now, coming home might sound glorious, but it's really not as easy as it seems.  To begin with, it's frustrating!  Zionism is a great ideology, but it doesn't tell you how the country works or even what bus will get you from the central bus station to the Hebrew University!  I spent a year in Israel five years ago, but I was a tourist then;  I wasn't trying to establish myself.  This time is different.  This time there's a challenge:  to build my life in a country that I've always called home but in which I am a stranger.

Like so many other people, I've always felt "at home" in Israel.  However, being "at home" implies a natural understanding of the way things work, which no Jew, even with a college education, can have without actually living here.  For instance, I need to learn how to get a license and open a bank account.  Sure, I can figure these things out, but that's not the point.  The point is that all those little pieces of information about life that I've stored up in my brain over the course of my 24 years are irrelevant to me here.  It won't take long (ceratainly not another 24 years) to compile a new store of information, however, in the beginning it's tough.

Learning how to get things done in Israel is not always just a matter of pride or convenience.  Sometimes being a stranger can mean that you don't know how to respond to a situation that demands immediate response.  During my second week in Israel, I happened to be sitting in a park in Jerusalem with a friend of mine (also, coincidentally, a Barnard graduate) when a kid on a skateboard tried to jump a wall, missed and hit his head on the wall while taking a pretty serious fall.  There weren't many people around that day and, though a few people looked to see what happened, no one seemed to know what to do.  I went to check on the kid, who was hurt and needed help.  Well, I know that in New York you call 911 in emergencies, and I know that in Israel you call Magen David Adom, but I don't know what number to call in Israel.  Luckily, there were people around, so I told someone else to call and everything worked out fine for the kid (who's probably out, even now, trying to conquer that same wall).  I, on the other hand, was very shaken up afterwards.  I immediately set out to memorize all emergency phone numbers.  But I began to wonder, what other basic information am I lacking that I might need to know?  What if nobody else were around?

The learning process is usually not quite as traumatic as the story I just related.  Often, learning can be a lot of fun.  Sometimes, asking a stranger a simple question, like what bus to take, opens up the door to a more interesting conversation.  People on the buses are constantly reminding me that Israel is a unique country.  One Friday, for example, a woman on the bus offered me fresh figs from the bag she was bringing home to her family for Shabbat.  Another day, a woman with a baby carriage got onto the bus by the back door and held out her hand to me;  she wanted me to give her money to the bus driver.  There is constantly interaction between people on the buses.  When I was here five years ago I also noticed this;  nonetheless, after spending four years in New York, where people barely look at each other on the buses, I am even more impressed by the way people here help each other out.

What I love best about Israel is the "holiday season."  First of all, the holiday season in Israel is really my holiday season, meaning Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Succot and Simchat Torah.  Everything in Israel is centered on these chagim (holidays).  If you want to handle any kind of business, make sure you do it before or after the chagim, because everyone goes on vacation and the office will be closed.  University begins "after the chagim."  Students can take classes without worrying about missing anything important during our holidays.  There's no need to explain to people what the holidays are;  everyone knows and everyone gets into the holiday spirit.  On Yom Kippur, even the main streets of Jerusalem are empty of cars and full of people.  Religious people swarm the streets on their way to services.  Non-religious kids on skateboards and bicycles sail down the middle of the main streets on the one day during the year when they rule the streets.  Succot is also a great festival in Israel.  Every residential building has at least one Succah;  even the restaurants in the center of town put up their own succot.  Everyone celebrates.

The "holiday season" in Israel ended two months ago. Winter has already set in, and in another few weeks the country will once again celebrate together.  The sweet smell of sufganiot (hot, fried jelly donuts;  pronounced:  soof-ga-nee-yote) will soon pervade the evening air, and many windows will glow with the lights of the chanukiot (menorahs), as the entire country celebrates.  In Israel, Chanukah is celebrated by all Jews, young and old, religious and non-religious, right-wing and left-wing.  Together we celebrate the triumph of Judaism over assimilation and the return of Jewish sovereignty to the land of Israel.

I am a Zionist

The following is the text of the first essay by Rivka that I read at her erev zikaron on Thursday night.  It was written in America, about a year before her aliyah.

Monday, June 20, 1988
1:41 AM

I am a Zionist.  Without Israel I am nothing.  I am a Jew and have always been proud of that fact.  That is why I am a Zionist and always will be.  I am part of a stiff-necked people, not a meek religious group, but a fiercely proud nation.  We were not always fierce but we have always been stubborn and we have refused to disappear.  We have a country now and it's ours once again but there are those who would trade it for the golden calf.  They see Israel as a place to visit, perhaps once in a lifetime, perhaps every winter.  Or if there is a war, then, suddenly, these people are willing to risk their lives, or at least their money.  They have nothing to lose, without Israel, their lives are lost and their money worthless.  The war will come, but it will arrive too late for their money, or their willingness to die.  The war will come because we have turned our backs.  We, the Jews, have closed our eyes, pretending that we just don't see how much Israel needs us there now, not to fight, but to live & work on the land we claim is ours.  But we are not ready to live and struggle in our land when our lives are so comfortable in a foreign land.  So we suppress our love for our land and our guilt at abandoning it, and call this foreign land home and ignore all the signs that reveal the truth.  We are not home, we are in the guest house and we have already overstayed our welcome.  Our house had been destroyed, but now it is restored.  Our hosts are already subtly hinting that it is time for us to go home.  Yet our hosts are not ready to forcibly show us the door, not yet.  Soon they will scorn us because we have shown that we lack pride.

We have decided that we no longer need Israel to be comnplete Jews.  We reject the idea that we are a nation even as we reject the idea that we are a religion.  We can ignore the idiosyncacies of prayers to G-d to return us to our land even though we possess the ability to return on our own.  We divide ourselves into natonalists vs. religionists even as we know that without both, which are really one, we are nothing.  And we are silent even when we know that there is a need to call out.

In just over one year I will be breaking away from everything that I have ever held to be of value.  I am leaving the country where I have been raised, a country that I love and understand.  I am leaving the people I have known since birth and the friends that I have made along the way.  And I am leaving the people who mean the world to me, my family.  I am leaving them because they won't come along, though I pray to G-d to make them change their minds.  In some ways, I have most wanted my friends to join me.  But I have only cried and prayed for my family.  I need them.

So how can I leave & why am I writing this?  Because Israel is my home, because I am a Jew, because my parents taught me to be a Jew and because if I am not proud of who I am then I am nothing.  I am not, and refuse to be, nothing.  I am a Zionist.

Rivka's essays

Several people have asked me for copies of the two essays by Rivka that I read at the erev zikaron.  In response to the popular demand, I am posting them online.  I am pleased to present the first new material by Rivka on her blog in seven years. 🐸

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who came to the erev zikaron on Thursday evening.  It is heartwarming to see so many people coming together to remember Rivka.

Thank you to Rabbi Professor Jeffrey Woolf, for your fascinating shiur.

Thank you to Charlie Kalech and Steve Leavitt, for your help in publicizing the event.

Thank you to Joshua Wander, who livecast it on Facebook.

Thank you to Pelech, (both of our daughters' alma mater), for allowing us to use your building and auditorium, and to Tzion, the av bayit, for helping set things up and clean up afterward.

Thank you to Louise Olswang Fox, for your work on the book in Rivka's memory, which will be available soon (tfu ftu tfu 🐸).

Thank you to all the volunteers who helped with refreshments, with setting things up, and with other things.

Thank you to everyone who came to the aliyah l'kever on Friday morning.

And thank you to those who weren't able to come, but watched online, and/or were with us in spirit.

Shavua tov!


Monday, October 16, 2017

Erev zikaron for Rivka - 5778

We will be holding an erev zikaron (memorial evening) for Rivka, on the evening of the seventh anniversary of her passing.

Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey Woolf will be giving a shiur in Rivka's memory on the following topic:

"Loving Israel: Really and Virtually"

The shiur, as well as the rest of the evening, will be in English.

Everyone who would like to come is welcome and invited to attend.

Here are the details:

Date: Thursday evening, 21 Marheshvan / 9 November
Time: 7:30 pm
Place: Pelech High School
Rehov Yehudah 31
Baka, Jerusalem
(See here for a map.)

For everyone who would like to help bring refreshments, please enter your name alongside what you can bring in this spreadsheet.

We are also planning to livecast the erev zikaron on Facebook.  You'll be able to find it here.

Please pass along this message to anyone who might be interested.

I'm looking forward to seeing all of you who will be coming.


P.S.:  We will be making an aliyah l'kever (visit to Rivka's grave) the following morning (Friday, 21 Marheshvan / 10 November), at 10:00 am.  (Details regarding the location and prayers can be found here.)  We would like to ensure that we have have a minyan, so if you can come, then please let me know.