My wife’s eighteen-year old cousin, Amanda, is on Hadassah’s Young Judea Year Course learning about Israel by exploring the way Zionism has effected communities in different countries. She is visiting France, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Morocco and Ethiopia using Israel as a base for the year. While in Israel, she studies, tours and volunteers in different communities, learning a lot on her travels.
During their Hanukkah vacation, Amanda and a friend decided to visit us taking the train from the town of Rishon L’Tziyon where they are volunteering as assistant teachers for disabled students. Without a direct connection to Jerusalem, they switched trains and mistakenly ended up in Be’er Sheva. Retracing their tracks back, they transferred to the Jerusalem train and after over six hours of travel arrived to spend two nights with us.
As has been the case during the many obstacles they have faced this year, Amanda and Rachel reached their destination, albeit not as smoothly as they would have wanted, having gained confidence, maturity, and self-reliance from their experience.
When I was Amanda’s age, deciding about colleges and upon the profession I would seemingly have for the rest of my life, I asked one of my best friends what she wanted to be when she grew up. She gave me an answer that surprised me with an unexpected perspective. “Happy,” she said.
Some of my friends were very clear about their destinations. I have friends who knew they wanted to be doctors or lawyers and today are successful in their field. Others set it as a goal to be rich. By the time they were thirty they were millionaires.
Now, at the age of forty, I think that most of my friends have accomplished the goals that they set for themselves in high school and college, but we did not set goals for every part of our life. We made choices and prioritized.
I set goals for the things most important to me. In 1985 when I graduated high school, I could not have imagined that I would be the proprietor of a Web site design company. I did know, however, that I wanted to live in Israel and that I wanted to have a family.
As a Zionist, I strongly believe in Herzl’s statement, “If you will it, it is no dream.” I see it every day. However, for me, to dream and to have a vision towards which I am willing to strive is often more difficult than fulfilling the dream and turning it into reality once I undertake to do so. The hard part is often just to have the dream in the first place: That first step.
A friend’s mother-in-law who has lived in Israel for decades often says, “I make aliyah every day.” This reaffirmation of life means that we are constantly learning from our travels, making choices, setting new destinations and fulfilling our dreams. Making such choices and recognizing that I have reached a point that new goals must be set is not easy for me.
In Israel we still do not take our existence for granted. By no means is our physical survival guaranteed. However, as Israel turns sixty this year, we no longer have to dream of a Jewish State. Israel is a reality.
Today, the visionaries who created Israel through political and military achievements are lacking. Just as people feel that peace will not be brokered by governments but created by people on the ground, the growing consensus seems to be that social and economic solutions will be the result of initiatives by Israeli businesses and NPOs while the state is entangled with political corruption and bureaucracy.
Israelis are very resourceful. We have made the desert bloom and given the world a plethora of technological achievements from high-speed Internet to cellular technology. With so many resources at our disposal, reaching our next set of goals will not be difficult once we realize what we have already achieved, that we have moved from there to here, and that the time has come to dream again.
During my son’s third-grade Hanukkah party this year, I was struck by how different his elementary school experience is than was mine and how he and his classmates fulfill my dreams. Growing up in Gloucester Township, New Jersey, one of three Jews in my grade, my mother and I would explain to my class about Hanukkah each year. We would bring in a Hanukkiah, tell the Hanukkah story and teach my classmates how to play dreidle with the letters symbolizing “A great miracle happened there.” As I grew older, I would do the same in my Catholic friends’ CCD classes.
As the children in my son Shemer’s class sang the songs they learned and used their knowledge of the holiday at different stations that their parents had organized, the parents involvement was also a testament to the rich Jewish community of which we are a part here. I could feel the impact of the difference of a single word: “A great miracle happened here.”
Walking home, I shared my thoughts with Shemer asking him if he realized how lucky he was to be part of such a community. “It’s not luck,” he responded to me, “You chose to move to here from America.”