Twenty seven. This is the number of years that have passed between this morning and the day I landed at Ben Gurion Airport to begin a new chapter. I was so smart. So certain. So noble and more than a little cocky about the correctness of making aliyah. We lined up our ducks, crossed the “T’s”, dotted the “I’s” and with straight backs and raised chins, embarked on the adventure. I knew so much. I knew it all.
I knew nothing. With only a smattering of Hebrew, neither family nor friends, no cultural or financial connections upon which to rely, I jumped off of a spiritual diving board into an abyss that was filled with little more than assumptions and blind faith. The assumptions were mostly wrong but the aforementioned faith helped keep me tethered to the shaky dream, even as I was confronted with unexpected outcomes at every turn.
These were the days before Nefesh B’Nefesh was even a pipe dream; indeed, a miracle organization that offers career guidance, job placements, identity cards, language classes and community guidance even before the new immigrants board a plane to the Holy Land. My personal aliyah consisted of one nasty meeting with the Jewish Agency in Manhattan in the spring before our departure where we were warned of the difficulties that lay ahead should we embark on this foolhardy journey. Vive la difference? Not so much. . . .
That first year I sat in the house and hid. When a neighbor asked why I wasn’t at Rosh HaShanah prayers, I lied and said that I’d gone to the other shul. (Thankfully, there are a plethora of synagogues in Jerusalem and people temple-hop like nobody’s business.) I sent the children to school with wholesome lunches and change for the public telephone and prayed that no one would ask me for help with their homework because I felt useless. Even when I heard a report or two that concerned me about their education, I felt unable to speak with a principal or homeroom teacher. Sixty days after our arrival, Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated and I drove to a local grocery store to find someone who could explain to me what had happened with words I might understand.
I willed everything to be alright. But my will wasn’t enough. Things weren’t alright and after seven years, my forever-marriage ended in divorce and the children were flung hither and yon; school mattered little and the near-perfect life I’d so smugly constructed in my mind was irretrievable. I had to work even though I had no marketable skills, no language. Decisions about every tomorrow beckoned. But I didn’t make decisions. Instead, in a state of perpetual mourning, I let life “happen,” leaving almost everything to chance. The cost was incalculable.
And still, there was the adventure that comes with not knowing what lies around the corner or on the steep drop at the end of the path. When my car was repossessed, I learned to navigate Jerusalem’s terrific public transportation system. I cleaned houses, babysat, wrote articles, pinched shekels and, most days, kept the lights on. I made friends, went to lectures, walked to the Western Wall and, years after my arrival, I discovered my personal Israel. This discovery is still happening with unexpected surprises popping up each day.
The gematria for the number 27 includes both ‘to weep at or for’ and transparency/clarity. Both work for this aliyah anniversary as I wax nostalgic, remorseful and deeply, deeply satisfied. Because the one thing that remains constant is an ironclad yiras Shamayim – faith in Heaven – the same faith that initially fueled the desire to return home.
New York native Andrea Simantov has lived in Jerusalem since 1995. She writes for several publications, appears regularly on Israel National Radio and owns an image consulting firm for women.