I've lived here for almost twenty years. I remember the day we broke the news that we were planning on making Aliyah. Thankfully, most of you were proud and supportive, even if it meant taking our infant daughter far far away from you. We came here without the support of Nefesh B'Nefesh or it's financial grant because it didn't exist at the time. We were supposed to have been met at the airport by a representative of Tehila, but somehow there was a miscommunication, so no one showed. There we stood, on February 3rd, 1995, in the old Ben Gurion airport, standing among hundreds of Russians and a handful of visitors, with our duffle bags, our car seat, our stroller and our five month old baby girl. We had not a clue what to do, but we made our way to a Sherut taxi service which would take us to our apartment in Jerusalem.
Our three bedroom apartment in Katamon was 75 steps up with no elevator and had a galley kitchen painted a bright glossy canary yellow. I didn't need coffee to wake me up during the three years we lived there. And we loved it. We loved the neighborhood and our new friends, and our new community. But living so far away from all of you was not easy. I know we communicated via the telephone and email and we sent plenty of pictures of our growing little girl but it's not the same as seeing one another in the flesh. Looking back, sometimes I can't believe we did it.
As you know, we did not have jobs lined up and we were living off our savings while we settled in and tried to find work. Things did eventually fall into place. We eventually moved to the center of the country and added three more kids to our family. We found a community we love, people who have since become like family. Our kids went to Gan and learned Hebrew, And I went to Ulpan and learned Hebrew (I'm still learning...) and we settled into life in Israel. But unfortunately, things have not always been calm and quiet here.
Our son was born amidst bus bombings that crippled Jerusalem, and as a result, only half of our guests were able to make his Brit due to a bombing that occurred a half hour earlier. Ironically, he happened to have been born half an hour after another such bus bombing. I remember being in the middle of heavy labor when the staff in the birthing hospital started whispering and a tension gripped the room. They wouldn't tell me what had happened until after our son was born, but I had pretty much guessed. Imagine trying to bring a child into a world with so much pain and suffering.
We experienced more threats a few years later and had to seal up our bedroom and make sure we had our gas masks and other necessary supplies in case of a biological attack, which they thought was imminent. Those were fun times, I tell you. Our bedroom still has marks of the tape residue and for some reason, we never painted over them. And I look at them now and then and it makes me remember those times, like when we had to instruct our young daughter how to put on her gas mask. No parent should have to do that.
Since then, we've had more wars. During the second Lebanon war, my husband, an ambulance driver, volunteered to help out up north near Akko where the bombs were landing in residential neighborhoods. This was before the Iron Dome, so yes, there were fatalities. He drove up north with three other ambulance drivers and it just so happened to be the fast of Tisha Be'av. It was also one of the hottest days of the summer. Our rabbi told my husband and his colleagues that they were under no circumstance to fast, despite the seriousness of the day. They were doing God's work, he said, and it would be stupid to put themselves in danger health-wise when they were responsible for saving lives.
Just two years ago - not even - we had another short-lived battle against Gaza. That same little baby we made Aliyah with was now in an army prep program in Kibbutz Alumim, is situated less than four kilometers from Gaza. Rockets started landing in and around the kibbutz as well as other yishuvim in the vicinity. The school sent all the students home. They stayed at home for one, maybe two days, and then, as a group, called the head of the school and said they were coming back and that they didn't care. They were officially kibbutzniks for that year and if the people of Alumim were hiding in bomb shelters, then they would too.
Now, this war called Protective Edge has taken on a more ugly and terrifying form than any other in the last twenty years since I've been here. Despite the several cease-fires that our side abided by, we have been barraged with more rockets than you can possibly imagine. We've had too many deaths already, too much pain and loss. It all began with the kidnapping and murder of the three young boys, Ayal, Gilad and Naftali. The hunt for the murderers and the despicable revenge killing of the Palestinian boy escalated things in record time and now, Israel is fighting for its life and the life of its people. Our brave soldiers have begun a ground invasion and were shocked at what they discovered. The magnitude of these tunnels, and what might have happened had they not been discovered is chilling. Through interrogations of the terrorists that were captured, there are terrifying reports about evil plans that were to take place this coming Rosh Hashana. Hundreds of terrorists, disguised as IDF soldiers, popping up from under the ground inside kindergartens, lunchrooms and backyards in yishuvim, kibbutzim and settlements around Gaza in order to slaughter as many Jews in a surprise attack is now a nightmare that every Israeli sees behind their closed eyes when they go to sleep.
And yet, I don't regret - not for a single minute - the decision we made to move here. It's been the right move for us and for our family and we feel that this country is our one and only true home. We've watched our kids grow and flourish and soak up a love for this land that is overflowing. They relish the day they will serve it and protect it and help it continue to grow. They are being educated in a country where education is prized and appreciated. Where democracy and civil rights are protected. They are living day to day in a country where giving is more important than receiving. They are growing up in an environment where they can apply the Torah's values and morals to their day to day lives.
When I see what's going on in Europe, Canada and America, I'm chilled to the bone. I see the sign in an Antwerp restaurant saying that while dogs are allowed, under no circumstances are Jews allowed. I hear of synagogues in Paris being burnt, and see Jewish businesses in Paris broken into, their windows shattered. And the glass lying on the street is eerily reminiscent of Kristalnacht... I see violence against Jews all over England, their cemeteries desecrated. I see protesters all over the world carrying signs with a swastika, saying they will happily finish the job Hitler started. I see protests in Canada where the Muslims beat up anyone carrying an Israeli flag or supporting Israel. I see the main streets of downtown Chicago and Boston filled to capacity with American jihadists protesting Israel's right to exist.
So while it might seem strange to you, with the rockets flying overhead and the alarms sounding every few minutes, I am afraid for you. For you, my family and my friends. For all my fellow Jews in the diaspora.
I am very afraid for you.
And I know this might seem crazy - and in many ways it is - but we are safe here. We may be in the middle of a war, but we are fighting it and we will win. We are taking as many precautions as necessary, but we are surviving. Our soldiers and our country will protect us.
And they will protect you if you come here.