Aliyah diary: Time travel

Aliyah diary: Time travel

My grandfather’s grandfather clock stands against a column in our new apartment, the proud survivor of an 80-year journey from Pennsylvania to New York to New Jersey to Israel.

The Rev. Lazar Klein (“Poppo”), my paternal grandfather, received the clock as a gift – borne on a flatbed truck – from the parents of the children he taught in a free Sunday school on his front porch in Philadelphia during the Depression. It accompanied the Kleins through small-town Pennsylvania, then on to Yonkers, N.Y., where Poppo later died – in the same hospital in which I’d been born – two days before Steve and I got married.

Atop the Leichmans’ grandfather clock, photos of son Chaim and daughter-in-law Miriam and son and daughter Joey and Elana Leichman peek from behind the family’s Shabbat candelabrum.

The clock, which hadn’t been operational for a while, came with us to our new home in Yonkers. When we transported it to Teaneck five years later, we found a clockmaker who got the timepiece working again. Its steady ticking became the heartbeat of our home for the next 20 years. The clock caught the admiring attention of every visitor who came through the front door.

There was no question that it would make aliyah with us. This was, however, a delicate and expensive endeavor. A Hillsdale clockmaker cleaned it, took it apart, and built a wood-and-Styrofoam sarcophagus that he assured us would be impervious to anything aside from a tumble into the Atlantic. Sure enough, once the clock was hoisted into our apartment in Ma’aleh Adumim last August, unpacked, and put back together lovingly by Steve – my husband is especially attached to this clock – the ticking once again graced our home.

And then, a few months later, it stopped. Steve rebalanced it, cleaned it, bought it a new winding key. But despite his efforts, the clock wouldn’t run for more than 10 minutes at a time.

He was not about to entrust the clock to our moving crew when it came time to move around the corner on Aug. 13 (although, to give credit where it’s due, Itai and his men managed the job flawlessly – sans hydraulic crane – despite the fact that our new building’s elevator is not yet in service). Steve and our next-door neighbor’s son carried the clock down the 75 steps from our old apartment, loaded it into the neighbor’s minivan, and schlepped it another 68 steps down to our new apartment, where they placed it against a central beam, once again in view of the front door. Steve balanced it, blasted the desert dust from its gears, and found a local clockmaker who restored its steady beat.

As it was in Teaneck, the clock is a strong presence.

On top of its dark-wood case we placed the brass Shabbat candelabrum that my father made, along with pictures of our children. Each Friday evening, I stand before this monument to three generations, and I thank each one for its part in getting us here.

Poppo had made the great voyage from Europe to America, but to his sorrow he never set foot in the Promised Land that was in his daily prayers. He instilled a love for Israel in my father, his youngest son, who was privileged to visit many times before his death in 2000 – the final time, for the bar mitzvah of my brother David’s sabra son.

It was my father who had arranged our first family trip to Israel in August of 1972. He faced five unwilling travelers: my mother, who dislikes airplane travel in general and especially during that summer of hijackings, and four indifferent teenagers. He was initially distraught at our lack of enthusiasm, but his insistence paid off. We savored every moment of that trip and talk about it to this day.

Upon our return, Poppo eagerly listened to our travelogue. I recall his eyes lighting up as we mentioned places – Jerusalem, Beersheva, Hebron, the Jordan River, Eilat – that he knew intimately, but only as reference points in the Torah. Had he been told that two of his grandchildren and several great- and great-great-grandchildren would one day be living near these very places, he would have been incredulous.

Poppo would undoubtedly have recognized the name of the place where his clock now stands. The modern Ma’aleh Adumim did not yet exist in 1972, but it’s mentioned in the book of Joshua as the red-hued, hilly area between Jericho and Jerusalem. And this particular neighborhood, Mitzpeh Nevo (Nebo Outlook), is named for its probable location as the spot Moses longingly gazed upon when God granted him a peek at the Promised Land from atop Mount Nebo to our east.

Like Moses, Poppo was not able to enter the land of his dreams. But the dream was fulfilled nonetheless. We are here with his clock, and together we will stay and mark time as new generations of his descendants plant roots in the holy soil he loved from afar.

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