It is an increasingly strange experience, returning to the United States, despite the fact that I made aliyah only three years ago. Much has changed in that short time, both in America and in me.
As most olim would agree, the hardest element of aliyah is not the financial sacrifice, or even the difficulties of a new language or a foreign bureaucracy, but the sense of abandoning family and friends. I felt this most poignantly as I flew in to celebrate a simchah, my mother’s 80th birthday, but instead pushed my ticket forward three days because my father had been rushed to a hospital not far from their home in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. It was imperative that I come immediately, as he is 86. To avoid unnecessary drama, I will tell you right now that, baruch Hashem, Pop is out of the hospital and doing pretty well, but he is no younger or healthier than he went in and my time with him becomes increasingly precious.
We were able to take Pop home to recuperate shortly after I arrived and during the few days we shared before I started my return to Israel, he mentioned how proud he was that I became Torah-observant and that my family and I chose to make Israel our home, despite the distance.
Now my father is not one for praise, and as a young man was quick to try to become an American first and foremost. It is now, with the wisdom and clarity of age, that he sees that being a proud American is good but being a proud Jew is eternal and transcendent.
My father was hospitalized in an excellent Veteran’s Administration facility in White River Junction, Vermont. As it is a government facility, pictures of President Obama adorned many walls and offices. Showing the acuity of his mind, my father noted the irony that President Obama, the president who has done more to destroy America’s military standing throughout the world than any other president, has his face plastered on the walls throughout a Veterans’ Hospital. The men at the hospital, like my father, are genuinely proud to be American and, unlike President Obama, sincerely believe in “American exceptionalism.”
My father is different from his fellow patients at the Veterans’ Hospital, who can claim only one allegiance. He sees the world with a slightly different perspective, through a Jewish prism, recognizing the trend of growing anti-Semitism throughout the world and the similarities to the spike of anti-Semitism in the 1930s and 1940s. As a result of his growing connection and pride in Judaism and Israel as safe harbor for Jews, his perspective has changed: Previously he would have considered himself a Jewish American; now he is an American Jew. Realizing that despite everything else he is first and foremost a Jew, his pride in my life decisions to be religious and to live in Israel is genuine and his expressing that to me made the trip a greater gift to me.
My Mom, always worrying about the welfare of her little boy despite my being 51 and built like an ox, was concerned that since they do not have a kosher home I would wither away. I assured her that was the last of her concerns and I would be fine. It turned out much better than that. In a column a few weeks back (“Brothers in Arms”) I described my hakarat hatov to Lubavitch. Well, I am now further in their debt. Seemingly with more franchises than Starbuck’s, Chabad is ubiquitous and is even located in Manchester, New Hampshire. I called and spoke with Rabbi Levi Krinsky, the Chabad shaliach there, together with his wife Shternie. He not only offered to meet me at the airport but when I told him I would be in N.H. for Purim he offered to delay Megillah reading if it would help me, since my parents live 90 miles away. Achdut in action!
Knowing I would be in N.H. for both Shabbat and Purim I needed to make arrangements for my meals and I wanted them to be Shabbat- and Purim-appropriate. There are no kosher restaurants in N.H. but there is a kosher kitchen in the Chabad House of Manchester. Rabbi Krinsky said I shouldn’t worry about food and he would put in a good word for me with the woman in charge of “to-go” orders there, who just so happens to be his amazing daughter Chanchie. The food couldn’t be beat for taste, quantity or price. Not only were my seudos fitting for Shabbat and Purim but, since I ordered extra, my parents joined me. My joy in providing them with delicious kosher food was my nachas for Shabbat and for Purim. I also greatly enjoyed honoring my parents. The food not only gave my father simchah but the story behind it corroborated his feelings of a greater Jewish sense of interdependence and concern for one another.
… I have not yet made it home to Israel. Due to bad weather, which seems to be the norm this winter in the States, my flight from N.H. was delayed and I missed my connection to Tel Aviv. Late Sunday I called an old friend to see if I could stay over and he and his family rolled out the red carpet for me, but I shouldn’t have been the least bit surprised; my layover was in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love and, after all, we Jews are all brothers anyway.
Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.