The Leichman family, far right, stands with the welcome committee at Ben-Gurion Airport at their arrival in Israel on Aug. 7.
During the two weeks we were in Jerusalem, doing laundry involved randomly pushing buttons on our cousins’ inscrutable German washer, waiting an hour or two for the cycle to finish, and then hanging our wet laundry in the brisk Jerusalem breeze high above the intersection of Herzog and Shimoni streets.
My mother gets a kick out of my description of this scene. For more than 50 years, she’s been a member of the clothespin crew, while I’ve belonged to the Bounce brigade since my marriage ‘5 years ago. Yet I’ve now come full circle. Even now that we’ve moved to Ma’aleh Adumim, we remain dryer-less in our temporary apartment (our permanent "cottage" around the block is still under construction).
This mundane example is emblematic of our aliyah experience. In ways tangible and intangible, we truly have gone back to the basics. We have transplanted ourselves from a lovely American suburb where life was rounder around the edges, thanks to many conveniences for which we paid dearly. Here there are fewer conveniences and fewer rounded edges and though it will be a while till I get used to this way of life, it strikes me as refreshing and authentic.
The Israelis we know measure success in terms of their ability to put food on the table. Satisfaction comes from sitting on the terrace with friends, munching flavorful local fruits. Joy is a byproduct of living in a place whose heart beats to the rhythm of the Jewish calendar. Fun is about exploring the history-soaked surroundings in an atmosphere where you’re constantly bumping into family and friends.
I love all these things, but the last is my favorite. What could be more basic than a separation of much less than six degrees from everyone you meet?
Ten hours after we boarded a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight with ’10 other olim (immigrants), still reeling from the many emotional partings we’d just endured, the pain of goodbyes was soothed by the balm of greetings.
There at Ben-Gurion Airport waited a contingent of cheering relatives and friends: our ‘3-year-old son KJ (Chaim); Meryl Kaufman Feldblum, who grew up across the street in Teaneck; our cousin Eli’s wife Dafna and four of their eight kids; our cousin Josh and one of his four kids, our niece Aviva and her friend from college.
One of the Nefesh B’Nefesh personnel looked familiar, and I approached her and asked, "Are you Carla Schron?" Indeed she was. Carla’s family is from Teaneck and I hadn’t seen her in years. Another woman was walking through the rows of people, calling out our names until she found us. Shelley is the coordinator for immigrant absorption in Ma’aleh Adumim. I’d never met her before, but we discovered that she went to Boston University with my childhood friend Vivian.
Our 18-year-old daughter Elana went to the draft office to register, expecting difficulty with the bureaucracy despite her very good Hebrew. But there behind the front desk sat Adam Bernat, a young man who’d been on the Torah Academy of Bergen County hockey team with KJ and is a good friend of Meryl’s. Adam and Elana were surprised and happy to see each other, and needless to say, Adam took care of her.
After my first day of work as a legal editor at Green Point Technology in Jerusalem’s brand-new Technology Park, I wasn’t sure how to find the bus stop. I randomly announced in the elevator: "Is anyone catching the 31?" One woman answered, "Yes," and as we walked and chatted, we discovered that she is a friend of my cousin Julie. But our conversation was cut short because I spotted a former Teaneck neighbor approaching the stop and started talking with him instead.
The many friendly American olim we’ve met have been urging Steve to get tickets to a game of the new Israel Baseball League. Most of the matches are played at Kibbutz Gezer, home field of Beit Shemesh Blue Sox player David Leichman who turns out to be Steve’s as-yet-unmet second cousin. Our friend (and new neighbor) Chaim Baldasare told Steve that he played softball with David for years.
When we arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport, our group was welcomed by Likud Party leader Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu. He reminded us poignantly that no matter where we were born and bred, we have now come home.
Yes, we’re living in a temporary apartment, struggling to learn the language and local culture. But Bibi was talking about Home with a capital H. There is nothing more basic than the relationship between Jews and their Promised Land.
By the way, Bibi is not related to us (as far as I know), but his press secretary/right-hand man, Shai Bazak, gave us warm handshakes at the airport after hugging his sister, our cousin-in-law Dafna.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.