In my mind, living in Eretz Yisrael meant roughing it.
Our stay in Eretz Yisrael was supposed to be temporary. Three years maximum. And when we first came, boy did we live like we were only here for a short while.
Our apartment was unfurnished, and it took us time to get our bearings, which meant we slept on borrowed mattresses on the floor; we used a borrowed electric burner instead of a stove for longer than I care to remember; and one particularly memorable evening, we used the garbage can as a table.
In my mind, living in Eretz Yisrael meant roughing it. So for six months what could’ve been a quick meal of pita pizza or baked ziti became a laborious ordeal that entailed taking my little cheese grater and trying to eke out enough cheese by hand. I’ve never understood the allure of hand-grated potato kugel, and I most assuredly did not see the merits of hand-grated cheese topping my pita pizza, except that I could say I’d really spent time on supper.
When we returned to the States for Pesach after an interminably long six months, I was shocked to hear a friend of mine, a real-deal Lakewood kollel wife, mentioning that she keeps convenience foods like hot dogs and French fries in her freezer for busy days. Suddenly, my Israeli-pioneer resolutions came crashing down. If she can splurge on convenience foods, I thought, I can buy grated cheese!
The next six months went much better. We had long since bought beds and a stove, and I had my store-bought shredded cheese to really smooth out the rough edges of life.
We had a child, then another, I landed a new job I loved, and we began to see that you can live in Israel for real, not just as a newlywed fling. A toddler to run after in the park helped me feel part of the wonderful community I live in, and living far from our parents led us to meet lots of extended family we wouldn'tve have gotten to know otherwise. We toured in the summer, went on whirlwind one-day kevarim trips when various crises hit, and felt very lucky to be living in the Land so many people only dream of visiting.
Still, like so many Americans, we were “here for now.” We figured, Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. For now we were happy, and if that would change, we could reconsider.
Then along came our little medically fragile, special-needs princess, and our lives started to revolve around the hospital, doctor visits, and therapists. And then we really learned to appreciate Eretz Yisrael in a way we never had before.
“Is it really better than in America?” I was frequently asked.
“I don’t know what they have to offer in America,” I always responded. “I just know that we have everything we need here.”
We learned, more close-up than we would have wished, how life-and-death questions play themselves out when the hospital follows halachah. We saw that despite what any secular doctor might suggest, the right to pursue any chance for our child to live would always be ours. We saw firsthand the compassion of a Jewish heart, even in that of a bareheaded specialist. We saw the incredible emphasis top-of-the-line professionals put on children being cared for at home, despite complex medical situations, and concurrently, how they empowered parents to feel that “Of course you can do this.”
We saw the advantages of a daycare system that absorbs even medically fragile children from six months old, enabling families to have a semblance of normalcy. We saw the relief of knowing we’d never have to go to court to argue for the privilege of sending our child to a frum school.
We saw, for all our grumbling about bureaucracy, an incredibly supportive National Insurance system.
We looked around and saw that along with the challenge Hashem had sent us, He had planted us in exactly the right place, with the exact resources we needed to meet it. We had thought our sojourn in Eretz Yisrael was just the first stop in our journey, but Hashem opened the doors of His city wide and said, “My children, I have everything you need, right here in My own backyard.”
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 663)
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