I was 24 when I decided I wanted to live in Israel. I had it all planned: I was going to finish out my year of teaching, find a study abroad program, borrow some money from my Dad and take off. Where that would lead was unknown, but I didn’t worry about it. All I knew was that Israel was calling. I could feel it in my blood, in my bones. I needed to be there.
Then I met this guy. He loved Israel, too; he’d even lived there for a few years. But he had come back to the States to save a sinking marriage (it didn’t work), and now he had two daughters who were growing up here. For him, living in Israel wasn’t an option – at least not for a long, long time. And if I wanted to live with him, it wasn’t an option for me, either.
I chose the guy. And those girls.
Over the next 15 years, Israel always remained in my peripheral vision. Sometimes, like when I would laugh with friends at Shabbat meals, or when we purchased the gorgeous dream house in which I currently live, or when Trader Joe’s opened a mile from my house, the image of that country across the ocean would retreat, growing hazy and dim. I could no more envision myself living in Israel than I could in Oz.
But then something would trigger a longing in me. The scent of Autumn, which always reminds me that my life is passing. Hearing snatches of Hebrew conversation between the teachers at my kids’ school or at kiosks in the mall. Pictures of family and friends who had moved to Israel and were making a life there. Sometimes, something bigger would rattle me, as if I was coming to after years asleep. The murder of three Israeli boys. The shooting in Pittsburgh. Suddenly, I’d remember that I once had a dream, and it was still alive.
We had always had the idea to make aliyah (meaning, “to ascend” – the spiritual elevation of moving to the Holy Land) after our younger daughter finished high school, but it had never amounted to more than dreamy talk; we’d never made solid plans. Life here in the States was comfortable, predictable. We had our community and our mortgage and two cars and Target. Our kids were settled with their friends. Was the dream of living in Israel – and the struggle of making a new life – worth giving all that up?
The pandemic answered that question for us.
Life got much smaller overnight, and the amenities that had once seemed so indispensable suddenly became trivial. I discovered that the lifestyle I was working so hard to maintain was not the one I actually wanted. And the security I believed that this country guaranteed proved to be an illusion.
The only real thing left was our dream.
This was the year we had always talked about going, the year when our daughters would go out on their own (and come with us if they chose) while our boys were still young enough to make a transition to a new country. Fifteen years really did pass, and the moment came to stop talking about it and actually do it.
I was 24 when I decided I wanted to live in Israel. At 39, I’m finally going. My plan is much different now: I’m going with my husband and three kids, with a fourth going to seminary 30 minutes away. We’re getting a house in a sweet coastal town called Pardes Chana, ten minutes from the beach. The kids will go to school again. I’ll write. We’ll make a life. I don’t know where it will lead, but finally, after all this time, I’m being led home.