Olim ponder questions, hopes for selves and Israel

The High Holy Days are a time of reckoning for Jews everywhere, including those of us who decades ago decided to leave North America and make our homes in Israel.

This year, with the approach of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, my compatriots and I are in a particularly pensive mood, having just experienced our sixth or seventh war and being fully aware that another conflict may be just around the corner. And should it take place, we realize that our grandchildren will be on the front lines.

This confluence of events prompted a fellow ex-pat old-timer to ask, plaintively: “Was this what we had in mind when we decided to dedicate our lives to making a Jewish state in Israel? Were we all naive, or young or stupid — or all these things together?”

Yet despite the misgivings of many old-timers, most have been pleased to see the renewal of relatively large-scale aliyah from North America. It clearly shows that the Zionist torch is still being held aloft, albeit by people who are quite different from those of us who came here soon after the establishment of the state.

Most of my compatriots were left-wingers heading for kibbutzes, better acquainted with the words of the Socialist Party song “Internationale” than with traditional Jewish prayers. Back then, we wanted to create a state that would be socialist as well as Jewish.

Those who come today, in contrast, are inspired by the Talmud, not by socialist classics. Whether their vision will be fulfilled more fully than was ours remains to be seen.

In retrospect, it is amusing to remember how Israeli we were before we got here. While our classmates back in North America were jitterbugging, we were dancing the hora. And while they were singing the songs that topped the Hit Parade at the time, we were learning to belt out Hebrew-language tributes to the pioneers who plowed the fields of the Jezre’el Valley, built the new Tel Aviv port or managed, somehow, to stand guard at night after they had worked hard all day long.

Now, in 21st century Israel, everything has been turned upside down. Our grandchildren and their cousins in the United States and Canada are dancing the same dances, singing the same songs and watching the same type of sitcoms, true confession programs and game shows on TV. Moreover, our grandchildren’s Hebrew is riddled with English and other foreign languages. No one says “shalom” any more when they part from a friend.

Instead they combine Arabic and English — to say “yalla-bye.” To this they might add, in Hebrew or English, “Have a good day.”

Whether 40 years ago or today, one thing that remains the same is that no matter why you made aliyah, living here changes you in a way that could never happen in America.

In America a large percentage of Jews celebrate the High Holy Days by making their annual visit to a synagogue. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are not holidays for the nation as a whole like Christmas or Thanksgiving. In contrast, here in Israel the High Holy Days are a central feature of our national calendar, a meaningful event for those who never set foot in a synagogue.

Jewish history for a typical Jewish kid in the United States is something that happened to other people in other places and at other times, not part of his or her own personal DNA. Here things are different. I will never forget the time our eldest son, Eytan, came home from nursery school and informed us that we must prepare the house for guests, as the children of Israel are coming here from Egypt.

Our 4-year-old grandson, Daniel, also lives his Jewish history. After he heard a group of adults discussing the problems faced by the Israeli army during the recent conflict in Lebanon, he asked in bewilderment: “Why didn’t they call on Bar Kochba to help?”

The new olim have ahead of them many transitions in the experience of living a Jewish life in Israel.

Those of us who made aliyah decades ago and those of us who have just arrived will be pondering our own unique questions and hopes for the future between morning prayers on Rosh Hashanah and Neilah on Yom Kippur.

Nechemia Meyers is a journalist who lives in Rehovot, Israel.