It’s hard to believe we’ve been Israelis for exactly four years now. We arrived the week before Passover to a most amazing welcome from our real estate agent, Tal Shtekler; our landlady, Rachel Ronen; various neighbors and an assortment of people I had connected with on my Pilot Trip. We arrived to find our fridge laden with meals for the week; flowers, wine and challah for our first Shabbat; and generous offers from Rachel and “Ms. Karmi’el,” the Grande Dame of information and hospitality, Sylvia Walters, to show us all around our new city. And dear Gwen White to help us on that first overwhelming grocery store trip where everything was in Hebrew and nothing was the same as we were used to.
A couple days before the Passover Seder, John, Max and I made the 4 hour bus trip to Jerusalem. It was before we had a car, and the train line to Karmi’el had not yet been built. My friend from CA, generously lent us her apartment while she was visiting family for the week. And our realtor, Tal, had made all the arrangements for us to be hosted at Pesach Seder with the Eisenberg family….plus we met people in Jerusalem and had to turn down three other offers. When we told shopkeepers and cabbies we had only made Aliyah one week prior, we received instant invitations for Passover meals. People who didn’t even know us!
That Seder with the Eisenberg’s was absolutely the best, most meaningful and entertaining Passover meal of our lives. Not only did we feel welcomed, but their seven children were amazingly bright, well-mannered and totally engaged. The food was to die for, and we’ll never forget going outside to sing Hallelujahs at 2am. Instead of opening the door for Elijah, we opened the door to Jerusalem police asking us to keep the festive noise down… and then they came in for dessert! Incredible!!
Over the past four years, we’ve grown a lot in so many ways. We’ve learned that even though there are a ton of problems here… no country is perfect…. Israelis tend to wear their emotions on their sleeves and can be very, very opinionated (and NEVER wrong!!!) and loud- once you get to know them, they are the warmest people you’ll ever meet. We’ve learned a ton about hospitality and opening your home and heart to others. It was quite uncomfortable at first, coming from the very private Los Angeles, where the common phrase “We’ll have to do coffee or lunch soon,” is just a nice way of blowing people off. The coffee and lunch dates rarely happen.
Two years ago, we enjoyed hosting my son’s IDF soldier friends, some serving from other countries- the US, Switzerland, Mexico, Columbia, South Africa- to our home for Seder. And by making pre-packaged individual Seder Bento boxes filled with food and Haggadot (prayer books recounting the story of the Exodus) to take to soldiers guarding the country at the extreme Northern outposts…we had to leave the meals at the gate). Still, it was an outpouring of gratitude for their service.
Last year, I found myself back in Los Angeles, with two children in the hospital. Sending out 23 emails to request an invitation for this wandering Jew to attend the Pesach celebration, I received 11 answers. 10 were no’s: “we’re full up; we’re only having family; check Chabad”… yes, I found a lovely Seder at my old Rabbi’s home. It was wonderful. But still, I couldn’t help thinking of how the opening line in the Haggada, “Let all who are hungry, come and eat” was just that. An opening line in a Hollywood movie. And yes, I also got a couple “We’ll have to meet for lunch one day” responses… It’s really quite sad.
Fast forward to this year. My husband has been diagnosed with cancer. I had knee surgery two weeks ago and my own tests for cancer this past week. My son, still serving in the army is suffering from Crohns and is working out his own time to have an upper and lower GI. We have been accompanied to hospitals by kindhearted Israelis who have been our drivers and translators, taking time off their own busy work schedules and Pesach preparations. We received eight invitations to celebrate the Seder with other families. When I said this year my husband and I want to remember the passing over of death from the Jewish homes and the march to freedom and victory, what happened? We received so much food from others, it was incredible!
We had such an abundance, that on Sunday afternoon, we drove up to Max’s base with deviled eggs, roasted carrots, fresh avocados, matzah balls, orange soup…. things that would rest gently on his stomach, but lots to share. We were “snuck” onto base by his mefakedim to hang out for a couple hours with the “kids” in their lounge. And to our surprise: Ido’s mom had sent up brisket, roasted potatoes, Passover cake. Shoshanna brought back roast chicken and veggies and lots of macaroons; there were other treats as well brought up by the surrounding ranchers and neighbors. Such joy! Such feasting!
In four years here, I’ve learned that Israel is one big family. We help each other. We depend on each other. It’s a mitzvah and a way to bring light to a dark world.
Starting tomorrow, we will be making the two hour drive each way, 5-6 times a week for six weeks for chemo and radiation. We’ve had offers to watch our little doggie while we are gone. We’ve had offers from people to drive us down to Ramat Gan. Friends of friends have offered their places down near Tel Aviv, or to find us less expensive hotels. Karen has given us the list of hotels in the area. Tal is looking for short-term rentals just in case. Amiad and Elisheva have graciously offered to house us. We don’t even know them… and I’m still unsure exactly how Amiad got our number! My friends, this is Israel!!!
The incredible Paula Stern has been working to find help for Max in the army. Does he need emergency leave or transfer to be with us? Can she expedite paperwork so he can get prompt medical care? Do we need people to stay with US in the hospital? How are WE set for meals? Extra care? What are our most immediate needs and how can she help? Paula, who has her own family and tremendously busy schedule, has been there for us at the ring of a phone. G-d bless this woman, a friend who I have yet to meet face to face.
We have met a few Arabic Christians and Druze in our area that have also become friends. It’s not just limited to Jews. These Israelis are also warm and generous with their time and offers to help, translate medical documents, make hospital calls…
This is Israel! We are all family here. We are a diverse people: Anglos, Moroccans, Russians, French, Brazilians, Jewish, Christians, Druzim. Yet we are mostly united. Ready to open our hearts and our homes. And it’s why I we so love it here. Happy Passover! Blessed Easter! Joyous spring! Here’s to friendship,
to new life, to hope! To our new country!